Who Am I to Criticize?Posted: January 11, 2009
You have no idea what it is like to live here. You don’t understand what we live with every day. We are the ones who have to live with the consequences of this war. Who are you to criticize us?
In a very real way, of course, they’re are absolutely right. Though I visit Israel frequently and have spent a significant amount of time there, I have no idea what it is like to live and work and raise a family and makes one’s home in a country that is in a constant state of war against enemies within and without.
And I certainly cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to live in Southern Israel during this most current crisis: to try and live a life with some sense of normalcy knowing that at any moment an air-raid siren could go off and afford you and your family mere moments to await the possibility of an incoming missile.
It is true and I must acknowledge it. American Jews do not live with the traumatic reality of this conflict. It is very different to relate to the war in Gaza from the comfort of our homes a world away rather than mere kilometers from the border. At the end of the day, I do admit to my Israeli friends that I cannot and will never understand what it must be like to live there.
But as someone who has identified deeply with Israel for his entire life, someone who has dear friends and family there, I write this with utmost honesty and respect: I reject the suggestion that I have no place speaking out against Israel’s actions simply because I don’t actually live there.
Who am I to criticize? I am a Jew – one of the many millions of diaspora Jews for whom the Jewish state was created. According to the official Zionist narrative, Israel is my Jewish inheritance, my Jewish national home. As a Jew living outside of Israel, I have been given the right to receive instant citizenship if I ever decide to actually move there (something, by the way, that scores of Palestinians whose families have lived in that land for generations cannot do). If Israel purports to relate to me thus, do I not have a voice in the discussion over the actions the Jewish state takes in the name of my people?
Who am I to criticize? I am American. I am a citizen whose country, the world’s largest superpower, supports Israel with significant economic and military aid. My tax dollars thus implicate me in a very real way with Israel’s national decisions – not least of which are its military actions. I am also the citizen of a nation whose government has essentially given Israel a blank check to take numerous measures that I believe are counter to the cause of peace, including the expropriation of Palestinian lands, destruction of homes, injustice in military courts and widespread building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, to name but a few.
As I have written in earlier posts, I believe Israel’s response to Hamas’ missile attacks have been disproportionate and outrageous. I believe their actions only further endanger the security of Israelis while inflicting collective punishment and a severe humanitarian crisis upon Gazans. Indeed, just as I cannot understand what it must be like to be a citizen of Sderot, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to be a Gazan citizen at the moment, living under constant air attack, with no running water or electricity and dwindling food, as hospitals fill up with wounded and corpses lie rotting in the streets because relief workers are unable to reach them.
Do I believe that Palestinians bear their share of the blame in this crisis? Absolutely. As the cliche goes, there is certainly enough blame to go around. But as a Jew and an American, I am uniquely implicated in the actions Israel takes. We Jews and Americans must bear our share of responsibility for this crisis. How far are we willing to go to contribute to a solution?