Sophie Balmagiya has written a post, “Dear Israel: End the Occupation or Force A Generation of Jews to Abandon Zionism,” which has inspired a response from Donniel Hartman, “Dear Sophie, Israel has failed you”. There seems to be a trend here, so I want to get into the swing of things and post a response to both of them.
Ms. Balmagiya is a 19-year-old American Jewish young woman who characterizes her “relationship to Judaism [as] strictly secular.” The gist of her post is that she fears that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the disputed territories will, as the title of her post states, force her generation of American Jews to abandon Zionism and Israel. And her fear was very recently heightened by the release of an Amnesty International (A.I.) report: “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity”.
What Ms. Balmagiya says about the A.I. report is, to my mind, absolutely astonishing and must be quoted in its entirety:
“This is not the first apartheid accusation aimed at Israel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The validity of these accusations is irrelevant; they will all have the same malignant effect. If accusations continue and no changes are made, apartheid may actually become Israel’s legacy. If this happens, people like me will begin to turn their backs on the new version of Zionism.
“I am here to question how my generation of progressive Americans is expected to feel a connection to Zionism when apartheid accusations are flying like bullets all around us.”
What I find astonishing is her assertion that the “validity” of accusations of apartheid is “irrelevant,” because, regardless of validity or invalidity, “people like” Ms. Balmagiya will “turn their backs” on what will be a “new” version of Zionism.
We ought to think very carefully about what Ms. Balmagiya is asserting about herself and (so she says) her generation. She is asserting that, if someone claims that Israel is guilty of apartheid, she does not care whether that claim is valid or not because, in either case, apartheid will “become Israel’s legacy” and that will cause her (and her generation) to turn her back. The validity of the apartheid allegation is irrelevant—the only thing that matters is that the allegation is made.
She asks rhetorically how her “generation of progressive Americans” should respond “when apartheid accusations are flying like bullets all around us.” I think there is a straightforward answer to that question: they ought to respond by seriously investigating the truth of those accusations, and, if they find them to be untrue (which they are—see here), the ultimate response should be a rejection of false accusations of apartheid. It’s been reported that someone once said: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That’s good advice.
And Ms. Balmagiya shouldn’t worry too much about an entire generation of young Jewish Americans abandoning Israel; I know for a fact that that is not happening. For example, a very courageous group of students (most of whom are Jewish) at Duke University is standing up for their right to publicly support Israel on campus, and they haven’t let a heavy-handed, unfair student government deter them from that mission. I’ve written about it here. So, although I don’t know what percentage of young Jewish Americans are willing to stand up for Israel in the face of false accusations of apartheid, I do know that there are some who have the courage to reject a blatantly false narrative—and they wouldn’t agree that the “validity” of such accusations is “irrelevant.”
Now we come to Mr. Hartman’s response, which, as its title suggests, amounts to an apology for the fact that Israel has “failed” Ms. Balmagiya and her generation. He writes:
“Like Jews of all ages, some are not blessed with an abundance of Jewish and Zionist knowledge, but this deficiency is neither the source of their angst nor the antidote to their “troubledness.” The untroubled committed defenders of Israel fail to internalize the fact that the source for Sophie’s distress is Israel’s current policies and not a lack of knowledge or commitment.”
I don’t understand how anyone can say that the source of Sophie’s distress is not a lack of knowledge or commitment, when Sophie herself has said that, in her view, it is “irrelevant” whether accusations of Israeli apartheid are valid or invalid. If a person doesn’t think it’s important whether Israel is in fact guilty of a most heinous crime, how can one say that that person’s dissatisfaction with Israel is unrelated to her lack of knowledge of or commitment to Israel? Does Mr. Hartman actually agree that it is “irrelevant” whether accusations of apartheid are valid or invalid?
Mr. Hartman says that he wants every Jew to be inspired by and love Judaism and Israel. Who could disagree with those sentiments? But here’s one very unsentimental fact: there are more than fifteen million Jews in the world, and not all of them are going to love and be inspired by Israel. It’s never going to happen. There are, in fact, Jews who abhor Israel, and there are other Jews who simply don’t want to be seen to disagree when their progressive friends, all of whom are very sensitive to issues of “intersectionality” and “settler colonialism,” bash Israel. The absence of perfect Jewish unanimity has not prevented the modern State of Israel from coming into being and thriving handsomely, and there is every reason to believe that, even without that unanimity, Israel will continue to florish.