Talking About Israel Is Hard


2016-12-29 – I know I’m not the only one, but it’s a weird thing in America to be simultaneously a Zionist and utterly opposed to the policies of the current Israeli government. Israelis don’t experience cognitive dissonance when they oppose their government, but many American Zionists do. And I understand the feeling. The Zionist dream was to cast off the shackles of antisemitism so that Jews could take their place among the nations of the world.

It hasn’t happened.

And the truth is, I don’t even know how to write about it. I don’t know how to write about being hated. Most of my life is free from this hatred, but it is there. Writing about Israel requires me to engage with that hatred.

This past week, the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlement policy and Palestinian terrorism as destructive of whatever is left of the peace process. It hurts to have the world call out Israel in this way, but it is unremarkable.

What is remarkable is the reaction of the Israeli government and the American Jewish community. Much of the focus of this reaction is on the friends of Israel, treating this vote as so hostile to the Jewish state that it is nearly a declaration of war—between friends.

It isn’t. It isn’t even the first time Israel’s allies, including the United States, have officially expressed displeasure over the Israeli settlement policy. I’m not going to go through the history, but if you are interested, you can read the analysis of the situation in the Jewish American newspaper Forward or the full transcript of the statement of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Now, before I go on, I have to say that the U.N. resolution did not limit its condemnation to Israeli policy. It also condemned Palestinian terrorism. It wouldn’t be the U.N. if it wasn’t weaselly on this point. But the overall tenor of the resolution was to call out both sides as destructive of the peace process.

So why the high drama?

One possibility is that the Israelis are indeed backing away from the two-state solution, as the Americans fear. Speaking the truth is always high drama. It doesn’t happen very often. The Israelis have been building settlements in occupied territory under the cover of denial. Anything that undermines that denial has to hurt.

Another possibility (and not mutually exclusive) is to capture the attention of the incoming American President. Donald Trump has famously described himself as a “counter-puncher.” Lacking a vision for American, the new president expects to lead by following. By counter-punching. So the best way to manipulate America will be to throw down gauntlets, hoping for him to pick them up. By elevating the U.N. resolution and, in particular, the abstention ordered by the current president, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hopes to manipulate American policy after Trump’s January 20 inauguration.

Either of these possibilities distresses me. I believe that the two-state solution is the only hope for Israel. Abandoning that is the same as abandoning the Zionist dream, in my opinion. And cynically spitting in the face of friends to manipulate our future president is also distressing beyond words.

You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

This is the tragedy of being a Jewish state in an antisemitic world. Israel could be a model nation and still be condemned. So some folks throw up their hands and ask, “why try?” But pursuit of the cynical path has its own costs.


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