I struggle. I struggle in debates with people about Israel – friends, family, acquaintances. I am bothered by my emotional agitation and failure to recognize the common ground on a topic on which I KNOW we agree. I have no doubt that everyone with whom I engage on Israel supports its existence. If so, then why do I get so frustrated??? Why do I fear that a narrative that I see as so dangerous is coopting my disputant and perpetuates an anti-Semitic perspective? Where is the disconnect in my brain?
I am a Zionist, defined as someone who supports the idea that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. I also hold political beliefs regarding the Israeli government and its policies, some supportive and some critical. One can simultaneously support the country of Israel and its people AND be critical of its political activities. This statement is not all that enlightening nor original, yet recognition of these concepts does not prevent my rhetorical meltdowns.
The source of my incapacitation can only be fear. Whether the topic is the plight of the Palestinians, settlements, the peace process, recent Congresspeople’s rhetoric or a host of other topics, various groups and individuals have commandeered the debate, using what may otherwise be legitimate critiques to condemn the very existence of the State of Israel, creating connections where none logically exists. We see this phenomenon on college campuses, in newspapers and in the halls of Congress. The premise simply does not inevitably lead to the conclusion, as some would like us to think.
Be it BDS rhetoric, accusations of Israeli apartheid, or comments from our leaders, I lose some control when those who do support Israel grant that “they have a point.” Despite the privacy of our conversation, I see this seemingly innocent stance as validation of the underlying intent of the group or individual who originally proffered the statement – the delegitimization of Israel. In more public forums, silence or endorsements of even portions of the narrative grants credence to lines drawn from criticism to attacking Israel’s right to exist. Anti-Semites are emboldened while others, sincere in their fight against perceived injustice, unwittingly (or not) cast their lot with groups whose intent is to completely delegitimize Israel in any form.
We must distinguish between valid criticism and deceitful use of issues to attack Israel’s existence, and energetically combat the latter. We need to listen to the words of these groups before defending that “they have a point” or drawing false equivalencies. Their message is consistent. It does not call for a change in Israeli policy or seek to advance a reasonable peace process. Their objective is simply anti-Zionist. They do not believe that the State of Israel should exist – under any circumstances.
Disenchantment towards Israeli policy is leading to Jews’ increasing disconnection with Israel, especially younger Jews. At Federation, one of our pillars is to increase engagement between San Diegans and Israelis. We cannot and do not engage in political debate (as much as I would like to), and we struggle to inspire San Diegans to support our many efforts in this arena, most notably the incredible impact we have had on the lives of people in our sister community on the Gaza border, Sha’ar HaNegev, who live through incredibly difficult threats and assaults. Bringing pre-IDF Israelis to San Diego (“ShinShinim”) for a year is another tremendous success that promises to touch young Jews throughout San Diego. This summer, we are welcoming three new ShinShinim to our community, and are seeking host families that wish to fully partake in this enriching experience. To learn more, please CLICK HERE.
As for my struggle, I pledge to better keep my emotions in check when discussing Israel and to distinguish between anti-Zionism and legitimate criticism, understanding that we all want Israel to thrive. Outside of my private conversations, though, I will not legitimize the dangerous narrative that wants Israel destroyed, vocally demarcating the line between valid criticism and Israel delegitimization that groups use to silence us and confuse others. I also pledge to continue my support for Israel through Federation, and I hope you join me.