On Israel, J Street & The Expectation of Unconditional Love

Janine Zacharia’s article floored me, the first paragraph a quick jab to the face:

Israeli lawmakers held a highly unusual hearing Wednesday to decide whether J Street, a Washington-based Jewish advocacy group that bills itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” ought to be declared anti-Israel.

I am sick. The McCarthyite hearings being conducted by conservative members of the Knesset on whether or not J Street is “pro-Israel” extend far beyond Israel’s borders. This is an intellectual, civil war being waged by the likes of Danny Danon, the Likud party chairman of Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. These attacks on J-street are, by proxy, an attack on any American Jew who has ever critiqued Israel’s politics regarding the Palestinians.

These attacks on progressive American Jews extend into my neighborhood. They extend into my home. Into my Jewish, “pro-Israel” synapses.

In fact, the metaphorical word “war” may be too kind. This feels like a forced expulsion. As though people like me are being squeezed out, are being removed from those who are legitimately aligned with Israel’s interests. With Israel itself. With Jews in my homeland.

I have reason to be offended.

Danon is pledging to hold a vote in which he hopes to label J Street as “pro-Palestinian” by the Israeli government. For what? For failing to champion every position, every action sponsored by the State. For daring to critique the State in the hopes that such critique might move it forward, might help sustain it, might help it thrive.

If J Street, a volunteer organization concerned principally with Israel’s political viability, made up of volunteers who invest heavily in Israel’s political well-being, can be labeled as “pro-Palestinian,” then so too must people like me be similarly labeled.

Here is the problem: at a time when an Arab Spring is rising and bombs from Gaza are falling, Israel is particularly sensitive to outside, international criticism. And it expects — needs — those within its ranks to circle in. To huddle. To form a protective wall against those who question its actions. And those who don’t? They don’t love Israel. They aren’t pro-Israel. They are the enemy.

All of this is code, of course. What Danon really means by “pro-Palestinian” is “self-hating Jew.”

Bradley Burston’s piece yesterday in Haaretz was spot on, turning this implicit criticism on its head, calling those who want to label J Street as “pro-Palestinian” as the real self-haters. Here is his article’s subtitle:

This is the message of the new self-hating Jew: There is no place for the likes of J Street, Jews who oppose the occupation, or Jews who believe that non-Orthodox Judaism is valid and important.

Go and read his piece. It is a long, emotional, spirited defense of, well, people like me. People who love Israel. Who support Israel. But who refuse to make their love for Israel unconditional.

If unconditional love of a country is the only way one can lay claim to it, can be a part of it, such a country is not a democracy in form or spirit.

This is not the Israel I love.


About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on March 25, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Not that there’s anything wrong with being “Pro-Palestinian,” provided you are pro- all groups of people equally. In fact if these folks call you it, it’s definitely a compliment.

  2. I understand your point. But for J-Street, it’s a serious issue. At a time when this very important political organization is struggling to gain validity (and influence) within American Jewish communities, being labeled as “pro-Palestinian” by the State of Israel could have very dire consequences.

    It’s not about whether being labeled “pro-Palestinian” has any inherent goodness or badness. It’s about what being labeled “pro-Palestinian” might do to decrease it’s pro-peace influence amongst American Jews.

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