Criticizing Israel

By Rabbi Zvi
January 7, 2009

This is not the time to criticize Israel. And this is not what I am doing in this blog, at least not with regard to what is happening in Gaza. I pray that both sides may find peace, and that as few civilians as possible may be hurt on either side. Peace, and a two-state solution, is what I pray for every day. Sheyavo bim'heyra v'yameinu.

But the topic of this particular blog is on something which touches on the general situation in Israel. It is as follows: why do so many Jewish people emphatically deny the right of people in the Diaspora to disagree publicly with Israel's actions or policy?

The phrase which comes to mind is "You don't live there so how dare you criticize Israel." What nonsense! As if residence in a country were ever grounds for legitimate criticism of that country's behaviour. Yet so many passionate Zionists condemn those who disagree with Israel's policies. In my opinion this is unnecessary defensive and betrays the insecurity of the proponent of such an egregious idea.

Just think. If you live outside Russia do you have no right as a Russian to criticize that country? If you live outside Saudi Arabia do you have no right as a Muslim to criticize that country? But with Israel the argument goes it is different.

Thus we find those who make this argument in an attempt to stifle debate and dissent. Israel is always right because it is ours. My country right or wrong. This is the way of the bigot and leads to a form of fascism.

I say loud and clear that I do not always agree with the actions of Israel. There are times when the corruption which is too endemic in the country, the culure of protekzia, the acceptance of hatred particularly of the Arabs and Muslims as a normal part of Jewish life - all this is evident in the behaviour of some of our fellow-Jews and I condemn it when I see it. We should speak out when people are killed unnecessarily - that is what it means to be a good Jew. And we should also object to injustice. But always as friends, who love the Jewish State and wish to see it behave in a more Jewish way. And not ever criticizing Israel is about the least Jewish way of reacting to the bad things that are done in our name.


East End Walks

Wed, 01/07/2009 - 23:59

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I've often heard it said that after Israel was created Jews could speak up for themselves as never before. The irony is as you point out "so many Jewish people emphatically deny the right of people in the Diaspora to disagree publicly with Israel's actions or policy" - and people who do speak out get criticised, marginalised and sometimes abused.

Israel has relied on the diaspora for many kinds of support over the years and is happy to have diaspora Jews as cheerleaders, but what do you do when you see Israel acting in a way that contravenes your beliefs in how other human beings should be treated. To be silent seems to be a betrayal of that commitment to human rights. And to me people and their rights are always more important than states.

Another irony is that when Israel's leaders, and some of our own community leaders here, stamp down on critical voices, they are also denying our right to support those courageous Israelis who swim against the tide and are questioning the wisdom of their government's policy.

Last weekend there were large demonstrations in many cities of the world condemning the war on Gaza and calling for a ceasefire. Some of them got reported on television but one very important one didn't. The night that Israel's ground invasion began, 10,000 Israelis were marching to a different beat in Tel-Aviv as you will see from this link:


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