The Corner

Supporting Israel Cont’d

From a longtime liberal reader:

Dear Jonah,

You say: “truth be told, most supporters of Israel don’t make “ethnic” arguments either.”

Tell that to my Rabbi, who made “Jews obligation to support Israel” a routine feature of his high holidays devar torah. My experience of Hebrew School was that it was about 50 percent a propaganda program for Israel. At the time, it didn’t bother me. And, over the short run, it certainly made me into a very hardline support of Israel. Over the long-term, however, I’m more disturbed by the idea that American Judaism and Jewish education seem intrinsically bound up with unqualified support for Israel. Judaism should not entail unconditional support for a political state.

On another note, I think it whould be helpful if you specify what you mean by “support Israel” when decrying anti-war bloggers’ criticisms of Israel. I “support Israel” because, as you say, it’s a democracy (more or less, since they’re trying to ban Arab parties now), it’s a strategic ally, and it’s a good idea for Jews to have a homeland. But I don’t support this battle in Gaza. Does that mean, in your book, that I don’t “support Israel”? Does “support Israel” mean, whatever Israel says goes? Your appraisal of Israel’s critics could use more nuance on this point.

Me: I have no doubt, and I don’t think I suggested otherwise, that many Jews make “ethnic” appeals to other Jews.

I don’t agree with unqualified support for anything, Israel included.

As for what I mean by “support Israel,” it really depends on the context, just as “criticize Israel” depends on the context. I have no problem with people opposing specific Israeli policies, even if I may disagree with them. And I’m certainly open to the argument that the Gaza war is not in Israel’s strategic interests (only time will tell), even though I’m not sure Israel had any choice. One of the problems I have with the debate over Israel is that people — on both sides — go to their scripts almost immediately. Of course, I usually think the “pro-Israel” script is closer to reality and is more compelling morally and logically, but it’s certainly true that lots of Americans take the position that Israel is in the right no matter what policy it pursues. It’s also true that the “disproportionate response” chorus churns out its talking points almost instantaneously as well.

One of the dismaying byproducts of this dynamic is that leftwing critics of Israel think that the worthwhile arguments are with “rightwing” or unalloyed supporters of Israel while they say little to nothing about the idiots and bigots to their left who paint Israel as genocidal butchers, Hitlerites, etc. I agree that I could have used more nuance when describing “critics of Israel” but I think critics of Israel could use more nuance as well.

Anyway, for those interested, I discuss some of this with Beinart over at Bloggingheads, here.

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