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Israel, it’s not you — it’s them

Progressives who broke up with the Jewish state for not being perfect are engaging in moral narcissism

Some Jewish progressives once again find themselves in writhing agony over Israel and its litany of misdeeds against the Palestinians.

Two recent essays in Haaretz assiduously condemn Zionism, singling Israel out as a source of shame for Jews who can no longer tolerate a lone democracy wedged into a region where stoning women, torching homosexuals and beheading journalists are not crimes but hobbies, and where life is made miserable for anyone who doesn’t long for the stone age of the last Caliphate.

Columnist Gideon Levy declared that Israel is “evil” — not quite as bad as the Nazis, but surely a nation irredeemably at fault for an unjustified “Occupation” and detentions that demonstrate arbitrary cruelty and not self-defense. And two American historians, Hasia Diner and Marjorie Feld, pronounced that Israel (and any synagogue with Zionist sensibilities), is now finally off their Christmas lists — no longer will they visit, support, or even say a kind word about the Jewish state, so repugnant has Israel become in their purified eyes.

Yes, Israel, it’s you. If you didn’t exist, all the world’s problems would magically disappear, and some on the Jewish left, like Levy, Diner and Feld, would finally be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Welcome to the delusions of Jews who can’t live with themselves until they publicly disavow the one country on the planet that would accept them without condition.

We’ve heard this song before; the one-note wonder that epitomizes the moral superiority of some Jewish liberals:

“Oh, Israel, I visited you as a child and planted a tree. I spent a summer on a kibbutz, got sunburn, and learned a new dance. I always loved you, but no more.” (Note the back of the hand pressed dramatically against forehead, voice trembling.) “Your imperfection has stained me as a complicit Jew. Your policies toward the Palestinians have hurt me personally, and for this reason, you have lost my loyalty and love.”

For those not gagging, you’ll be happy to know that there is a phrase for such pathetic posturing: moral narcissism. Somehow Israel’s historic geographic dilemma, surrounded by authoritarian despots, Islamic fanatics, and parents who martyr their children in ways that make even barbarians blanch, is subordinated to the disapproval of Jews who feel that Israel owes them an apology.

Imagine their disappointment in the Jewish state for failing to live up to their high standards, where nothing is asked of Muslim societies and everything is demanded of the Jewish one. How convenient that, for the most part, they can safely pout from afar, the daily reality of knife-wielding and rocket-launching Palestinians of no special concern on American college campuses or the copy desk of American magazines.

In this twisted morality play of smug self-importance, the existential costs of living in the Middle East becomes secondary to the higher mission of enabling certain Jews to forgive Israel and love it once again. What is Israel, after all, if some Jewish writers and academics can’t go to lunch and face their friends? What personal hardship. Zionism exudes all social ills, especially bad manners.

Unfortunately, this kind of pandering to anti-Semites and anti-colonialists has been going on for some time. In faculty lounges, intellectual circles, and certain fashionable parties, equating Zionism with Nazism, racism, and whatever it was that Attila the Hun practiced in his day has become the calling card of the Jewish jet set. “Some of my best friends are Jewish” is no longer the exoneration of choice; “I know Jews who despise Israel” is the new secret password among polite company

After all, it’s not hard to impress those who can’t find Israel on a map, and who casually fail to acknowledge the number of wars Arab nations have waged against Israel and the various peace proposals the Palestinians have rejected over the years.

Palestinian charters to annihilate the Jewish state, along with an odious slogan such as, “from the river to the sea,” are not mere trash talk. Blindness to such willful wish fulfillment is more than pathology, it’s prejudice — the moral hypocrisy of losing all perspective on the sorry condition of human rights among Muslim nations. Israel’s neighbors murder and dehumanize hundreds of thousands of their own people with no global outcry. Israel disarms a terrorist and bloody murder is suddenly too generous a description.

Israel is not perfect, but in the Middle East, northern Africa and Persian Gulf, it’s earthly paradise, which is why Arab Israelis would choose to live nowhere else, and why journalists who cover the region live and report out of Israel, where freedom of the press allows them to criticize the one nation where no matter what they write, their necks will still be securely attached to their heads.

Note to Levy, Diner and Feld and their sympathizers: Please, go find another country that will make you feel better about yourselves. Israel has enough troubles without having to worry about your delicate, ever-needy self-regard.

About the Author
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist and Distinguished Fellow at NYU School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society (FOLCS). He is the author, most recently, of the novel, "How Sweet It Is!" His forthcoming nonfiction book is titled, "The High Cost of Free Speech: Rethinking the First Amendment."
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