A Tough Balancing Act

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Let me make it clear from the outset: I think some of these people and groups I am about to list are completely wrongheaded, some of the cases make me very angry, and I am no defender of those who try to delegitmate Israel. I have fought battles with those calling for divestment against companies doing business in Israel and have written articles saying that responsibility for the Iraq war and for American policy toward Arabs or Palestinians belongs to Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush, not the pro-Israel lobby. There are some Israel bashers who, if they scratched themselves a bit, would recognize that they are not free from anti-Semitic stereotypes. We are not paranoid when people attack Israel — there is a lot of vicious hostiltiy out there.

But … yes, the but is there. How do we best serve Israel’s longterm vitality and security and the integrity of our own community here in the U.S.? That is a pragmatic not a truth based question.

I am thinking about the big headlines over the last few years. There was the Columbia case against the Middle East Studies Department, then AJC and ADL were accused of silencing Tony Judt. Jimmy Carter and Walt-Mearsheimer published books that were the talk-of-the-town after we attacked them. Next was the outcry over an Arabic cultural school that led to the principal’s resignation and then a new tenure battle (following the one at De Paul University) with  Barnard College professor Nadia Abu El-Haj. The David Project, out there in our name, is being sued by the Islamic Society of Boston in an ugly battle. These are the big ones. There are many more.

Jews made it in this country, broke through the quota barriers, the discrimination, the tacit “Gentleman’s Agreement” by fighting for freedom of speech, the right to be public in our Jewishness and even demonsrate for Jewish interests, from Israel to Soviet Jewry. I am proud of our power and our willingness to be out there.

Here’s the rub. The more we threaten and assault and use our power to silence, to challenge tenure committees and public speeches, attack authors and publishers, the more we begin to look and sound like the them who didn’t want us to be part of this country, or at least, not part of this country in our unique Jewish voice and character. For the vocal and militant Jewish crowd, swinging out at every critic of Israel or of Jewish power must feel heroic. But I wonder whether the rest of us feel proud or, rather, a bit edgy that we are acting like the power elites of prior generations who tried to hold us down and silence us.

I feel much more confident that mature, intelligent and nuanced responses to the Israel and Jewish power bashing serve Israel’s interests much better than bashing back, that is, if we really believe that, in spite of her imperfections, Israel deserves our support. Often, the volume of our protests against those who disagree seems to correlate with our doubts and fears about Israel. Less attack and more reason would do us, Israel and dialogue in this country good.

Posted on September 18, 2007

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5 thoughts on “A Tough Balancing Act

  1. Meredith Kesner Lewis

    I agree with much of what you say. But another question is whether the issues picked up by the Jewish community are actually problems or only become problems when we pounce on them.

    The ADL for example is known to attack anyone who uses the term Nazi in a statement of comparison (except in the case of Bill O’Reilly–see Jspot at http://jspot.org/?p=1487 for more on this).

    But is it actually true that any use of the term Nazi outside of the Holocaust is an affront to the Jewish people?

    I would guess that many people don’t believe so.

  2. tme

    As Queen Gertrude says, in another Hamlet moment, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (Hamlet, III, ii, 239)

  3. professorplum

    The irony is that these right wing attempt to control debate and silence dissent prove exactly the points made by their critics.

  4. IY

    David writes of (within the Jewish communities that even engage on these issues) the need for, “mature, intelligent and nuanced responses to the Israel and Jewish power bashing.” I wonder *why* do we not see more mature, intelligent responses?

    My mind then jumps to that contingent of young HS and college students who at that point in their lives are coming into a Jewish and Zionist sense of awareness….but when it comes to Israel education, the point of entry is *Israel defense* …not a more wholistic sense of the issues that face Israeli society, beyond and including the Arab/Palestinian ones

    …so part of the problem is that they first only see Israel through a “the point is to defend the Jewish state” lens versus a “the point is to be connected to its realities, accomplishments, and shortcomings” lens.

    Probing deeper, I’m concerned with the problem of a number of Jews arn’t conerend of things Israel related, and connected to that, don’t even care for things Jewish related.

  5. BrothrTony

    The narrative of the journey of some Jews from a marginalized minority toward a marginalizing majority (thru power and influence, not mere numbers) reminds me of that of the USA itself as it has journeyed from a freedom movement into a world superpower. I wonder if there is any connection?

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