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Self-critical without self-loathing


The Canadian Jewish News Internet Edition - August 27, 2003

Is Israel an apartheid state, undergoing “fascistization,” fooled into fighting by the Israel Defence Forces which, like “every army… wants war, at least every once in a while”? Is Yasser Arafat a peacemaker, with his Palestinian Authority “a group of mainstream moderates who supported the historic compromise with Israel?” Is it true that the Palestinians, “by any reckoning, can only be seen as victims,” that “the occupation has ruined every good part of Israeli society” and that a Holocaust “guilt complex” silenced most Europeans, while “at least part of Europe” has heroically denounced Israeli “war crimes”?

Sadly, such myopia comes from some of Israel’s “best and brightest,” who proclaim themselves “voices of refusal and dissent.” In a recent anthology, The Other Israel, two-dozen Israeli academics, attorneys and activists denigrate their country, spewing malice and bias.

As liberals and democrats, North Americans, and especially North American Jews, instinctively cheer lonely dissenters. Those of us who see the complexities of the Middle East conflict, who mourn the suffering of innocents on both sides, want to applaud contemporary prophets seeking “a just peace.”

Unfortunately, these essays lack fairness, balance and accuracy. The Other Israel is an exercise in selective perception and mass delusion that minimizes Palestinian terror, otherwise known as “resistance.” Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus is described as “abandoned in the fall of 2000 under fire,” rather than desecrated by a Palestinian mob. We learn that “Since Sept. 29, 2000, the Israeli army has waged a ‘dirty war’ against the Palestinian Authority” with no mention, in that essay or most others, of suicide bombers or the hatred Palestinian institutions foment. Perhaps most disturbing, in 206 pages overflowing with compassion for Palestinians, Jewish suffering is coldly pooh-poohed as a political posture.

This one-sidedness suggests a bovine instinct to mimic progressive trends and a disgust for one’s own people. To explain such fecklessness, many consult the textbook of Jewish pathologies – the self-hatred born of statelessness, the provincial Israeli intellectual’s need to curry favour in intellectual circles. Yet considering many western intellectuals’ contempt for their own nation and civilization, and so many intellectuals’ tendency to back the wrong horse – from being soft on Josef Stalin to “contextualizing” Osama bin Laden – a broader western pathology is also at work.

Fortunately, such decadence is not contagious. While many students ape their professors’ politics, others resist. Thirty-seven free-thinking Canadian students recently published a response to the crisis in Israel. The essays, poems and photographs in Gam Yachad (Also Together) engage constructively and intelligently with Israel and Zionism from diverse political and religious perspectives.

Gam Yachad, which is dedicated to “the victims of terror” shows a mix of compassion and passion. While Oxford’s Avi Shlaim writes tediously about “A Palestinian David facing an Israeli Goliath,” one poet dreams of “the day when/ David and/ Goliath, both boys/ of strength and will, work their bodies/ to exhaustion to extract green from the sand.”

These students have endured the on- campus onslaught of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, yet refuse to cower. One Birthright Israel alumna who wants to “come to terms with her identity,” laments the “worldwide” spread of the anti-Israel “poison.” David Weinfeld, a Montrealer studying at Harvard, mocks Noam Chomsky for criticizing divestment from Israel while signing a petition advocating it. Chomsky then offers the Orwellian claim that “No one who signs a petition is expected to approve of every word, even of large parts, if the main thrust is appropriate and sufficiently important.” Shira Goldberg, a McGill student, writes insightfully about “Zionism Reborn,”urging her peers to “adapt our Zionism to meet the fluctuating factors of the moment.” Other essayists do just that, appreciating “The Endurance of Zionism,” pondering the “inherent contradiction” of “Zionism and Judaism” and confronting “The Problem with Zionism.”

These students see shades of grey. One refuses to be “force-fed the ‘official’ community policy regarding Israel.” Another “understand[s] the anger and frustration that is felt by Israelis and Palestinians alike.” Nevertheless, these Canadian students still believe in Israel and Zionism. They seek solidarity in their search for identity and their love for Israel and the Jewish people, even as they develop individual perspectives. They demonstrate that you can be patriotic and thoughtful, self-critical without being self-loathing. Their elders on both sides of the Atlantic should learn from them

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