Distinguishing between critics and adversaries

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We are a passionate people and, when engaged in political disputations, frequently cross the boundary of civil discourse. I could personally testify to this were I to air some of the more vulgar verbal outpourings directed against me by extremists from both sides of the political spectrum.

For many years the far Left has employed smear tactics to discredit and demonize its opponents, depicting them as anti-democratic, racist and bigoted. The principal proponents continuously employ inverse McCarthyism to serve their purposes.

Yet their influence has dramatically eroded in recent years as Israelis have given up their illusions, becoming increasingly aware of the true nature of our Palestinian “peace partner.”

Conversely, in recent months, increasing numbers of passionate activists on the far Right have displayed outbursts of blind rage, indiscriminately characterizing all those with whom they disagree as self-hating anti-Zionists. In so doing, they have lost the ability to distinguish between Israel’s well-intentioned (sometimes delusional) critics and its enemies.

Take for example the virulent attacks on Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who has been accused of treachery and cowardice. On many occasions I have publicly disagreed with Foxman’s approach to various issues. But that does not detract from my recognition of him as a champion of the Zionist enterprise, one of a small group of Jewish leaders who, whenever the chips are down, can be counted upon to support Israel.

Another case is that of David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, one of American Jewry’s most prominent organizations. Harris has recently been castigated for criticizing Israeli government ministers who have called for annexation of the territories.

Despite the fact that Harris’ remarks have effectively endorsed official government policy, critics have demonized him as an anti- Zionist and accused him of being in the camp of far-left Jewish anti- Israel organizations such as J Street.

While the AJC was lukewarm in its approach to Zionism prior to the establishment of the Jewish state, today, with Harris at its helm, it is totally committed to Israel. Harris, a consummate Zionist with deep personal connections to Israel, has never deviated from promoting the cause of the Jewish state both in the United States and abroad, as his columns and radio broadcasts attest.

Then there is the case of Alan Dershowitz.

Earlier this year at a Jerusalem Post-sponsored conference in New York, Dershowitz expressed controversial views about the peace process that he had formulated in talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Many, myself included, considered his proposed approach utterly flawed. But it surely did not warrant the jeering he received at the conference, or a subsequent bombardment of vulgar and defamatory comments – including accusations that he is an enemy of the Jewish people.

Some of us may strongly disagree with aspects of Dershowitz’s political approach. But the fact remains that that he has devoted much of his life to Israel advocacy and has contributed far more to defending Israel’s right to exist than all his critics combined. It is shocking to see such a person treated in this shameful manner, especially by activists purporting to represent Israel’s national camp.

HOWEVER, THESE examples of poor judgment and gross lack of civility pale to insignificance when considering the manner in which those purporting to be Israel supporters have recently defamed British journalist and icon of Diaspora Zionism Melanie Phillips.

In a column unequivocally condemning the British government for barring anti-jihadi activist Pamela Geller and globally recognized Islamic scholar Prof. Robert Spencer from entering the UK, Phillips cited examples of the government’s hypocrisy – including the liberal approach it adopted toward visiting Muslim hatemongers actively engaged in inciting hatred against Jews and others.

Yet Phillips also suggested that Geller and Spencer had made a tactical error by addressing the English Defense League, which, she noted, is perceived by many to be xenophobic and racist. (EDL leader Tommy Robinson has a criminal record, and formerly was an active member of the anti-Semitic, fascist British National Party.) While Phillips supported those fighting Islamic fundamentalism, she wisely warned that “the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.”

Phillips’ remarks unleashed a series of hysterical condemnations. She was assailed for seeking to ingratiate herself with the British elite, for being unprincipled, and for showing signs of cowardice. Regrettably, Spencer and Geller supported these verbal attacks.

Melanie Phillips is renowned in the UK for courageously standing up to those unwilling to confront Islamic fundamentalism. Her book Londonistan is a classic study of how London has become a hub for the promotion, recruitment and financing of Islamic terror and extremism.

The British establishment has deemed her Islamophobic (as it does all critics of radical Islam) – a sure sign that she is on the right track.

The flood of abuse Phillips endured for having expressed concern about associating with questionable groups like the EDL exemplifies an increasing lack of sophistication and lack of civility among groups purporting to defend Israel’s interests. In their ideological extremism, Phillips’s critics failed to understand her argument that if we align ourselves with racists, we undermine our credibility in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism and provide grist for the propaganda mills of our enemies.

Like those attacking Foxman, Harris and Dershowitz, they mistake disagreement for antagonism.

No matter with whom we are engaged in political debate, we must actively listen, grasp nuanced and multi-layered arguments, and restrain ourselves from making snap judgments so that we can appropriately distinguish between well-intentioned critics and true adversaries.

If not, we will expend our energies fighting within and will misdirect our outrage toward Israel supporters whose views differ from ours. Let us have the patience, sound judgment and civility to distinguish friend from foe, and appropriately concentrate our efforts to stave off the destructive forces working against us.

The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.

He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom


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