Yesterday, the New York Times published an interesting op-ed by Shmuel Rosner that’s gotten a good deal of attention. It echoes what a whole bunch of people have told me over the past few weeks, namely that, as an American Jew, I should shut my mouth and stop saying anything negative about Israel. If I want to criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for something he says or condemn a right-wing extremist who occasionally calls for ethnic cleansing, I’d better move to Israel. Unless I’m willing to live there, I don’t have a say in what goes on.
Here’s Rosner’s conclusion:
Clearly, these critics of Israel’s behavior believe that Israelis themselves would be safer if the country adopted their prescribed liberal policies. That might be true, but it makes no difference.
On matters of life and death, war and peace, Israelis are going to make their own decisions. If they lose the support of some liberal Jews over it, that would be regrettable, but so be it.
Israel will have to learn to survive without that support, and I’m certain it will.
The most fascinating part, I think, is Rosner’s assertion that people like me might be right about actions Israel might take to make itself safer … but that it doesn’t matter. All that matters is a) that liberal Americans Jews should either support Israel in doing what we believe is wrong-headed or shut up and b) that Israelis make their own decisions, whether right or wrong.
Here’s the thing, though:
When I offer a critique of Israel, I do it because I want things to get better for Israelis. I want for them to live in peace with their neighbors and to feel safe; I also want them to be a country that isn’t constantly at the receiving end of the most hyperbolic negative rhetoric. Even though I don’t live there and I almost certainly never will, it’s a country to which I feel a strong connection. I’ve studied its history and its politics. My family lives there, literally. I don’t, for example, criticize the expansion of settlements under the Netanyahu government because I oppose Israel; I do it because I think the expansion of settlements is bad for Israel in the long run and I want good things for Israel in the long run.
I don’t have any doubt that Israelis will make their own political decisions, just as I’m sure Israelis know that Americans will make their own political decisions. But you’d better believe that Israelis have opinions on American elections. How could they not? I don’t have to listen to them when I go to into the voting booth, but I could if I wanted to and if thought they had my best interests in mind when they offered their opinion.
It’s unhelpful at best to suggest that no one should ever offer constructive criticism to anyone else or that every Jew must fall in line behind whichever government happens to be in power in Israel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the whole notion that the best friend Israel has is the American Jew who just shuts his mouth and writes a check is pretty offensive.