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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.

9 Comments

  1. amechad

    6/18/2009 at 10:20 am

    So if you’re a Zionist, when are you joining ck and me in making aliya? The reality of Israel is far more complex than the idealized version from abroad (with a 50%+ intermarriage rate!)

  2. themiddle

    6/18/2009 at 11:02 am

    Very possibly after my child goes off to college, although both my wife and I will have to find new careers at a time when we won’t be spring chickens anymore.

    And I see many flaws in Israel and its direction. In part this is why I’m waiting until after he’s 18. I want him to decide for himself whether he feels compelled to live there, and not force military service or life there upon him.

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  4. Rabbi Yonah

    6/18/2009 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you TM.

    You hit the nail on the head

  5. bluecanary

    6/18/2009 at 6:22 pm

    Israel’s entire rationale is based on the validity of a so-called biblical promise from God of the land either side of the River Jordan – yet, astonishingly, your post advocates a secular state. Which argument would you like to retain in order to validate your position – the latter or the former? You can’t have it both ways. If Israelis are predominately non-religious, which they are, then on what do they base their claim for ejecting an indigenous Arab people that had lived continuously on and in the land for over 1000 years?

  6. Raffe

    6/18/2009 at 8:06 pm

    As an Australian Jew there are a number of idiotic things that Loewenstein does. He’s a laughing stock within our community and his ideas are dismissed as moronic. He’s an extremist and yet he continues to paint us as ‘racist, evil, bloodthirsty etc’. He claims that the Jewish community is trying to ‘silence’ him yet he has already published two books (i’ve read them both and there were so many mistakes littered throughout them i’m surprised that it wasn’t written by a 4 year old) and if you read any of his personal correspondence you’ll wonder just how he is considered a journalist considering he hasn’t been able to master basic grammar.

    Thanks for this Jewlicious!

  7. themiddle

    6/18/2009 at 8:27 pm

    Israel’s entire rationale is based on the validity of a so-called biblical promise from God of the land either side of the River Jordan – yet, astonishingly, your post advocates a secular state.

    Where did you get this idea that Israel’s entire rationale is based on the validity of a biblical promise?

    Sure, there are some people who believe this but they don’t run the government of Israel, they didn’t found Israel, they were a tiny minority of the Zionists who built the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community) and are not representative of either the country’s foundations or its intentions. The country was founded by secular Jews who believed that the Jewish people are a nation and not just a religion. They believed that the Jewish people, like other nations, deserve their own state where they could determine their own fate. This was due, in some measure to the failure of the Enlightenment to alleviate societal anti-Semitism in many countries where Jews lived.

    Israel’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence does not mention a biblical right to the land either. Israel respects Jewish traditions in the same way that it permits Muslims and Christians to have legal civil authority from their religious leaders.

    I hope that clarifies things for you.

    Which argument would you like to retain in order to validate your position – the latter or the former? You can’t have it both ways.

    Really?

    If Israelis are predominately non-religious, which they are, then on what do they base their claim for ejecting an indigenous Arab people that had lived continuously on and in the land for over 1000 years?

    First of all, only some of these Arabs are indigenous. Second, there were Jews living continuously on that land for 2500 to 3000 years. Jews always lived in Tiberias, Safed and Hebron with small breaks at times from living in Jerusalem because Christians or Muslims were evicting them.

    The claim to the place is based on ancient history and on modern history. Ancient history teaches us that this was the home of the Jewish people. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, are written in Hebrew and Aramaic and contain the canon of the Hebrew Bible. These are 2000 year old documents that not only precede your indigenous Arab population but also precede Islam.

    Modern history teaches us that the Jewish people strove to reclaim their historic homeland using money to purchase the land and with democracy, intending to grow the Jewish population until it grew sufficiently to be able to run and win elections. This vision was supported by the international community through the League of Nations which gave the British a Mandate to turn Palestine – until then a province of the Ottoman Empire – into a home for the Jewish people. The British proceeded to then give most of Palestine, 83% of it, to the Hashemites who formed TransJordan (today’s Jordan) and the remaining 17% is what the UN suggested the Jews and local Arabs (now known as Palestinians) divide between them. The Arabs, as they did in 1937 when the Peel Commission suggested a similar division, refused. The Jews accepted again, as they did in 1937. This time, however, the Jews declared a state when the British Mandate concluded. The result was an attack by several Arab armies including the local Arabs. In this war, the Jewish community of Palestine, now Israel, lost 1% of its population and many more were injured and maimed. But it won that war, just as it won the war in 1967 and the one in 1973. Those wars are the other reason that Israel can lay claim to this land. The other side was intent on ejecting the Jews – if you need evidence of this, just look at the Jordanian behavior in the “West Bank” where they evicted every single Jew from their territory), but failed. The Israelis did not eject all the Arabs and in fact kept a sizable number. Others were ejected or left on their own. But the decades of violence prior to that war and the war itself led to the fate of the Palestinians today.

    And now, for your edification, Israel’s Declaration of Independence (you would do well to read this and then read the charters of the PLO and Hamas to understand where your sympathies lie):

    ERETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

    After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

    Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim [(Hebrew) – immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

    In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.

    This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.

    The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

    Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.

    In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.

    On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

    This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

    ACCORDINGLY WE, MEMBERS OF THE PEOPLE’S COUNCIL, REPRESENTATIVES OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF ERETZ-ISRAEL AND OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT, ARE HERE ASSEMBLED ON THE DAY OF THE TERMINATION OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OVER ERETZ-ISRAEL AND, BY VIRTUE OF OUR NATURAL AND HISTORIC RIGHT AND ON THE STRENGTH OF THE RESOLUTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HEREBY DECLARE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE IN ERETZ-ISRAEL, TO BE KNOWN AS THE STATE OF ISRAEL.

    WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel”.

    THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

    THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.

    WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.

    WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

    WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

    WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.

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