Magazine article Moment

I [Love] Israel

Magazine article Moment

I [Love] Israel

Article excerpt

I used to adhere to a personal rule: Never discuss Israel or Palestine with anyone. Now that I'm researching a book on the postwar history of American Jews, I'm finding this rule harder to follow. This is turning out to be a problem. One day I learn I'm a self-hating Jew; the next, an AIPAC stooge. In some ways, my experience mirrors everything that's wrong with American Jewish discourse about Israel.

On two recent occasions, I sat listening to critiques of my arguments from diametrically opposing perspectives. The first was a largely pleasant talk I gave to interns at The Nation, a magazine where I've been a columnist for 15 years. The interns wanted, understandably, to know why I'd recently felt compelled to write a letter to the editor denouncing the magazine's habit of blaming Israel for every aspect of the conflict.

When I explained that I thought The Nation's editors found it impossible to put themselves in the Israelis' place and ask themselves how you make peace in this situation--with the threat of Hamas on your borders and the weakness of the Palestinian Authority that should control it--the question was left ignored. Instead, they blamed Israel for creating the threat of Hamas with its own oppressive policies. I replied that while I did not disagree--that the Israelis bore considerable blame for nurturing not only Hamas itself, but the hate it embodies--I still wanted an answer: What do you do now? Needless to say, I didn't get one.

Israel may have the wrong answer to the problem it faces; indeed, I feel certain it does. But slogans like "justice for the Palestinians" or even "end the occupation" do not begin to address the complications involved. What's more, the insistence upon solidarity with Israel's Palestinian victims--which is what I understand to be The Na-tion's editorial policy--is hardly likely to make Israel feel secure enough to offer those same victims the path to national self-determination to which they are inarguably entitled. An outright refusal to consider Israel's actual predicament doesn't help.

By contrast, a few weeks earlier, I gave a lecture at a university a few hours outside New York City on the topic of "American Jews and Israel: The Burdens of Irresponsibility." My argument, an extremely moderate one backed up by statistics I might add, was that substituting pro-Israel activism for religious study is not good for Jews, or even for Israel.

I was pleased, upon arriving, to see that the auditorium was full--but slightly less pleased when I noticed that the audience included virtually no students. It became clear that few people were even associated with the university; rather, most were local Jews who had received an email warning of the danger to Israel if my remarks went unchallenged. …

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