Living in Israel for some time now, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with Zionist ideology. From my hesitance to serve in the army to my difficulties finding a stable framework, academic or employment, and to my general disenchantment with the superficial aspects of Israeli society. However, as I became acutely aware over the past year, my intuitive malaise with Israel can sometimes lead one astray and into the realms of antisemitism, if left unchecked.
In order to understand the true situation in Israel, it is imperative to look at Israel from a global perspective. Israel is a small, weak nation with limited natural resources and plenty of civil strife. Without a strong security establishment, Israel would be in much peril. However, as Israel does possess some degree of independence and presents itself as a regional power, we can’t dismiss all of Israel’s perceived aggression as a misunderstanding. Israel must face diplomatic pressures for its persecution of Arab civilians, in addition to its historical misdeeds, but, again, the fine line between a responsible moral consciousness and compensating one’s own insecurities by condescendingly judging a third-world country for first-world problems remains unclear for many of those in the West wishing to take part in such discourse. What I would like to do here is help you better define the limits of fair criticism, and offer alternative avenues of dissent.
Israel’s problematic ideology exists within the complexities of its location on the edge of the Western sphere of influence. On the one hand, Israeli society possesses many aspects of Western civilization. On the other hand, many elements of Israeli/Palestinian society tend to be very critical of the West in ways that subvert traditional defenses and interfere with our relations with our neighbors. This unique situation forces Israelis to interact with the many different aspects of the human condition in a way that most of the West does not need to. The intricacies of human culture and society are lost on most Americans, and even most Europeans, but the complex nature of Israeli society creates a state of instability and confusion which both damages our reputation and harms our psyches. However, within the mess of this cultural conflict, this clash of Western and Middle-Eastern ways of life and consciousness, we also find part of the solution not only for the ills of Israel and her Arab neighbors, but also for the West, and the world at large.
Israel’s complicated political situation, manifesting itself as a corrupt, third-world banana-republic while somehow maintaining societal order without committing crimes on the scale of European fascism, is somewhat mysterious. One can surely judge the Israeli state for its deficiencies and racist ideology, but the fact that the state is derided by many Israelis themselves marks a strong contrast with the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany. In Israel, no one really fears the state, not even the Palestinians. The army, on the other hand, retains a prominent role in civil society, even the more so for the Palestinians living under military occupation. However, most Palestinians will not voice support for their PA, or even claim that what they really want is their own democratic sovereignty. In the eyes of the Palestinians, as in the minds of many Israelis, the democratic system as promoted by the West is failing both sides, and the expectation of democratic rights creates, in and of itself, the illusion of violent apartheid.
Giving up on democracy is not an option. We cannot accede to the specious claims of totalitarian fascism, nonetheless, if we don’t begin to reassess the legitimacy of Western democracy, we may fall into the trap of blaming Israel for nonexistent inequities. In the U.S., the gap between rich and poor, and between White and non-White, is appalling. In Europe, the emergence of racially-driven right-wing extremist groups is unsettling. In the U.S., the ubiquity of gun violence, along with mass incarceration and the enormous drug-trade makes the thin veneer of democratically-protected rights an outrageously overrepresented aspect of American society. Israeli Arabs, while benefiting from the gamut of democratic rights, suffer an epidemic of criminal violence that has upended their society and forced their communities into catering to corrupt interests. In the West Bank, heightened security presence actually reduces the amount of crime on the street, making life for a Palestinian civilian much less dangerous than for the ‘democratically’ protected Arab-Israeli citizen. While, again, I do not promote a military occupation as a solution for organized crime, I would like to point out the complexities of the situation and begin to ask the important questions we all should be asking about the West in general, and specifically about the U.S.
Can we blame Israel for the America’s illegitimate invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? Can we blame Israel for the war crimes committed by the U.S. in Vietnam and Korea? Of course not! Can we blame Israel for the social inequality that exists within American society? For the epidemic of violence? For the irresponsible, nihilistic attitude taken by “woke” society to gender and sexual norms? Again, no. Can we blame Israel for the neo-liberal superstructure, built in a large part by Western enterprises, that threatens global security? No!
Should we blame Israel for its callous approach to Palestinian suffering? Absolutely. To its insidious, racialized, ideology that redefines Judaism as only an ethnic identity without religious obligations or beliefs? Yes. Can we blame Israel for the expulsion of the majority of its Arabs in 1948? Yes, again. However, blaming Israel and only Israel for these issues, without taking the time to analyze the democratic ideals that form the basis of Western civilization, would be unwarranted and even sinister. To criticize Israel as a singular case of systemic corruption, without taking stock of the massive issues facing the West, is definitely a form of antisemitism and must be avoided.
In summary, the act of criticizing Israel does not, in and of itself, pose significant moral qualms. Israelis would even appreciate the attention. However, when criticizing Israel becomes a way of scapegoating the Western capitalism and democracy, such dissent turns very quickly into anti-Semitism. If you are willing to take on the Western establishment and voice opposition to the American hegemony, Israelis will gladly take part in conversation. Nevertheless, if you decide to brush over the inherent corruption that manifests itself within the globalist establishment, your criticism is unwarranted, unhelpful and detrimental to Palestinian interests. Here’s hoping that all those who really care about the situation make the right decision and turn their attention inwards. Israel will help those who help themselves.