Jonathan Freedland to Israel: I love you, I love you not.

It seems to be happening a lot lately: publicly known figures telling us how much they ‘love’ Israel and insisting that they are its ‘friend’ before launching into some kind of attack on this or that aspect of Israel. So I suppose it’s time to talk about love.

The kind of love for Israel which Jonathan Freedland professes in his JC article of November 7th is better known as infatuation. Like many a starry-eyed young lover, having just discovered that the object of his affections snores and leaves wet towels on the floor, he now feels betrayed. Israel is not the perfect being he put on a pedestal and so his affection becomes conditional; either she lives up to his ideals or it will be her fault that he can’t love her any longer.

That, of course, is not love. Genuine love is capable of accepting the faults of the loved one as part of the whole package but recognising the merits too. Just as our partners and children sometimes disappoint or annoy us with their flaws, so does Israel, but we do not stop loving them because of that. And we do not lay down pre-conditions for our love.

The Israeli people know full well that their country – like any other – is far from perfect, as do Israel’s many friends within the British Jewish community. But apparently unlike Freedland, both these groups understand that despite its flaws, Israel represents a tremendous achievement.  Increasingly and uniquely that achievement has its very existence called into question.

Freedland’s attempt to equate the external threat represented by delegitimisation of Israel’s basic existence with its internal faults and failures is at best disingenuous and possibly even a form of delegitimisation in itself due to its selective highlighting and amplification.

In his dramatic description of a visit to Hebron, Freedland fails to mention the town’s complex history including the expulsion of its ancient Jewish population, the fact that Israelis living there today do so under the terms of the Oslo accords accepted by the PA or the numerous attacks on Israeli civilians there which have made ugly and regrettable security measures necessary in order to protect lives. Freedland completely exonerates by omission one side of the dispute; his opprobrium is reserved exclusively for the object of his disappointed infatuation.

Moving on to Mea Sharim, again Freedland neglects to paint the whole picture, failing to state that the Israeli High Court has emphatically ruled against sex segregation (reflecting majority opinion in broader Israeli society) or to mention the sterling work of Jerusalem council members in combatting this aberration.  Equally disingenuously, Freedland presents one of the hundreds of proposals placed annually for debate on the Knesset table as though it were evidence of the demise of Israeli democracy.

Like any democracy, Israel has its fair share of healthy wrangles between different sections of society, each with its own interests. Rather than heralding its demise, there is much to celebrate about the fact that truly multi-cultural Israel is confident enough in its robust democracy to allow all kinds voices to be heard – even those the majority find unacceptable.

By presenting a selectively edited cameo of what he sees as Israel’s unlovable traits and conditionalising his love and friendship upon their removal, Freedland displays profound disrespect for the very democracy he claims to uphold and trivialises the many complex realities the Israeli people who make up that democracy face.

Even more worrying is his employment of linkage between perceived faults in Israeli society and Israel’s very existence – a tactic frequently used by the very worst assailants on Israel’s legitimacy and one which no other country, however undemocratic, has to tolerate.

Such conditionality chauvinistically reduces Israel to the status of dumb trophy wife.

That’s a version of ‘love’ best avoided by its object.

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