Bludgeoned into defensiveness, some of Israel’s advocates feel compelled to start by acknowledging that ‘Israel can be criticised like any other country’. Well, I think she can’t. Because no other country is being criticised. And how can one criticise a country? How can one point an accusatory finger at an entire people? ‘Criticism of Israel is legitimate’, some say. No, it isn’t. One cannot legitimately criticise a country or a people – that kind of generalisation is the epitome of bigotry. One can, of course (and should) criticise dictatorial regimes – they do not represent the people; one can (and should) also scrutinise the acts of democratic governments – and subject them to criticism, if necessary. But one does not ‘criticise’ Syria; one criticises the Assad regime. One does not criticise Italy, though one can legitimately censor its current government. ‘Israel’s critics,’ however, are often exactly what the name implies: critics of a country and a people. True, the more ‘sophisticated’ among them have come to understand how this makes them look; they often talk about ‘Netanyahu’ or ‘the right-wing Israeli government’. But for them, these are just euphemisms: one does not need to dig very deep to realise that the ‘critics’ are not against this or that government, that they basically bash all Israeli governments – left, right and centre. It’s of course legitimate to criticise Mr. Netanyahu, just as it is to criticise British Prime Minister Cameron or French President Hollande. But if you bash all Israeli governments, from Ben Gurion to Shamir, from Golda Meir to Ehud Barak – then what does that make you, if not an extremist?
Israel is the only country that ever gets criticised. And its critics fall into three categories:
First, there are ‘the haters’ – the likes of ‘Electronic Intifada’ and Palestine Solidarity Campaign. They detest Israel so much that they are generally unwilling or unable to hide their hatred. It’s easy to peel off whatever thin layer of deceit they may be clinging on to – and expose the naked truth: they simply want Israel to disappear.
The second category’s position is more complex – they see themselves as ‘the justiciaries’. They claim not to hate Israel for what ‘it’ is (the State of the Jews), but for ‘what it does’. The problem (apart from the generalisation) is that, while they militate against Israel (or ‘the [generic] Israeli government’), they have very little to say against countries/governments that ‘do’ the same things – and much, much worse. For instance, they may angrily point at ‘Israeli settlements in West Bank’ and call for boycotts and sanctions against them, or against Israel as a whole. But they don’t call for similar boycotts against Chinese settlements in Tibet, Turkish settlers in Cyprus, Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara, etc. Or, indeed against the gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, the persecution of Baha’i in Iran, or the chronic violations of human rights rampant throughout the Arab world and elsewhere. Even if one takes their accusations against Israel at face value, it’s clear that ‘the justiciaries’ militate not against the offense, but against a particular offender. And that’s the difference between ‘justice’ and ‘persecution’.
The third category is arguably even more interesting. They are ‘the lovers’. They claim – and who am I to disbelieve? – that they criticise Israel ‘out of love’. In fact, they love her so much, they simply cannot bear to see her perform below utter perfection; they want her to be ‘a light unto the nations’. So what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing really – as long as it’s ‘within reason’. See, I have a son – and I really, really love him. Notwithstanding that, he often does not live up to my expectations – mostly, I think, because my expectations are so unrealistically high. I sometimes criticise him – out of love. That’s OK. But if I’d criticise him all the time; if I’d keep bashing him not for failing exams – but for not being the straight ‘A+’ student I expect him to be; if I’d always rub his face into his shortcomings and hardly ever praise his achievements; and if, on top of everything else, I’d do all this in public, to show everybody how damn imperfect he is – then that would make me an abusive parent, not a ‘loving’ one.
Whether in Israel or in the Diaspora, the vast majority of Jews – to the tune of 95% – fall into a fourth category, that of Israel’s supporters. It’s not that they don’t harshly criticise this politician, that government or that stupid decision. Indeed, they do; criticism is, after all, the Jewish national sport. But they also take pride in Israel’s achievements; they also appreciate her enormously difficult circumstances. And while their expectations are sky-high, they are willing to let the Jewish State off the hook for not being ‘a light onto the nations’ every single day of the week – and twice on Saturday. Now, that’s not criticism of the country. That IS love.
Interestingly enough, the small minority of Jewish ‘critics’ of Israel do not belong to one of the three categories; rather, they are represented in each of them.
Among the haters, we find religious nutters such as Neturei Karta, alongside far-left extremists such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The former look, smell and speak like 17th century; the latter portray themselves as some sort of 27th century ‘progressive’ vanguard. Cheese and chalk. They only agree on one thing – that the Jewish State should not exist. Neturei Karta think that God wants Jews dispersed and oppressed until such time as they all join Neturei Karta; for ICAHD, ‘progress’ means Jews as a minority in an Arab state – either a Palestinian-Israeli ‘one state’ or (preferably, they say) one ‘political entity’ encompassing also Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The two organisations are joined in this infamous category by the likes of Philip Weiss (Mondoweiss), Gilad Atzmon, Richard Falk and a smattering of extreme-left Jewish-born militants masquerading as academics.
The second category probably includes most members of organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestine, B’tselem, etc. But these are heterogeneous, ‘umbrella’ groups, and it is likely that parts of their membership overflow into the other two categories.
The third category includes the likes of J-Street, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yachad. They declare their ‘love’ for Israel, even while they bash her at every opportunity and help weaken her negotiating position. This is ‘tough love’, alright! If I poured such ‘love’ upon my son’s rebellious head, he would (rightly) tell me: “Know what, dad? Leave me alone – go ‘love’ somebody else!”
In future articles, I will focus on each of these categories of ‘critics’ – exposing dishonesty, lack of moral compass and oceans of hypocrisy. Watch this space!