Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Harsh Truth about Israel

There has been a lot of concern—completely justified, in my opinion—about the rise of antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere.  Jews are being attacked, murderously even, for the simple fact of being Jews.  Antisemitic pronouncements, about the evil that Jews supposedly spread throughout society, are once again being broadcast without shame.  Once the “socialism of fools”, antisemitism has become the anti-imperialism of fools.

People are always responsible for their actions, and nothing I am about to say contradicts the primary responsibility that falls on antisemitic groups and individuals.  But even the worst behavior needs to be understood if the goal is to build a better world and not simply denounce the evils that exist.  Understanding is not the same as excusing.

So now we get to Israel.  Israel has violated international law and common morality in its occupation of Palestinian territories and ruthless repression of those who live there.  Unfortunately, it is hardly the only country that has perpetrated crimes beyond its borders.  There are also unresolved issues concerning the founding of the state itself, but what I’m about to say doesn't depend on how deeply you think Israel’s depredations are rooted in its origins.  The point is that we don’t judge entire peoples on the basis of the behavior of governments; otherwise a large portion of the human race would stand condemned.

When a government commits a crime there are circles of responsibility.  The greatest burden falls on those who directly commit it, the specific leaders and their henchmen.  The second circle brings in those who enabled and supported the criminals, the rest of the regime and its key sponsors.  If the country is an electoral democracy those who voted for the criminals share a portion of the blame as well.  Finally, if the crime is great enough, those who live in the country and had the opportunity to resist but didn't are also implicated.  Under no circumstances are those who neither lived in the country nor took steps to support its government tainted at all.  Think of the Japanese-Americans who were interned after Pearl Harbor: the immense—and racist—injustice of blaming each of these American citizens for actions committed by a government that wasn't democratic and wasn't theirs.

So the actions of the Israeli government shouldn't have any bearing on antisemitism beyond its borders.  But there is one problem: the government of Israel itself claims to act not only on behalf of its own citizens but all Jews throughout the world.  According to them, they are not simply the government of a small country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, but of every Jew wherever she may happen to live.  In doing this, by its own words, this government authorizes those who oppose its policies to indulge in blanket antisemitism.

Israel can’t have it both ways.  It can’t claim to be a democracy in the normal sense of a government chosen by its own citizens and also a state that represents millions of noncitizens who live in other countries.  These non-Israeli Jews didn't vote for the Israeli government, or against it for that matter.  They played no role in carrying out its policies.  They are in no position to throw sand in the gears.  They have their own countries to be involved in and responsible for.  This is why there is no political excuse for antisemitism.

In short, the claim that Israel is the government of all Jews everywhere and not its own citizens contradicts the fundamental principles of democracy and contributes to the spread of antisemitic ideas.  It’s bad for the Jews.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great piece. I thank you for your balanced views.