Have you ever prefaced saying something positive about Israel with “Israel isn’t perfect, but…” ?
My guess is that most of us who care about Israel have said it.
And it is even included on otherwise excellent presentations and films — such is this one that just triggered me: “Israel Inside – how a small nation makes a big difference” (10-minute version)
My experience in many conversations — not only as a direct participant but as an observer — is that using this phrase puts ourselves unnecessarily on the defensive. It as if we want to get permission before saying anything positive, so we sling out the ritual “…not perfect, but…”.
Why do we assume that permission is needed? In a case like the film I refer to, there were no specific negatives on the table to have to rebut. Especially in situations like these using the phrase can easily trigger Israel-bashers to think — aha, this “hasbarist” is thinking of some horrible problems he or she is trying to divert attention from (also called white-washing, pink-washing, green-washing, red-washing).
If the idea is to counterbalance exaggerated pride, I think it is better to avoid both the exaggeration and the terribly destructive counterweight “not perfect, but….”.
At a deeper, darker level, I think many of us are driven by guilt and fear, trying to survive by appeasement. The implicit reasoning seems to be:
Among all other nations, Israel must be perfect in order to have the right to exist, but if Israel does something truly extraordinary, she may be granted a temporary stay of execution – or at least the crowd watching the execution might say ‘tsk, tsk, what a shame, she wasn’t all bad’ “.
I am determined to never, ever, ever, ever say “Israel isn’t perfect, but…” again. And I hope others will make this pledge, too.