Why some Israeli liberals lose perspective

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It is surely ironic that simultaneously with the emergence of a broad consensus endorsing a centrist position and the marginalization of extremist left- and right-wing factions, a number of Israeli intellectuals – mainly writers and academics – are intensifying their public condemnation of their country at a global level.

I am not relating to post-Zionists or demented lunatics who hate their country, but to those with a track record of genuine Zionist endeavor, national icons like Amos Oz, one of our most gifted writers, who, one assumes, loves Israel.

There was a time when Oz would resolutely refuse to condemn Israel to the global media or when he was in a foreign country. I recollect while visiting Australia 20 years ago, his response to media questioning his attitude to the Shamir government was “I am a proud Labor Zionist and while in Israel I can passionately criticize my government. But when I travel abroad, I regard myself as an ambassador for my country and leave political differences behind me.”

This contrasts starkly to the approach Oz currently adopts. With the country isolated as never before and the entire world applying double standards and pouring venom upon us, Oz, who shares the frustration of most Israelis with the botched Gaza flotilla imbroglio, contributed an op-ed to the Guardian and The New York Times which extended far beyond the issue of the flotilla. He told Americans and British readers that “power has intoxicated us,” that we are “fixated by the concept of military force” and that we abuse this power not for reasons of self-defense but to “squash ideas and smash the problems” confronting us with brute force.

In a widely circulated US blog, his daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Haifa and Australia’s Monash University, conveyed similar sentiments. She said, “Every true Israeli patriot ought… to apologize very humbly to the dead and injured of the ‘Free Gaza Movement’ flotilla, to the Turks, to the international community. And while we are at it, also to the innocent majority of Gazans.” Her message to the international community was “your almost unanimous condemnation is spot on. As a private citizen, I join it. As a habitual Israeli patriot, I am ashamed.”

A SIMILAR article appeared in The Guardian by David Grossman, another outstanding writer, who lost a son in the IDF during the Second Lebanon war. Last week, the German Book Trade honored him with the same “peace prize” it had awarded Amos Oz in 1992. In his column, Grossman stated, “No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed” and “there are those here who seek to spin the natural and justified sense of Israeli guilt into a strident assertion that the whole world is to blame. Our shame, however, will be harder to live with.”

What impels talented people of this caliber, who consider themselves devoted to the welfare of Israel, to contribute to such self-deprecating outbursts in the foreign media at a time when the nation is united in fending off the most vicious global defamation since its birth? Indeed, aside from Haaretz, even the habitually masochistic Israeli media have been echoing the bitterness of most who feel that notwithstanding errors or operational blunders that were committed, the country is being singled out, demonized and delegitimized in an unconscionable manner.

The call for “ending the blockade” implies that a government should sit with folded arms while the Iranians flood Hamas with missiles and other weapons. Even the principal opposition party, Kadima, is calling on the government to stand firm and maintain the blockade. Could one possibly visualize any country not blockading a neighbor which openly proclaims that its primary objective is to annihilate it, rains missiles on its civilian population and abducts a soldier, boasting that it intends to launch further kidnappings? As to “ending the occupation,” we are still reeling from the fallout from our unilateral Gaza disengagement.

In fact, despite frequently being accused of heading an extreme right-wing government, Binyamin Netanyahu has been remarkably successful in achieving a national consensus. There are no fundamental ideological differences between Likud and Kadima. The truncated Labor Party is in the government and the far-left Meretz party has been reduced to an all time low of three out of 120 elected Knesset members. The bitterly hostile remarks conveyed to the foreign media by these intellectuals thus find little resonance among the public and generate much anger.

Why then, do intellectuals and writers like Amos Oz, who love Israel and have no desire to be associated with the loony anti-Israeli extremists, express such rabid criticism against their country knowing that their words will be exploited by our fiercest enemies? THE TRUTH is that being educated or intellectually gifted does not necessarily bestow political wisdom.

For example, throughout history, in antiquity, the Middle Ages and especially in modern times, the genesis of anti-Semitic movements could usually be sourced to intellectual elites rather than originating from the grass roots.

However, the prime motivating factor encouraging liberal Israeli and Diaspora intellectuals to distance themselves from Israel is a desperate passion to be recognized as rising above the parochial interests of the tribe or the nation. Since emancipation, the constant struggle for Jews was to find a balance between particularism and nationalism. Until recently, despite considerable internal opposition, Zionism was accepted as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. As long as Jews suffered and were perceived as underdogs, liberals had few inhibitions in supporting the Jewish state.

However, with the dramatic growth of postmodernism after the Cold War and the emergence of the New Left (which also impacted on Labor Zionism), many liberals began adopting a negative attitude toward all forms of nationalism, including Zionism. The combination of the suffering of the Palestinians, even if self-inflicted, the military power of Israel and the romance of the left with Islam, led to the Jewish state being portrayed as the global epicenter of evil. That was massively reinforced by the explosion of Jew hatred, in which “Zionist colonialism” assumed the role of a surrogate for traditional anti-Semitism.

Today, this has culminated with condemnation of Israel becoming a major prerequisite for being considered a liberal. Thus, many Jewish intellectuals, for whom liberalism was akin to a secular religion and who were desperate to remain within the “progressive” fold, consciously or unconsciously felt impelled to dissociate themselves from the “negative image” of the Jewish state, especially one led by a “right”-wing government.

Needless to say, many Israeli liberals with legitimate criticisms of their government manage to express their opposition without defaming the country in the foreign media or providing ammunition to the global enemies of Zion.

One can only express profound regret that the hubristic inclinations of some talented Israelis have encouraged them to employ their gifts to damn their own without regard to the consequences of their actions.

Isi Leibler can be contacted at: ileibler@netvision.net.il

This article was published in Jerusalem Post



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