Last week I put a link on my Facebook page to a comment piece by Ed Husain of the Westminster think-tank Civitas and a Fellow at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Centre.
It was an erudite, exquisitely argued piece about why British Jews should refrain from criticism of Israel’s premier Bibi. I shan’t rehearse the arguments as I don’t have the expertise to do so and frankly, if you’re interested, you’d do much better to read the original piece…
Aware a lot of people would disagree fervently with Husain’s view, I asked dissenters to complain to the publication rather than to me. To no avail, of course. Many comments described Bibi in uncomplimentary, sometimes colourful language, but most expressed a variant on: “How dare anyone suggest British Jews should not be critical…” etc.
Let me state here that I am emphatically not a fan of Bibi Netanyahu; not of his politics, his policies, his personal life, nor, ahem, of his life choices. But I do see the very complex skein of fragile threads that criss-cross the region and am aware it would not take much for the Middle East to explode. Again.
I also understand why official “reprimands” from British Jews (or, indeed, criticism from any diaspora community) are unhelpful and not only undermine Bibi but undermine Israel. (For me, undermining Bibi would be no bad thing if it dislodged him from office, but as most of the criticism comes from people who, like me, have no vote, it fails in that regard.)
Instead, undermining Bibi merely serves to undermine Israel because all that overt hostility and condemnation provides extra leverage for those who demonise Israel and deny Israel’s legitimacy. In other words, in a similar way to how anti-Zionism in the UK segued into anti-Semitism, so anti-Bibism easily segues into anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment. Or if it doesn’t actually segue into it, it definitely helps to feed it.
It may be a slight curtailing of Free Speech to suggest British Jews (and other diaspora communities) should refrain from vocal criticism or formal censure of Bibi but let me offer you an analogy which helps me explain the dilemma of free speech versus restraint.
There is a brain surgeon – let’s call him Binyamin – who is brilliant but deeply flawed. He swindles cash from healthcare providers, cheats on his wife, has a gambling habit and his children are a combo of all the brats from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” But his brain surgery is second to none. It is the envy of colleagues and makes the hospital a centre of excellence. Let us now imagine that this brilliant, deeply flawed, surgeon is performing delicate, life-saving surgery on your 4-year-old child. Would you gather his colleagues and stand outside the operating theatre screaming insults at him?