Critics of Israel and the Benefit of Doubt
Failed strategies call for new strategies. The wide berth we Israeli Jews have been giving critics of Israel, indiscriminately, no matter how unfair and ill-intentioned they may be, can long be seen not to pay off, nay, to be actually damaging to us. We have gotten used to thinking that, unless a critic of Israel explicitly says he thinks Hitler had the right idea, we have an obligation to give him a fair hearing. By that we have opened the doors for every anti-Semite or Jewish quisling to heap libels upon Israel under the guise, “Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism”. Though that statement is true, we must qualify it more and more these days, in order to be more discriminate as to the ones we give our ears, our newspaper columns and our hearts and minds.
Let me begin the new strategy with its core statement: Critics of Israel should not automatically be given the benefit of doubt; they have to earn it.
Having been bitten, time and again now, from people coming with the importunate kisses of, “I’m saying this because I love Israel” or “Jewish values require me to speak against the oppression of the Palestinians” and similar phrases, it is imperative that we test those speakers and writers thoroughly instead of hanging to their worn-out platitudes. It is necessary to understand that the “Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism!” ploy doesn’t hold any more water than the old “Don’t get me wrong! Some of my best friends are…” routine, and, additionally, that the fact of the speaker or writer being Jewish does not give him carte blanche to dump garbage on Israel.
The first thing to test is the critic’s familiarity with Israel, personally, intellectually or both. We need not assume he is a deceiver when he could just as easily be only deceived. Check where he gets his information from: if his article contains an abundance of quotes from the BBC—a media outlet that is already having its hands covered with Jewish blood in Britain—then he can be written off. You don’t become a knowledgeable and unbiased critic of Israel from reading BBC any more than you get to be a fair and balanced commentator on Celtic Druidic religion by reading Julius Caesar’s commentaries (actually, that analogy may well be unfair to Caesar).
So many critics come to you with teary eyes and bleeding hearts about the “plight of the Palestinians” (that so much of it is self-inflicted will not be mentioned, however), even claiming to have lived among them and experienced it first-hand. So how many of them have spent a comparable length of time living in Israel? How many have experienced the fear of boarding a bus in Israel, aware of the chance that they might not get off alive (G-d forbid)? How many of those who can wail forever about the “Palestinian mother mourning the loss of her child” (whom she may well have raised on the ethos of suicide-bombing—that won’t get a mention either) have ever brought themselves to allot equal time to writing about the Israeli mother mourning her child killed in a shopping mall suicide bombing? Of those who say nothing justifies Israel’s targeting of civilians (even with precision weapons, and even after dropping leaflets telling them to temporarily leave), how many have not excused Palestinian suicide terrorism as just retaliation and the resistance of the weak and defenseless? Whoever you manage to catch applying such double standards, write him off immediately.
On that vein, those who claim to speak for a human rights watch organization should be scrutinized for their coverage. Do a thorough search of all their materials to see the proportion they devote to criticism of Israel’s human rights record and the proportion they give other countries. See if they handle the human rights violations in Darfur, Cuba or Iran with the same furor and obsession with which they handle Israel. So many “human rights organizations” fail this test miserably. They know they can’t engage in honest reporting from a place like Darfur, where they could easily be beheaded for their pains, so they pick on the one state they know won’t do them a thing. Cowards just like the Muslim terrorists who hide behind civilians.
And there are also the actual deceivers, those who can see the truth but choose to tell the world lies. Take Jonathan Cook, for example. If you have high blood pressure or lack a punching bag near you, I recommend against reading his articles, because of the great likelihood of sustaining damage to your own body or to fragile objects nearby. Cook’s articles heap vitriol on Israel with incessant, insane rage, accusing us of dispossession, apartheid, colonial exploitation, military brutality, totalitarianism—you name it, short of actually saying we use Palestinian blood for Passover matzos, Cook has accused Israel of it. (By the way, the only blood likely to be on Passover matzos is the blood of Jews killed by a suicide bomber, as it happened in Netanyah in 2002.)
So it goes with Cook’s writings, yet you do not have to read to the very end to notice something suspicious: the subtitle, which is invariably, “Nazareth”. He means by this that he is writing from Nazareth—an attempt of showing credentials. What this means, however, is how much of a barefaced liar he is regarding Israel. Make this thought-experiment: suppose Cook set out to publish criticism of Cuba from within that country, and subtitled every article with, “Cienfuegos”. How many such articles would we be reading? Probably just one. Two would be the maximum possible. This hater of Israel is allowed to post libel after libel from within the internationally-recognized territories of Israel, and the allegedly totalitarian authorities of Israel are doing nothing! I’m not suggesting they change their policy and throw him out (though the increasing obnoxiety and the aid those writers give the enemy may leave us no alternative in the future), but nothing testifies more eloquently than this to the willful murder of truth that the haters of Israel engage in. If any critic accuses Israel of behaving like a Latin American dictatorship, challenge him to relocate to such a Latin American dictatorship and post criticism of it from there. They will have no answer against that challenge except pathetic attempts at evasion.
What, then, does a critic of Israel need to do in order to show us he deserves a fair hearing? This isn’t rocket science.
First, a willingness, for his own part, to give a fair hearing to both sides of the conflict. If you haven’t yet heard the story as told from the other point of view, get off that keyboard and go do some reading and listening first. You don’t have to accept one of the views lock, stock and barrel, but not having heard both points of view before voicing your opinion is inexcusable.
Second, a recognition of what life in this region entails. There are so many critics who portray Israel as nothing but a well-equipped army, completely ignoring the fact of millions of Israeli civilians. In their view, killing a Palestinian about to fire a Kassam rocket on Sderot is immoral because he’s a civilian, but a Palestinian suicide bomber killing scores of Israeli teenagers in a shopping mall is a legitimate act of resistance against the jackboot of the IDF. For the critic to be entitled to a fair hearing, he must put off those khaki-colored glasses that make him see every Israeli woman and child as wearing an IDF uniform.
Third, a responsibility of blaming only where it is due. You cannot blame Israel for starving families in Gaza when the fact is the Palestinians have been receiving millions in foreign aid, out of the bleeding hearts of the Europeans, but spend it on making death vests for suicide bombers and Kassam rockets to fire on Sderot, leaving a goodly portion for Souha Antoinette’s Swiss bank account.
Fourth, an acceptance of the rule that it takes two to tango. If the critic dismisses as irrelevant trivia the fact of Palestinian schools having maps where the state of Israel does not exist, then he is not a legitimate critic. Any honest critic would know the role education plays in making or breaking the prospect of future peace. If the critic sees only “Israeli occupation”, and not Palestinian parents strapping mock suicide belts (not always “mock”, it needs to be said) on their children, as the obstacle to peace, then he can kiss his charade of legitimate criticism of Israel goodbye.
Fifth, a humane view of what a two-state solution means. For Israelis, including myself, a two-state solution has always meant an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side. I did not oppose a two-state solution ten years ago. I was a peacenik leftist until mugged by reality. Say whatever you like about Zionism, but here’s a fact you can’t dispute: what we did with the land (even if you say it was “stolen”) was use it as a base for Jewish life and culture and innovation, whereas the Palestinians have so far used land “given back to them” as bases for rocket launchers and terrorist training camps. No other country would accept a two-state solution on such terms.
Sixth, following from the previous point: a thought-experiment putting your own country in such a situation. For example, if you’re British, imagine living on the Welsh or Scottish border with rockets fired at you from there daily. Now think how you’d react: would you so readily blame yourself, pinning it all on “long-standing English oppression of the indigenous Cymri and Caledonians”? Or would you call for your government to do anything, even “disproportionate”, to make the other side stop? If the former, then the critic is a lost cause, and may he enjoy his well-deserved life of dhimmitude under his soon-to-be Muslim overlords; and if the latter, then the critic should be asked why he applies a different standard to Israel.
I want to summarize it all:
Advocating a two-state solution doesn’t delegitimize a critic of Israel. Making it as if the Palestinians are only civilians and the Israelis only soldiers does.
And let me end with a cautionary note toward all those who advocate boycotting Israel in any way:
If you think boycotting Israel will achieve your stated goal of driving us Israelis to force the government to “end the occupation”, you’re mighty mistaken. Horribly mistaken. Far from doing that, any boycott of Israel will only end up making Israelis more hawkish, more right-wing. An Israeli Leftist architect having his exhibition boycotted will, unless he’s a really extreme leftist, a Chomskyan, be made to engage in soul-searching, the final result of which may well be a conversion a la Sobol. You see, all you self-righteous boycott advocates, from 1993 for over a decade, the Israeli public has been for land concessions and fair treatment of the other side, for the sake of peace; the more you, like the Palestinians, show us that we stand to gain nothing from that, and only to lose, the more of us will be forced (yes, forced!) to turn rightward.
Because, in contrast to the other side, who has shown by both word and deed that they love death, we love life.