My email exchange with a critic of Israel, a state losing its “Holocaust inspired sympathy”

The following represents my reply to an email we received from an Australian at the “contact us” email address at CiF Watch, which was quite critical of Israel.  We receive more than few such emails but as this one seemed representative of the criticism Israel and (often) Jews are subjected to in the West, I decided to spend a bit of time on it and get to the heart of his concerns. 

John,

We received your email and, as managing editor of CiF Watch, a Jew, and a citizen of Israel, I’ve decided to spend a bit of time replying to your critique of Israel. I’ll focus on your main arguments.  

You write:

“Australia and Australians have a generally positive, sympathetic disposition towards Israel and Jewish people.”  

I don’t deny this about Australians. 

You write:

“As I’ve matured though, I am sorry to say that I’ve become aware that in more modern times, Israel is not necessarily as deserving of sympathy as the Jewish people were in WW2.”

It is a little difficult to answer this point because you don’t really expound on why precisely Israel is not deserving of sympathy. What are the sins we’re accused of? And were Jews only deserving of sympathy while we were victims of Nazi genocide?

Moreover – just to be clear – it is not sympathy we demand, but equal treatment. We do not aspire to be the object of your pity but, merely, to be granted the rights afforded to every other nation in the world, which are typically understood to be axiomatic and unreserved.

You write:

“In saying that, I am doing something that I consider crucial but which I suspect you would not like:  discriminating between “Jews” and “Israel”.  I do that because in the public debate here, often the label of “anti-american” or “anti-jewish” is used if people say something negative about the behaviour of Israel or the US.  I am sure some people are simply racist and their arguments stem from that.  Those people are easy to write-off.  The problem however is that there are plenty of people who are not racist who disagree strongly with Israeli behaviour.  To characterise them as anti-semitic is incorrect at best, willfully ignorant in the middle and egregiously aggressive at worst.” [emphasis added]

This is a straw man. 

I dare you to find more than a few isolated examples of mainstream Jews and Zionists who accuse Israel’s critics of antisemitism merely for criticizing her policies. As antisemitism has historically been defined by the tendency to hold Jews to standards no other group is held to, I think it’s reasonable to impute antisemitism to those who similarly hold the Jewish state to such higher standards. 

The current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council has passed 50% of its condemnatory resolutions against Israel (more than twice the number which have been passed against Syria).  I think it is not unreasonable to consider antisemitism as a possible motivation. When Israel’s very right to exist – unlike the other 192 nations in the world – is constantly questioned, I similarly think that antisemitism can be considered a likely cause. 

And, especially when Zionists’ enemies employ tropes about the dangers of Jewish power, or question the loyalty of Jews (who live outside of Israel) to their own nation, or worry about Jews’ control of the media and finance, I again think it’s reasonable to suspect their motivation is Judeophobia.  

But moreover, are you honestly concerned that Israel does not receive its fair share of criticism in the media and on the world stage? 

You write:

“Aside from the very real threats that I know you face, I think there is a deeper, in some ways greater two-part threat looming: that of cutting off from listening to any criticism, even from friends, with the detachment from reality that can lead to.  I’m going to share something personal:  I have a friend who was abused and neglected as a child and then developed drug problems as a young adult.  Even now, she can’t handle criticism, even when she’s making bad decisions and hurting those around her, particularly family.  She’s had an insight into what people are capable of but she now sees threats around her at times when they don’t exist.”

I must admit to thinking that attempts to psychoanalyze Israel and/or the Jewish people assume quite a bit of hubris. What professional background grants you the expertise necessary to understand the hopes, fears, aspirations (and even pathos) of six million Israeli Jews (and fourteen million Jews worldwide)?  

Again, you make your case through abstractions, so it is difficult to reply with the necessary political and intellectual rigor that I’m used to when fisking a Guardian essay or report, but the expansive nature of your charge does demand that I attempt a serious response.

First: What are the bad decisions Israelis are making? I’ll take a wild guess and assume you’re referring broadly to issues concerning the Palestinians.

If so, this a much longer conversation but, as is the case with so many of Israel’s critics, you no doubt would never consider writing a similar letter to the ‘contact us’ section of a Palestinian blog, asking them why their leaders are making bad decisions and hurting those around them. 

Am I wrong? 

Perhaps you can forward an email you’ve sent to the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade – the terrorist brand of the political party currently controlling the PA – asking why they engage in supremely cruel terror attacks on innocent Jewish men, women and children.  Or maybe you can forward an email you’ve sent to PA President Mahmoud Abbas asking him why his government continues to glorify terrorists and indoctrinates their children to hate Jews and reject a two state solution. 

Additionally, maybe you could forward an email you’ve sent to Abbas asking him why he rejected an offer of a contiguous Palestinian state in 2008, which included land equal to 100% of the West Bank, Gaza and a Capital in East Jerusalem (an offer confirmed by then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice). 

My guess is that such emails won’t be forthcoming because you have never thought to send them.

As far as these “phony threats” to Israel you evoke: I guess I could chalk up your callousness to living in Australia and possessing a failure of empathy informed by not having any real security concerns, but I don’t think I’m prepared to let you off the hook that easily. 

You see, in the age of the internet you merely need to go online and go to a credible site which can bring you up to speed on the ideologies of state and non-state actors which surround our tiny polity. I speak mainly of Hamas and Hezbollah: Iranian sponsored, funded and trained Islamist militias possessing thousands of missiles – both of which are quite explicit in their desire to murder millions of Jews. Is it really possible you don’t already know this?  

Do you also not know that the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – perhaps the most popular Islamist group in the Middle East – per a Wikileaks Cable asked Allah to kill “every last Jew on earth” in a sermon delivered to thousands of followers?

Were you also unaware that Iran’s supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei recently outlined why it would be acceptable to kill all Jews in Israel – a doctrine, as reported by the Mail Online, which details why the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of all its people would be legally and morally justified, and in accordance to Islamic doctrine?

Are these the non-existent threats of which you speak?

Finally you write:

“A slow conversion of people with valid, specific criticisms of Israeli government behaviour into invalid, overgeneralised criticisms of Jewish people: I’m sure this is happening and while inherently an unreasonable process, as time goes on I think it will occur more and more.  Holocaust deniers are clearly idiots but as generations pass, the collective sympathy regarding the holocaust will naturally diminish and Israel will increasingly appear to be acting inappropriately.”

It is quite interesting that you have failed to offer even one specific criticism of Israeli government policy. Why is that? Do you have a good working knowledge of the politics of the region?

I doubt you do.

Because if you understood the modern Jewish state and its neighbours with anything approaching objectivity, you would marvel at its liberal democratic prowess in a region awash in tyranny and intolerance.  You’d see a nation which excels in science, medicine and technology and is not only economically self-sufficient, but increasingly exports lifesaving technology to much poorer countries around the globe. 

My tiny Jewish state is, by any credible measure, a social, political and economic success story.

As an Israeli who understands that being a Jew has, throughout history, almost always meant continually being judged, I will simply not grant you the privilege to sit on this jury.

I choose not to grant you that power.

Jews are masters of their own fate for the first time in thousands of years and we have no intention of relinquishing this hard-fought right.

Finally, here’s my proposal.

I am completely fine if your sympathy for the Holocaust completely ceases. Really: I am not concerned with your genocide condemnations and platitudes about concerns for survivors, your Shoah memorials, museums, or days of remembrance.  

However, what I do ask (what even the broadest understanding of universal morality demands) is that you maintain a steadfast, fierce and unyielding resistance to the modern day ideological heirs to Nazi antisemitism: those who carry on the legacy of Hitler, Goebbels, Streicher, Goring, and Himmler. Those heirs are adherents to a malign ideology known as radical Islam (Islamism), many of whom just happen to surround the Jewish state, and whose names are Haniyeh, Nasrallah, and Qaradawi. 

That is, what I’m suggesting is that true philo-semites are those whose imaginative sympathy are inspired by the fate of living Jews, not those who have been dead for over 65 years.

The fact that 40% of those living Jews happen to dwell in Israel is something you may wish to consider.

Written By
More from Adam Levick

Is a Guardian cartoon on the Charlie Hebdo attack blaming the victims?

Yesterday, three Alluah-Akhbar shouting gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine...
Read More