By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Yehuda Bauer is one of Israel’s internationally recognized historians. His special fields of research include the Holocaust, genocide and anti-Semitism. His latest book is a collection of popular essays which he’s said to be currently translating into English, probably under the title, The Impossible People.
In an essay that deals with contemporary anti-Semitism, Bauer distinguishes between three kinds of perpetrators: (1) neo-Nazis who regurgitate the old canards; (2) young Muslims using Israel as the vehicle for their rage; (3) people whose convictions are colored by left-wing politics that deny the right of Israel to exist. Each of these, Bauer suggests, is influenced and often led by intellectuals.
When considering the third category Bauer tells us to carefully separate the anti-Zionists, including Jews and even Israelis, who desire the destruction of the State of Israel, from Zionists, who out of their love of and commitment to Israel are critical of some or many of its policies; their aim isn’t to destroy Israel but to help make it better.
It appears that Bauer himself belongs to these critical lovers of Zion. But the person he cites is Gideon Levy, the Ha’aretz columnist, whose sharp criticisms of many government policies are penetrating and, despite their often shocking allegations, considered by many readers to be true and wholesome.
Israelis can cope with the Gideon Levys of this world; Diaspora Jews normally can’t. They tend to lump them together with the anti-Zionist Jews who want Israel’s destruction and label them as self-hating Jews. Peter Beinart, the journalist, and J Street, the Jewish left-wing lobby in the US, are often so described in mainstream Jewish circles.
This may be partly due to the sad fact that, despite being emancipated, many of us haven’t yet left the ghetto; we see enemies lurking everywhere. But even those who aren’t touched by memories that make for paranoia often have to admit that the enemies of Israel take advantage of Jewish self-criticism and use it for their own sinister purposes.
This places Zionist critics of Israeli policies into great difficulty. If they choose to remain silent, they de facto acquiesce to what they see as acts that potentially endanger the future of the Israel they love. As these acts are often done in the guise of patriotism and concern for Israel’s security, it only increases their pain. And then it’s, of course, scandalous that the enemies of Israel should muzzle its lovers.
The discussion about the documentary The Gatekeepers is a case in point. Its producers and participants insist that their aim was to express their love of Israel by pointing to ways in which its future can be secured. But many right-wingers, especially in the Diaspora, seem to have been offended by the film’s critical, though honest, stance.
A Rabbinic saying has it that the castigations of lovers (such as the Hebrew Prophets) are preferable to the praises of enemies (e.g., the Biblical Balaam). Today’s lovers who wish to follow in the footsteps of our sages find it very difficult to adhere to their teaching without being branded enemies of the Jewish people.
As there’s, alas, usually too little room for compromise, each of us has to make a choice. Many seem to have chosen pained silence. My preference, for what it’s worth, is risking the self-hating Jew label rather than averting my gaze to that which threatens to subvert Zionism and thus endangering the future of Israel for which I care deeply.