Friday, May 14, 2010

Strenger on Israel Supporters

The HP blogger Carlos Strenger has an interesting essay on the relationship between Israel's various groups of supporters in the Diaspora on the HP. He talks about Alan Dershowitz's recent speech at Tel Aviv University, and unlike most of the other personalities on the HP, does not personally attack Dershowitz. He outlines several questions about "the liberal position on Israel", and answers them for himself. If you read the article, and you should, you can read his answers. However, I'd like to offer my own answers to the questions he poses. While I do not consider myself a "liberal" per se (I don't like labels, especially ones that require you to have certain views on a wide variety of topics), after months of reading the HP I know what arguments will convince a liberal and what arguments won't. Anyway, on to the questions.

A) Is Israel's settlement activity vital to its security?

Short answer, no. Long answer, Israel's security is the most important requirement for Israel in the peace-making process, and the settlements are not helping Israel gain security. However, the Israelis remember life more than ten years ago, in which there were no settlements and also no peace. I think they recognize the Palestinian demand to stop settlement construction as just one of a long series of red herrings that the Palestinians use to keep preventing negotiations from finishing. So while settlements aren't helping security, neither will no settlements create peace. The settlement activity is a tangential issue compared to the security issue, one is not dependent on the other.

B) Should Israel's Protecting Human Rights be an overriding value?

Human rights is something everyone believes in to a greater or lesser extent. Liberals hold human rights to be the ultimate value, sort of like their new religion. In the I/P conflict, the problem is protecting human rights for one group of people means intruding on the human rights for the other side. Protecting the Israelis from rockets means intruding on the Gazan right to move freely in and out of Gaza. Allowing the Palestinians of the West Bank to move freely means risking losing the Israeli right to live without fear of suicide bombings, etc. Protecting human rights is important, but ultimately Israel has the same responsibility as every other country in the world, protecting her own citizens first and other nations' citizens second. No one would ask more from any other nations.

C) Is Being Pro-Israel Consistent with Criticizing Israel's Policies?

Short answer, yes. Long answer, yes but 1. anti-Israel statements are not always criticism and 2. such criticism needs to handled delicately. If you want to criticize, say, the occupation, you need to understand why the occupation exists, why it started, why the Israelis believe the occupation is necessary, and address those concerns. Statements like "End the occupation! Israel is breaking international law by keeping the Palestinians subjugated!" is not "criticism" of Israel, it's just a demand that Israel change its policy with no apparent understanding of why Israel is doing what's doing. When Israel receives such statements from, say, the President of the US, it doesn't think the President is acting with Israel's best interests at heart (i.e., being "pro-Israel").

Also, criticizing Israel's policies cannot happen in a vacuum, especially when comparing it to "being pro-Israel". "Being pro-Israel" is a state of being and a state of mind. Criticizing Israel's policies is an action that one can do over and over again. People who have proven themselves to be pro-Israel in the past carry far more weight when they criticize Israel. For example, Alan Dershowitz has proven himself to be a stalwart supporter of Israel for decades. So when he criticizes Israel, his criticisms have more force because he has proven himself to be looking out for Israel's best interests in the past. On the other hand, we have people like MJ Rosenberg and Jeremy Ben-Ami, who tell us they are "pro-Israel", but they spend 100% of their time criticizing Israel and Israel's supporters. Criticism of Israel's policies is legitimate no matter who you are, pro-Israel or anti-Israel, but it needs to be given delicately.

What do the rest of you guys think about any of these three questions?


  1. I thought the questions raised were of interest and thought provoking, however these topics are overly broad and need to be broken down even further (e.g. which settlements? what time frame, what political, security climate? etc. etc.)

    While many of us to a one degree or another may agree or disagree on these separate questions, I would characterize them as part of a wider internal Israeli debate - where it should be. Thus whatever opinions I may hold, as an American Jew, I defer to my Israeli brethren to openly debate and decide what is in their best interests, and I am happy to support their decisions (with and without criticism).
    It would be entirely too chauvinistic for me to assume that "I know what's best", unless I change my name to MJ.

  2. Of course, being pro-Israel is consistent with criticizing Israel's policies. Hell, no one criticizes Israel's policies more than the Israeli's themselves.

    The problem is that anti-Zionists and Israel Haters do not know the difference between criticism and demonization. They spit hatred and call it "criticism."