December 14, 2018

Answering readers’ comments on “Israel’s Fair Weather Fans” (second round)

I am responding to a very small percentage of comments and questions following my article Israel’s Fair Weather Fans. You can find the first round of responses here. I will repeat the two main points that I tried to make in my original New York Times article: 1. Israel isn’t going to alter its defense policies because of the sensitivities of liberal non-Israeli Jews. 2. The implied threat of “distancing” – namely, that if Israel doesn’t change its ways the liberal Jews might not be able to support it – is a hollow threat.

Now – more comments and my responses to them.

So what was it about?

Andrew Silow Caroll wrote:

Depite what some commentators have written, Rosner’s essay isn’t really about the right of Diaspora Jews to criticize Israel.

Thank you Andrew for reading my article with proper care. It doesn’t say “no” to criticism, and, if I may add, it is also not about “liberal Jews” – as some commentators would like it to be – but rather about a certain type of liberal Jews. Most liberal American Jews – that is, most American Jews – strongly support Israel.

What about right wingers?

James Adler made the following comment on Facebook:

You seem almost to imply that conservative American Jews know more than liberal Israeli Jews but conservative Israeli Jews know more than liberal American Jews. It would be quite a Double Standard.

Gal Beckerman said something somewhat similar:

 Wondering Shmuel if you would say the same about right-wing American Jews offering equally pointed criticism from the right of a center-left Israeli government. 

These are fair comments, because I only criticized liberal observations and did not address conservative ones. Again, I'll say a few things briefly:

1. Not every question should be reduced to a matter of “left” and “right”. The question of “knowing more” is not a question about “liberal” and “conservative” views, but one about, well, knowing more. You can often determine who has more knowledge by listening to or reading people’s comments. Those who make erroneous claims know less, those who make knowledgeable claims know more. They can be liberal or conservative, American or Israeli.

2. Both comments – and many others – treat my article as an attempt to prevent criticism of Israeli policies. It isn't. I am trying to clarify what criticism is proper and productive, and what criticism turns me (and most other Israelis) off.

3. I do not remember any recent warning by conservative Jews that they might have to abandon Israel if it does not pursue their prescribed policies.

4. Had they issued such a warning, I'd say exactly the same about them. If you do not believe that I would, maybe this Slate article from 2008 can help me convince you (it might or might not, because the issue isn't exactly the same). 

My friend and Israel Factor expert Jonathan Rynhold aptly made this point in his Facebook comments:

This is not a specifically liberal thing. In the 1990s, right-wing American Jews were calling Rabin all sorts of things that I can't bring myself to repeat… the thrust of their comments was that Rabin was betraying what they understood as Zionism. Now I'm happy all sorts of Jews identify enough with Israel to engage with it vigorously, especially on issues of religious pluralism or even to some extent on aspects of the peace process that are not directly related to security. But on matters of security, since they do not have to live directly with the life or death consequences, I think the tone they use needs to have a little humility and a lot of empathy. Empathy means putting yourself in Israel's real-life position, not simply extrapolating what Israel's does in terms of a specific diaspora Jewish identity.

You are not speaking for me

Ruth Margalit responded in Slate (in an exchange she is having with Emily Bazelon):

So is it OK for Israelis to bring up objections, but not for American Jews? Where do we draw the line?

Margalit wrote a lot of things, and at times they are confusing in the sense that it is not clear to me if she is writing as an Israeli or as an American (she lives in New York and is a New Yorker staff member). I will refer to only a small number of her remarks.

I’ll start by answering the questions above: Yes, for obvious reasons criticism by Israelis is more acceptable to me than criticism by outsiders. And where do I draw the line? I don't draw any line, I'm just saying that when people start making threats that if Israel is going to keep fighting the war it might “lose them” the result is that they lose any chance of getting the attention of Israelis and convincing them that Israel is on the wrong course.

Margalit also writes: “Seems to me that by pulling this 'We don't need you' card, Rosner is the one gambling away on Israel's security, and, in doing so, he certainly doesn't stand for me”.

Margalit says here a couple of things that are noteworthy. She attributes to me something that I didn't say. My article did not say “we don't need you”, it was crying “we do need you” (And yes, it also said that if we can't get your support we'll have to manage anyhow – what did you expect, that if liberal American Jews disapprove of Israel's action Israel will just dismantle itself voluntarily to keep them happy?).

She also says that I'm gambling on Israel's security. This claim is contingent on the politics of the writer. It only makes sense for those who strongly believe that Israel's current policies are problematic. If one believes that the current policy makes sense, as most Israelis do, he\she wouldn't change the policy to raise Israel's approval ratings among Margalit's friends.

Margalit also says that I don't stand for her. Fine – I don't. No writer can “stand” for everyone. But Margalit – whose views I'm somewhat familiar with through her writings – should also be honest enough to say that she is a member of a very small Israeli minority. That is to say: I don't speak for her, but I have a better claim than she does to speak for the majority of Jewish Israelis.

You can't survive without America's support

Marc Kagan of New York made this comment at the bottom of my article:

Hopefully, Israel, and Mr. Rosner, are also prepared to dispense with the $3 billion subsidy that the US provides yearly, and “learn to survive without that support.” What benefit, exactly, do the American people receive for this handout, except being implicated in thousands of deaths? 

Many readers referred to the more general question of America's support for Israel – and it is a heavy question. So let me briefly make the following comments:

1. American support for Israel is essential. As Israel ponders its actions, it has to take into account America's sensitivities, among other things.

2. I assume that a major driver of American support for Israel is the support of the Jewish community. Israel needs the connection with American Jews for many reasons, and that is one of them (even if it isn’t, in my view, the most important reason; the most important reason, as I say in the article, is that they are family).

3. There are also other reasons for US support for Israel, including strategic calculations. Try Walter Russel Mead if you want to know more about it. Of course, such calculations can change, and if they do, Israel will face difficulties.

4. Saying that Israel will have to find a way to survive even without the support of some American Jews – or, for that matter, even without the support of America – is not a way for me to express secret desire, it is a way to state a simple and obvious fact. No state is ever going to make its existence contingent on the support of another state or a group of people.

5. Will Israel be able to survive without the support of the US, US Jews, or US liberal Jews? I believe it will. But of course, we can’t be certain.

The father metaphor

David Schanzer wrote at Huffpost:

My final sin, in Rosner's view, is that in my criticism of Israeli policy and actions, I am not treating my fellow Jews as family by providing “unconditional love.” But I do love Israel unconditionally, just as I do my children. And that hardly means that I allow my children to do whatever they please, or that I never criticize them. My obligation as a loving parent is to try and shape and mold my children so that they make good, thoughtful, moral decisions that help them live joyous, successful lives. My love for Israel is unconditional in that as long as it exists, I will continue to advocate for its security, freedom and prosperity. My plea to Israel, out of love, is to change course before it is too late.

Schanzer wrote a measured and thoughtful piece and I agree with most of what he says. My intention – and I know I'm repeating myself – is not to silence criticism or claim that all American Jews have to agree with all Israeli policies.

And yet, this parent-child metaphor might reveal more than what Schanzer explicitly says. The point is very similar to the “tough-love” metaphor of my previous post.  So it’s worth reminding him and all other American critics: Israel isn't a child, you aren't a parent. You do not get to educate me, to lecture me, or to punish me “for my own good”. You can be my sister and brother and talk to me, advise me, and love me even when I make a choice you don't approve of.