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An Israeli leftist to J Street: Stop!

True support of Israel means not patronizing or publicly defaming -- and even putting in the occasional kind word

Last year I traveled to campuses across North America to share my experiences as an officer in the IDF – a role which entailed helping Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza with humanitarian aid. My experiences as a speaker were overwhelmingly positive as I was able to find common ground with many young people of diverse backgrounds and political viewpoints, but there were some unfortunate exceptions.

During one of my speaking events, a student raised her hand to ask a question. The young woman wanted to know what I thought about J-Street and other “left-wing” Jewish groups which criticize Israel, given that I myself am a leftist Israeli.

Assuming she was seeking an honest answer, I told her the truth; “I am very uneasy about their work…” I started, but she interrupted: “Well, I’m the head of the J Street club on my campus and what you don’t understand is that we see Israel as our younger sister. We want our younger sister to be better — we love her and care about her.”

Disappointed by her lack of interest in dialogue, and offended by her analogy, I replied: “So according to you, if I love my younger sister, I need to go around the United States and tell everyone how bad she is? How she doesn’t know what’s good for her? How we must collectively pressure her? And if I truly love my sister, I should tell my parents to cut her off financially? I should publicize her every mistake and defame her on every platform I can? Or if I really care, should I instead work together with her?”

Unfortunately, this verbal exchange is symptomatic of a greater illness among some who identify with the American Jewish left, and this illness has at its core the delusion that Israel is American Jewry’s younger sister. While the woman who asked me that question would like to believe that Israelis don’t know what’s best for their future, it is actually people like her who do not fully comprehend the problems that Israel faces.

Hen presenting to students at Swarthmore College

As an Israeli who has aligned myself for years with Zionist-left parties like Meretz and supported every peace process, I am extremely upset with groups like J Street for perpetrating a faux-progressive approach to the Middle East that mimics the paternalism of 20th century imperialists. They feel that they are entitled to tell us, Israelis, what to do. When we think differently, they will arrogantly dismiss us as people who do not know what is best for our own welfare. Why is it that we, the people who have suffered through wars, served in the military, supported peace agreements, and protested on the streets to effect change – why on earth would we be seen as less capable than those living across the world in the relative safety and comfort of America?

This patronizing approach of some self-proclaimed “progressive” Jewish groups is truly astonishing. They claim that they are “pro-Israel,” yet they consistently echo the opinions of pro-BDS pundits, and regurgitate talking points based on anything but progressive values. Is that pro-Israel or progressive? Just read the statements on their website and social media platforms.

The most recent and prominent example of this twisted reality has surfaced in the debate surrounding the Iran Nuclear Deal. The vast majority of Israelis, from left to right, agree that this is a non-partisan issue: the world should not be giving $150 billion (10 times the size of Israel’s defense budget) to the world’s worst violator of human rights, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism – a regime which leads chants at government rallies of “Death to America! Death to England! Death to Israel!”.

Yet J Street ferociously promotes the deal, in opposition to numerous Democratic members of Congress and Israel’s Zionist Camp (whom J Street regularly invites to speak at their conferences). When faced with this dissonance, J Street attempts to justify its position by pointing to a minority of Israeli security officials who have criticized Israel’s policy on the issue. But most of these officials also agree that the deal itself is deeply flawed. J Street is manipulative even in the way it portrays Israelis who supposedly support J Street’s views.

Like all Israelis, I am the product of a miracle. A miracle happened to my family in 1951 when they were in the middle of a life-changing crisis; they were expelled from Arab countries (North Africa and Iraq) because they were Jews. The miracle was that for the first time in 2000 years, there was a Jewish state to take them home. This is the same miracle that is happening today to French Jews escaping antisemitism – and it is the same miracle that will save many other Jews in the future. It should be clear that Israel is not only here to serve American Jews. I was in the army for five years defending Israel and working side by side with Palestinians. Today I speak up in the public arena because I want to see a better future for Israel and its neighbors. Every day I breathe this country. I feel this country in every bone of my body and with every fiber of my soul.

My message to J Street is this: if you are truly pro-Israel, stop patronizing us. Stop lecturing us, publicly defaming us, and using a foreign government to pressure our democratically elected government from thousands of miles away. If you love us and want to support us – then listen to our voices and speak to us as equals. And every once in a while, since you profess to be “pro-Israel,” perhaps you can say something nice about my country.

J Street, if you continue on this disingenuous, anti-democratic path, I assure you that you will fail. But don’t worry, we will be here to welcome you home when you do — After all, that’s what older sisters are for.

About the Author
Hen Mazzig is a Senior Fellow at The Tel Aviv Institute (TLVi). He is a writer, digital communications expert, international speaker and LGBTQ+ advocate. His work focuses, among other topics, on the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
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