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Sheizaf: Liberal Jews and Israel — A case of split personality disorder

January 6, 2010 5 comments

Cross-posted from Promised Land Blog.

Last Saturday I met an Israeli-American friend who came for a short visit from his studies in Europe. We talked some politics, and finally came to an issue which always puzzles me: the fact that American Jews are unwilling — almost unable — to criticize Israel, both in public and in private, and even when Israeli policies contradict their own beliefs. My friend noted that if some of the articles on the Israeli media – and not even the most radical ones – were to be printed in the US and signed by non-Jews, they would be considered by most Jewish readers like an example of dangerous Israel-bashing, sometimes even anti-Semitism.

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.

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All known data indicates that the vast majority of US Jews support the democratic party, and many consider themselves as liberals (Barack Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote). Yet except for a group of well known activists, you can hardly hear these people criticize Israel, which is not exactly a picture-perfect liberal democracy.

I am not talking here about the old Jewish establishment or about AIPAC. AIPAC are professional politicians. Their status is based on their connections to the Israeli governments, and their ability to promote Israeli interests in Washington. Breaking up with Israel — even just criticizing Israeli politics — will not just hurt their status, it will simply leave them unemployed. Expecting AIPAC or other Jewish leaders with good ties in Jerusalem to declare that, for example, Israel should lift the siege on Gaza, is like asking an insurance lobbyist to speak in the name of the public option.

Naturally, I don’t expect anything from Jewish neo-cons either. These people like Netanyahu, they supported George Bush, and they will go on speaking about culture wars and Islamo-Facists versus Judeo-Christians even on the day Mahmoud Haniya converts to Zionism. You can agree or disagree with them, but at least their views are consistent.

With the Liberals it’s quiet a different story. It’s obvious they care much about Israel, and some of them are very passionate about politics and extremely well-informed about what’s going on here, but from time to time, I get the feeling they hold back some of their views.

I don’t think many liberals, if they really are ones, can accept the siege on Gaza. Even if they think that Hamas is to blame for the current state of affairs, surly they don’t support collective punishment against 1.5 million people, do they? What would they say if the US was to seal the areas in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan where the insurgents are hiding, not letting even basic supply in or out, preventing civilians from growing food or working, and practically leaving the entire population on the brink of starvation? I presume many Americans will oppose such policies. Read more…

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Michael Sfard on the Gaza war and Jewish morality

December 31, 2009 4 comments

This is a translation of an op-ed published in Hebrew on Ynet. The op-ed has also been posted, with commentary, by The Magnes Zionist.

Cast truth

It has been a year, just one year since, but we can already safely say it was not just another Operation Rainbow, Summer Rains, or Autumn Clouds, as IDF operations in Gaza were named in recent years.  Perhaps the officer in charge of naming the operations was replaced by another, or perhaps the IDF ran out of pastoral names.  In any event, our most recent brutal attack against Gaza was given a violent sounding name: Cast Lead.  Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values.  There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged.  Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet.  We are who we are and we are proud of it!

For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas.  We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets.  We used [white?]phosphorous bombs.  We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone.  We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them.  We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them.  We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings.  At the same time, we did not express fake regret.  We did not argue we made tragic mistakes.  We did not even take wounded children to Israeli hospitals.

The results were horrendous.  Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of which half did not partake in the fighting, 320 were minors, and 120 were women (according to B’Tselem data).  In three weeks, we killed more Palestinians than in the entire first Intifada and all the violent incidents that preceded the second Intifada put together (that is, 1987-2000).  Gaza residents, whom we earlier locked up in a prison we created for them, realized that the jailers set fire to the jailhouse and threw away the key.  We no longer pretended we were meeting standards we did not believe in.  We did not even pay lip service.  Government offices were bombed?  No problem.  They are a legitimate target.  Civilians worked there?  Why should we care if this was the headquarters for civilian life, transportation, agriculture, and social welfare services for 1.5 million humans?  What about the collective killing of more than 100 police cadets who were parading on their graduation day?  No problem there.  They were Palestinians in uniforms.  No biggie.  You say we fired white phosphorus, the kind of substance that keeps burning for days in alleys where children were playing?  Our gut is made of iron.  We can stomach anything.  Our heart is made of steel.  We spare no one.

Operation Cast Lead was our second war of independence.  In the first, we freed ourselves of 2,000 years of living under and being oppressed by foreign regimes.  In the second, we broke the shackles of Jewish morality and heritage that were shoved down our throats for years.  We liberated ourselves of the ancient Jewish ban against killing the innocent with the evil, from the self-evident lessons and inevitable insights we should have reached of the our collective experience as a downtrodden nation that was denied its own civil rights, that was silenced, knocked down, downgraded, and treated as subhuman.  Yes, we violated some of those rules in the past, but we did not even reveal that to ourselves. Read more…