A few days ago, a longtime friend of mine who has been living in Israel for the past twenty years sent me this comment:
Hi Brant. How about writing something positive about Israel for a change? Israel must mean something to you other than one large injustice to the Palestinian people. How about balancing your blogs with items that can help your readers find pride in Israel and its accomplishments, despite all the real problems that you primarily focus on.
It’s a fair and important comment – and it’s been put to me more than once. Invariably, some of them are presented in a much less tactful manner. A commenter to my January 19 post had this to say:
I honestly cannot believe the postings on this blog. The level of Israel bashing is sickening.
It gives me a strange and queasy feeling to be called an “Israel basher.” It’s an odd switch. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I felt the same way about Jews who seemed to regard Israel as little more than a source of shame.
For many years, Israel and Zionism have been central to my Jewish identity. I too had a hard time abiding by those Jews who viewed Israel, as my friend put it, as “one large injustice to the Palestinian people.” While I certainly didn’t deny many of these injustices (and would often protest them) I also had an unabashed Jewish pride in Israel – and in Zionism itself as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people.” In my most cynical moments, it often felt that those who chronically “bashed” Israel were motivated by Jewish self-hatred more than anything else.
Those who read my blog must certainly know that my relationship to Israel is being painfully challenged – particularly since Israel’s military assault on Gaza last year. I’m well aware that I often address these painful issues head on and sometimes with uncensored candor. And I’m certainly not unmindful that the cumulative effect of these posts may well come off as unduly unbalanced, harsh – and yes, to some, as “Israel bashing.”
Those who know me well know how deeply I feel about Israel. I continue to identify deeply with many aspects of Israeli life – particularly with the new Jewish cultural spirit that is being created and re-created there. I will always love the Hebrew language, literature, and poetry – as well as the powerful rhythms of Jewish life that a Jew experiences when living in Israel.
However, as a Jew I am growing increasingly heartsick that this culture has been and continues to be created on the backs of others. I am having a increasingly difficult time getting past the fact that our Jewish national rebirth has come at the expense of the Palestinians. And I am even more painfully considering whether these problems are not mere “blemishes” on an otherwise noble national project, but rather something fundamentally problematic with the Zionist enterprise itself.
I know that Israel has accomplished a great deal against all odds. And I certainly know that many feel I should “balance” my blog posts by drawing attention to these achievements. But for better or worse, I can no longer regard the Israel-Palestine reality as a balanced equation. I’m coming to believe that the moral challenges Israel faces are so critical that they fundamentally threaten the very real accomplishments Israel has achieved in its short and remarkable life.
I understand that there will be those who will never accept this – and that some people will never experience my writing as anything other than hatred for the Jewish state. Even more painfully, I am all too aware of how my words may affect my many dear friends in Israel, people who have chosen to make their lives and raise their families there and who continue to mean a great deal to me.
All I can hope is that they might somehow understand that I do not seek to “bash” Israel. Quite the opposite. My words have always and will always be motivated by Jewish conscience – not by Jewish shame.