No, this is not another critique of Harper Lee’s new/old book “Go Set a Watchman,” and its relation to her classic novel “To kill a Mockingbird.” Though, in a twisted sort of way, there is a connection. So much so for convicting the wrong man. It is more of a rebuttal, albeit a limited one, of another book – “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” by Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to America – and the trend it represents. In other words, and according to the many reviews of the book (full disclosure: I had not read it, nor do I intend to), it criticizes, among other things, America, President Obama, and Jewish Americans – talking about throwing a stone into the well you had drunk from – who dare to criticize Israel’s actions and political leaders, and seemed to be calling on us all, from J Street to the New Israel Fund, and other local organizations fighting for peace and understanding; from the op-ed pages of the New York Times to bloggers and blogs – such as Good4Jews – to stop criticizing Israel.
“He complains, for example, that ‘The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, both Jewish-edited, rarely ran nonincriminating reports on Israeli affairs. The odd formulation ‘Jewish-¬edited’ suggests that Oren views everything through the lens of ethnic identity. In addition, Oren hastily dismisses the historian Tony Judt as someone who ‘opposed Israel’s existence.’ If anything, Judt’s apprehensions about Israel’s future seem more cogent than ever.” So writes Jacob Heilbrunn in a scathing review of Oren’s book in the NYT Sunday Book Review. And he poignantly continues: “To criticize Israel is not tantamount to being anti-Israel, a tiresome tactic that too many of the country’s would-be defenders have adopted. Might it not even be pro-Israel, in the sense of pointing out failings that any Israeli government would be prudent to rectify?”
Put another way, the detractors of the well-intentioned criticism say: Don’t criticize Israel if you don’t live here. Come join us, then you can criticize us. There is, of course, nothing new about this hollow argument. I can be the first witness of it. And yet it is foolish nonetheless, while at the same time barking on the wrong tree. But before analyzing the stupidity of this demand, let me step back a bit and demonstrate what at stake here from a different angle altogether. I had lately watched a television program on CNN – “The Hunt with John Walsh” – which I hadn’t watched before. You know, hot, lazy summer days, nothing of substance is on. This particular program dealt with one of those nutcases who proclaimed themselves “Sons of God.” Yet this “New Jesus” was able to control and manipulate a whole congregation of seemly normal people in Washington State. He picked up ten “maidens” from the congregation, girls as young as twelve, who then became his sex slaves. He repeatedly raped and abused them, spreading his venom also to married women of that community. When word began to spread among congregates, they kept mum about it, as one of them said: “We kept it in a ‘lock box’.” Nobody heard, nobody knew what went on inside. When word began to leak to people on the periphery, they either turned their heads the other way, saying this is none of our business, or when one or two complained to the police, they were dismissed and ostracized.
Talking about killing the messenger. Now, I don’t compare Israel’s wrongdoings to the crimes committed by that “New Jesus” guy – who, by the way, got away scot-free – but in essence, and as metaphor, the lesson applies here. Of course, those who aim their “guns-with-silencers” say, we don’t tell you not to criticize Israel, no way will we do that; after all, we’re a civilized people. But please, shut up about it when you are outside the country. Why, exactly? Didn’t your Prime Minister come to the Congress here in the middle of an election campaign back home and criticized our president and his policies in the strongest terms possible? Don’t you now mobilize all forces, resources, and means of public opinion in order to influence Congressmen and Senators against the Iran Nuclear deal, signed already by the P5+1 nations and approved unanimously by the UN Security Council? What set you apart from us in this regard, may I ask?
It increases anti-Semitism, I hear them say. Well, let me tell you something: What increases anti-Semitism, among other things, is Israel’s actions, not the criticism of it. Moreover, if Israel is the homeland of all the Jewish People, then all the Jewish People can praise it, and yes, criticize it as well. It might well be our home one day soon. Why wouldn’t we want it to be a better, more human, and just home? And while at it, some of those who criticize us for criticizing Israel, when something comes along that infuriate them – let say some religious issue in Israel, as it had happened lately – then suddenly all hell breaks loose, letters of complaint to the president of Israel, full of criticism of Israel and its policies regarding this particular religious issue. But when it comes to peace, politics, and security – no way Jose. This is the height of hypocrisy!
Not to mention that their basic demand to come live in Israel first, and only then criticize it, is nonsocial at best. As if in Israel there isn’t a campaign to silence those who criticize its policies and political leaders. As if some major, famous artists had not been violently attacked after the last elections for trying to raise voices of dissent. As if some Israeli politicians had not suggested already to bar, by law, those voices of dissent from voicing their opinions. Some of Israel’s better, more conscientious journalists, do live with this kind of a threat day and night.
So come off it, all you “supposedly” righteous people, Jews and Christens alike. You are just protecting your own policies and points-of-view, that’s all, and are trying to prevent others from doing the same. This fits a totalitarian regime, not a democracy. More importantly, though, it is most definitely good for Israel and its future to have criticism level against it. It can only improve things. Otherwise – it is chaos. It is kept in a “lock box.” Because, you see, the bottom line is, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s election slogan: It’s the actions, stupid, not the criticism. That’s what mattered most. So change the message, why don’t you, instead of killing the messenger.
* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”
** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.
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