A Zionist Responds

I am a Zionist.

What that means on a very basic level is that I believe that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination, particularly in their historic homeland Israel and Judea. I believe in a vibrant democracy where a Jewish majority provides equal and fair status to any minorities who live in its midst. I believe that Jews have every right to have access to the Western Wall and also to what is behind it and under the mosques which the Muslim world have taken to calling the third most important site in Islam.

I do not believe that Israel should have religion as part of state law. It is a state for the nation of Jews not a religious state. While aspects of the religion should inform laws and lawmakers, they should not be the defining element in the authority of the government.

I wish for and dream of peace in a smaller Israel that does not have enemies.

I do not believe in war, although I believe in the right to self-defense and believe it is imperative to win any wars or battles decisively.

I believe that the wars that have been inflicted on Israel have given it the moral authority to exist and to remain in control of certain areas that are pertinent to its security. I include the Golan Heights and sections east of the Green Line in this equation. That does not mean that I rule out compromise over these areas, such as for example, giving the Syrians the Golan Heights but with an agreement to turn them into an international park for, say, 500 years.

I do not believe that I should lord it over the Palestinians, rule over them, tell them what they should or shouldn’t do, fight them or anything of the sort. I do not believe in ruling over another nation and in fact seek to not only separate from them but to enable the Palestinian nation to prosper and live in peace side by side a la Canada and the US.

I do not believe that holding Israel to a different standard than other nations is “anti-Zionism.” I believe it is an updated version of anti-Semitism where the small group that can get pushed around is pushed around and bullied. For example, Russia gets away with Chechnya, China gets away with Tibet, the EU and NATO get away with the Balkans, Turkey and Iraq get away with the Kurds, but somehow Israel is on the receiving end of biased censure from all of the above and many more for doing far less. It has become a ping pong ball at the UN, often in the hands of countries that are far less democratic and have human rights violations that stain their hands without the valid excuse Israel possesses that it is fighting an existential series of wars brought on by implacable enemies.

I write this in response to Antony Loewenstein who wrote an article today in Ha’aretz (yes, the newspaper whose publisher whispered in Condoleeza Rice’s ear that the US should rape Israel in order to bring about a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict) entitled, Why aren’t Jews outraged by Israeli occupation?

In that article Loewenstein describes how criticism of Israel is becoming widespread, but he is focused on Jewish and particularly Jewish-American criticism of Israel. He brings examples of the criticism, quoting individuals such as Roger Cohen, who is probably writing another column right now about how wonderful it must be to be Jewish in that lovely and hospitable country Iran, as well as the criticism such critics of Israel receive.

“The decades-old ability of Zionist groups to manage the public narrative of Israeli victimhood is breaking down. Damning critics has therefore become a key method of control.

But, writes Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald, a leading Jewish-American blogger, “whereas these smear tactics once inspired fear in many people, now they just inspire pity. They no longer work.”

What does he mean by this?

Well, Loewenstein believes that the positive change which is washing over parts of American Jewry is that

“A thinking, more enlightened Judaism is emerging, a necessity in the face of apartheid realities. The cause is human rights, not Zionist exclusion.”

Holy cow, the guy just called me exclusionist. He accused me of supporting apartheid, of being unenlightened and of ignoring human rights.

He wants me to see this and he wants all American Jews to see this. “It’s a debate that is long overdue” he writes. He wants the Jewish American public to “See it as their duty to damn what is wrong and not simply support Israeli government policies.”

And in case we don’t understand where he’s coming from, he give us the Cole/Khalidi code for nasty Zionists, when he writes about Obama’s Cairo speech,

American Jews were certainly an intended audience because if it this group that must challenge their conservative spokespeople to undo years of following Likudnik thinking.

He even quotes the former Illinois senator who said once, “there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”

And what are those pro-Likud Jews, nee Zionists, doing? They’re “willfully ignoring lawless behavior in the occupied territories.” He is pleased that the truth is found online on blogs that don’t “cling to the Exodus myths for dear life.”

Heck, he even quotes Phil Weiss whose website can only be described as a cesspool of Israel and even Jewish hatred. But Loewenstein doesn’t see it that way. To him, this is the face of,

A humane Judaism in the 21st century means condemning the brutal military occupation in the West Bank and resisting the ongoing siege of Gaza.

And, of course, he wants the “Palestinian narrative” not to be ignored or dismissed in the US. He wants the “Nakba” mentioned in the same breath as the Holocaust, or to put it into his clever reversal when he speaks of the ADL’s critical reaction to Obama bringing up the Holocaust in the same paragraph as the Palestinian suffering,

This was code for “Nakba”-denial, as pernicious as Holocaust revisionism.

Gosh, he even attended a parade in NYC where 100,000 American Jews celebrated Israel and was depressed because in the parade “Palestinians didn’t exist; they were invisible.”

And just to bring his point home, he concludes with,

But facts have an uncomfortable way of seeping back into view. Colonel Itai Virob, an IDF brigade commander in the West Bank, recently told an Israeli court that, “a slap, sometimes a punch to the scruff of the neck or the chest, sometimes a knee jab or strangulation to calm somebody [a Palestinian] down is reasonable.”

Where is the Jewish outrage over this?

Well Mr. Loewenstein, facts do have an uncomfortable way of seeping back into view. Let’s review some facts.

Fact: Virob was speaking about exceptional circumstances, not commonplace situations as this quote suggests. However, even so, within days in the most public forum he could muster, right in the Knesset building itself, the IDF Chief of Staff spoke clearly and definitively against any such practice.””I will not tolerate any lack of clarity on this,” Ashkenazi told the Knesset committee. “IDF soldiers are not permitted to beat prisoners.” This article, in Ha’aretz, goes on to say that the IDF is considering a possible criminal investigation of Itai Virob.

A criminal investigation? Does that show outrage? The Chief of Staff making the illegality of such behavior beyond clear in a very public forum. Does that show outrage?

Oh, Mr. Loewenstein wants my outrage. I, as an American Jew should be outraged. Otherwise, I am a pro-Likud kinda bastard with inhumane and un-Jewish views leading Israel down a horrific alley.

Except that unlike Mr. Loewenstein, I am able to see both the negative and the positive in this situation. Being blindly critical of Israel isn’t humane and isn’t Jewish. It requires, in fact, willful blindness to the truth. In this case the truth is that even as a complex and difficult situation caused an officer and his soldiers to act, in extraordinary circumstances as the article states, in an unacceptable and violent manner, their Israeli society and their military stood up against it unequivocally and immediately.

Some more facts that Mr. Loewenstein neglects to mention: Israel has tried to get out of the “occupied territories.” Even if you put aside the compromises the Yishuv accepted in 1937 and 1947, you still have to look at Barak’s offers of 2000 and 2001 and Olmert’s offer of 2008. These were generous offers and offers that would have led to peace had the Palestinians accepted them.

Oh, did I mention the unilateral evacuation of Gaza? That led to a Hamas government and thousands of rockets landing on Israel.

How does Israel get out of the “occupied territories” without a peaceful partner? It can’t. How does Israel make life easier for the Palestinians when they use the avenues made available to them as opportunities to send terrorists into civilian Israeli centers with a mission to blow up and harm as many people as they can? It can’t.

How does Israel ignore the hostile voices from within that side with its enemies or speak in terms that are nothing less than anti-Semitic? It does. It allows them freedom of expression in the Knesset and in the streets and on university campuses.

How can Israel offer justice to its enemies when they explicitly call for its destruction and for the harming of its civilians? It does. The High Court provides a door to all comers, even if they are stateless Palestinians from the occupied territories.

How can Israel fight and win its wars while acting justly? It does. The efforts it makes to avoid civilian casualties place the IDF’s own troops in danger. It is not a “fact” to say, “look at the ratio of Israeli casualties to Palestinian casualties.” It is a fact to say, “They went in there and made the best effort they could to fight in a way that minimized civilian casualties. These were their marching orders and involved a substantial portion of their preparations both in attacking Gaza and Lebanon a couple of years earlier.”

Where is Loewenstein’s outrage that Israel is singled out among all the nations for actions that pale in comparison? Where is Loewenstein’s outrage that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate and accept the offers placed before them? Does he really think they deserve sovereignty over the holiest site in Judaism even as they negate the connection of the Jews to that site? Where is Loewenstein’s outrage that not a single Jew was permitted to remain in the occupied Jordanian West Bank and Jerusalem and that this bigoted, heinous 19 year blip in Jewish history and continued residence in places such as the Old City of Jerusalem should determine the fate of this center of Jewish life? Is a Gush Etzion settler really a settler? Why? Does east Jerusalem always have to remain Arab now? Why?

No, Mr. Loewenstein, Israel is a country in a very difficult and complex situation. It is struggling for survival even as it has to dedicate enormous resources to its own self-defense, even as its citizens are traumatized by violence that targets them and not their soldiers, even as its enemies refuse to come to the table to negotiate in good will (unless you think starting a war, launching terror attacks, running a nasty international PR campaign, and demanding sole possession of their opponent’s holiest sites are good will aspects of Palestinian negotiations). Israel is a vibrant democracy with a strong free press, a strong independent judiciary and a military that isn’t perfect but attempts to act ethically even as it fights unethical enemies (unless you think creating myths like the al-Dura shooting, writing charters based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, lobbing rockets into civilian communities and holding hostages for years and decades without even a single Red Cross visit is ethical).

Mr. Loewenstein, the outrage I feel is that you don’t see the enormity of your errors. That while you believe you are the epitome of “humane Judaism,” in fact you are the supporter of those who seek to destroy all that is good in Israel. And there is much good there, just as there are many, many flaws. It is a young country born in war and still fighting that war. The USA was once in similar straits and found its voice and its place. Israel has accomplished a great deal despite harsh challenges. Yet you want to convince us, that is American Jews, and of course the non-Jews who are listening, that the war that engulfs Israel doesn’t matter, that the Palestinian refusal to negotiate in good faith doesn’t matter, that decades of terrorism don’t matter and that offers of co-existence don’t matter.

Well, they do matter. The facts are difficult to accept because we all want the presence of Israeli soldiers in Arab areas to end. But some of us understand that the soldiers are there because there is no other choice and when you turn them into monsters, falsely I might add, you weaken them and the promise of what Israel could become.

Some relevant Jewlicious links:

Leaving the West Bank

Israel After Gaza

Ehud Olmert Corrects the Record

Abbas Confirms Olmert gave an Insanely Generous Offer

The loonie Jewish extreme Left rears its ugly head on Holocaust Remembrance Day

An ugly tide

PLO, AKA the Palestinian Authority, has not changed its platform

“Olmert’s like a woman who is dying to get married, but is afraid of becoming pregnant”

Back to Taba

Abbas ignores 60 years of history and kisses Annapolis bye bye

Not with a bang but a thud

An Extremely Important Editorial about Sderot and the Palestinians’ Attacks on the Town

My Little Six Day War 40th Anniversary Post

By the way, I don’t support the Likud.


  1. amechad

    6/18/2009 at 10:20 am

  2. themiddle

    6/18/2009 at 11:02 am

  3. Pingback: Defending the occupation is such fun | Antony Loewenstein

  4. Rabbi Yonah

    6/18/2009 at 2:05 pm

  5. bluecanary

    6/18/2009 at 6:22 pm

  6. Raffe

    6/18/2009 at 8:06 pm

  7. themiddle

    6/18/2009 at 8:27 pm

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