Legitimate criticism and legitimate hatred

One of the most odious lies spouted by the anti-Israel grievance manufacturing industry is that pro-Israel aligned activists put their main goal as stifling, silencing and denying any criticism of Israel. Its done to add to the Palestinian narrative of permanent victimhood, so that when proponents of BDS are exposed and shunned for what they are, disgusting racist bullies who could not care less about Palestinian human rights, they can cry and lament that the “Zionist lobby” is trying to stop their criticism of Israel and Israeli policy.

Its a common tactic among Israeli-haters. Cling to victimization to maintain the illusion of moral superiority. In reality the criticism (when not peppered with profanity and anti-Semitic epithets) lobbed by pro-BDS groups are not legitimate. One can employ an application of Nathan Sharansky’s 3 D’s test (if the criticism demonizes, delegitimizes or holds Israel to a double standard than all other countries, then what you have is anti-Semitism), a fine way to distinguish anti-Semitism from legitimate criticism.

Yet, there is another way to tell if one’s criticism is laced with hate. Criticism of the policies of most other nations is done out of a legitimate desire to improve the state, as well as the lives of those dwelling within it. Common examples would be the suffragette movement, Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, and most recently, the result of years of pro-equality advocacy, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision ruling in favour of same-sex marriage nationally.

These social changes came after passionate criticisms of American policy, pointing out the issues with the previous laws in order to enact new ones.You’ll never hear anything of this nature coming from an Israel-hater. All you’ll hear is vitriol from people trying to make you that their “legitimate criticism of Israel” is anything other that criticism of the existence of Israel.

Illegitimate and hateful. Photo from CAMERA.Org
Illegitimate and hateful. Photo from CAMERA.Org

Some on the left, even other Jews, have targeted my opposition to the BDS movement, a movement with a founder who admits that it’s aim is the annihilation of Israel, as my own personal inability to hear anything negative about Israel. This is just not true, and honestly its downright ridiculous.

I love Israel, and I don’t believe that criticisms of how “aggressively” Israel defend itself in the face of seven wars, two intifadas, waves of suicide bombing, kidnappings, lynching, stone throwing, and an enemy that has stated, multiple times, with no uncertain terms, in speech, on video, on social media, that their reason for existence, geopolitically, religiously, and even if their prior demands are met, is to destroy Israel, the Zionist, Jewish entity, are at all legitimate. Hamas’ pledge to resume the use of human shields should Israel lax its security measures (which these kinds of critics hilariously misunderstand as “occupation”) justify continued security like the Gaza ground blockade and marine embargo. Anyone who argues that Israeli security ought to ease despite Hamas’ threats, is without a doubt, an anti-Semite, trying to guise with the language of “human rights”, “self-determination” and “struggle” his/her burning, twisted desire to see dead Jews in Israel.

I, an ardent Zionist and campus advocate, do, in fact, criticize Israel. Step into an informal meeting of the members of Hasbara York, my independent, student-run pro-Israel group. We scrutinize and critique elements of Israeli society and policy all the time, habitually leading to interesting and thought-provoking discussions centered around some very legitimate criticisms of the country we love.

For instance, the high cost of living in Israel is a common focal point in these discussions. Its candidly tossed around as a deterrent to Aliya, and memories of grocery shopping during summer long stays in the Jewish state are brought up as examples of how Israel has some work to do socio-economically.

That tends to be a common one, but I tend to gripe about one particular aspect of Israeli society that has left me less than enchanted with Israel. I really dislike the vice grip the ultra-religious have on the civic institutions. It bothers me that Israel lacks civil marriage, both same-sex and opposite, because marriages are only recognized by the state if officiated by a member of the clergy. That is ridiculous. This is when by and large, the religious do not serve in the IDF, yet are the recipients of Israel’s exceedingly generous social welfare programs.

And on the topic of gay marriage: how in the world does a country as socially progressive as Israel, with pride parades and a general acceptance of LGBT people as the norm, lack same sex marriage? for a same-sex marriage to be officially recognized by Israel, you must leave the country and enter one that legally grants marriage licenses to same-sex couples, have the wedding there, and then come back to Israel. Cyprus is the most common destination for this. Israel only recognizes same-sex marriages from outside the country. Also ridiculous.

The domestic economy and the inflated status of the religious certainly are issues. Bit there is one element of Israeli policy that I find disturbing. It disturbs me right down to the core of my Jewish neshama that Israel, a nation of people no stranger to discrimination, racism and genocide, does not afford full and unequivocal recognition to the 1915 genocide of the Armenian people at the hand of Turkey. Israel does not currently recognize this event that is not only understood and recognized as a genocide by many of its democratic allies, such as Canada, but is also identified as a pre-cursor to the genocide of the Jews of Europe in the 1940s.

Why does Israel not recognize this travesty? Because it might offend Turkey, the country that not only committed this genocide, but has in recent years devolved into another Middle Eastern bastion of Islamist hatred and backwardness. We are not going to see Israel’s relations with Turkey improve any time soon. Failure to recognize 1915 as a genocide is one of the few things that makes me ashamed to be an Israel supporter. Surely the Jewish nation is above this.

I accept Israel for what it is: imperfect, flawed, with a long road ahead to grow out of some of its societal problems. But, it is the embodiment of a Jew, a person. Its a manifestation of the Jewish spirit, empowered by Zionism, dutifully remembering the Holocaust, and, for the first time in about 2000 years, ready to defend itself from its intended killers. Israel, perhaps more so that most countries, is like a person; you’re allowed to criticize, point out flaws so that they go recognized and hopefully changed, out of a legitimate desire to see the emergence of a better state, a better person, but you are not allowed to attempt to murder it. That’s the end goal of Hamas, BDS, and their enablers. That’s the difference between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism.

I criticize Israel because I love Israel. There is nothing wrong with taking issue with a certain element of Israeli society, culture or policy, and voicing legitimate criticism, even in the Diaspora. If done with love, it can only make for a stronger Jewish state. And if not, genuine supporters (and genuine critics) are typically able to see right through it.

About the Author
Willem Hart is a social science and Jewish studies student at York University in Toronto. He is an active member in the pro-Israel scene, and a lifelong disabilities service worker and advocate.
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