Israel has, over the course of the past few weeks, been engulfed and broiled in a series of tense diplomatic, military, and religious stand-offs, scandals, and seething ultimatums.
It’s actions have been condemned by everyone from British members of Parliament to the UN Secretary General, and the financial relief for the catastrophic damage (to both life and property) caused by Operation Protective Edge are being financed by everyone from Qatar (who comitted a whopping $1 billion) to Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai – who pledged $50,000 to reconstruct UN schools destroyed by Israeli shelling as well as Hamas sabotage.
Currently, with Palestinian President Abbas’s truly provocative call for a “day of rage” where violence is being mandated to ‘protect’ the Temple Mount being one end of the current spectrum of tensions plaguing Israel and vulgar words used by US diplomats outside the negotiation table to describe Israeli leadership on the other end, Israel has had nothing short of a terrible, terrible month.
It is a testing time for the strategic and diplomatic value of Israel as an ally to the United States in the region, and also a time of severe Arab unrest both within Jerusalem and Gaza, and I believe radical challenges call for radical introspection – Israel needs critics.
Before many of you spring unto me and pronounce a long list of hate-mongering individuals and Islamic extremists, let me note that the definition of criticism is not synonymous to anti-semitism. This is something that has frustrated both myself and much of the world’s media at large – any critic of Israel’s mistakes is branded an anti-Semite almost instantaneously.
Why is criticism of Israeli violations of international norms (as Ban Ki Moon put it) seen as having anything to do with Judaism? Why are critics of Israel’s public policies seen as proponents of the destruction of Jewry?
In my opinion, one probable reason US delegates resorted to use such vulgar terms to describe Binyamin Netanyahu behind both his and the US administration’s backs is because they are deprived of any civil instrument to voice their disagreements and differences of opinion without being chastised as anti-Semites and immoral terrorist sympathisers. The pent up frustration at not being able to constructively criticise Israeli policy and mistakes is something that is making transparent diplomatic relations with Israel a slight headache.
Israel has made mistakes. Grave mistakes. And that is, to an extent, forgiveable. It is human nature to be emotionally impulsive in times of war and conflict, and nationalistic pride or religious fervour often cloud a democratic nation’s better judgement. Every nation in the history of mankind has committed crimes and errors – but the fact that many of those nations have opened themselves to criticism and scrutiny is what sets them apart. To claim that Israel is flawless is both an affront to factual truth and a statement of tragic ignorance.
From firing on an Associated Press photographer who had no quarrel with the IDF (see the video here) to Israeli anti-war protestors being assaulted by more ‘patriotic’Israelis on the streets of Tel Aviv (here’s an Al Jazeera feature on it) Israel has witnessed, often in eery silence, the persecution and often violent throttling of any criticism against popular opinion – opinion that is often whipped into existence by virtually non existent threats.
But the fact that we have access to content that evidences Israel’s mistakes is something that should be a matter of great pride for Israelis, for it is a fruit of Israel’s robust democracy – the only one if its kind in the Middle East, something I as a resident of an autocracy am truly envious of.
But that’s where the pride usually ends – because criticism of any kind is rapidly and painfully being stifled in Israel in a manner that most Israelis don’t seem to care very much about. The general opinion – an opinion that many Israeli politicians are profiting from – is that the Quran and anything to do with the Quran is pure, unadulterated evil, the IDF’s operations in Gaza are humane and sanctioned by some moral superiority, and that every Muslim in the world is out to murder Jews.
In an eye-opening opinion piece for the New York Times, Mairav Zonszein highlighted the fact that a critic less Israeli public opinion is an opinion that spawns the political capital necessary for protracted and largely unnecessary conflict and is creating a dangerous “us versus them” mentality that poses a threat to peace in the region.
Putting everything aside, however, the fact still remains that when Israelis call for a “holocaust” of anti-war liberals and secularists, and when Israelis gather in groups to watch and cheer during night time airstrikes on Gaza that kill, maim, and orphan dozens of children – it doesn’t take a brilliant political scientist to see that there’s something terribly wrong with the general opinion. It lacks genuine, unrestricted, and merciless criticism.
Israel is a democracy, and the fact that it is a healthy democracy is the greatest reason I employ when I defend its right to exist as a nation. But being a democracy, Israel and Israelis must understand that they are not exempt from criticism, however harsh and however ‘unpatriotic’ it may appear to be. The right to criticise, and indeed the right to identify, Israeli mistakes is being infringed upon grossly.
As the world begins to react to Netanyahu’s orders to crack down on Jerusalem’s violent protesters, his approval of plans that will lead to a vigorous expansion of settlers, and the recent bus seat segregation policy that many activists are calling systematic apartheid, one truth stands alone in an ocean of speculation – Israel needs critics to prune ideas that endanger the peace of the region, and uphold Israel’s world renown intellectualism, for which it has garnered so many Nobel prizes. There is nothing Nobel worthy about trampling an opinion because you don’t agree with it.
I leave you with an important point to consider –
Hamas silences Palestinians who dare stand up against it by ruthless executions. Israelis are silencing progressive critics by stifling their voices. The methods of silencing criticism are radically different – but the silence is still the same.