Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An original essay by Shulem Deen

Over on the Facebook, someone contributed a very blase piece ordering us all to support Israel 100 percent. Not noteworthy in its own right, except it provoked a response from the great Shulem Deen, author of All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir. He contributed a mini essay on the comment thread that is an absolute MustRead.

I cut and pasted it below, but it loses something because the context is missing. Send your complaints to Zuckerberg, or go look at it here.

Shulem Deen said: This whole discussion is bullshit and insane and sad and a little bit terrifying. It's like if someone complains about a pothole in some godforsaken yishuv, they're being anti-Israel. I don't buy this crap.

Successive Israeli governments have made and continue to make serious errors. Some of them seriously immoral--perhaps with the best of intentions, but immoral nonetheless. The idea that criticism, even very harsh criticism, is inherently anti-Israel is completely illogical.

It's funny, because I feel deeply attached to Israel. I've unfriended people for their anti-Israel views, if I felt they came from a place of pure animosity. I've been dismayed by the very clear strains of anti-Semitism that exist within much of the anti-Israel crowd. There is no doubt in my mind that the ENTIRE Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted in Arab/Islamic anti-Semitism, and is buttressed by classic strains of European anti-Semitism. And in general, I think BEING anti-Israel (as opposed to having specific criticisms about Israeli gov't policies/actions/inactions) is, if not anti-Semitic, an equally vile and noxious bigotry that shares a great number of 'features' with anti-Semitism -- deep-seated and irrational hatred, spread through outright lies, distortions, and the weirdest conspracy theories.

But that doesn't mean that every discussion that isn't 100% pro Israeli govt policies makes one "anti-Israel." That is the most absurd position to take.

It is a cliche to say that I love Israel and criticize it from a place of love. And maybe that has no impact on this particular crowd -- being as the ethno-religio-fascism seems to run thick here at least with some. But it's still true: I love Israel; the land, the people, the history, the feeling that not only does it feel like home when I visit, but it is home to nearly half the world's Jews. That's not a trifling concern. But all of those are reasons to CARE, both about its uniqueness, its achievements, the perils it faces, and ALSO its failings.

I know how amazing Israel is, Gideon Slifkin. I may not live there currently, but I have in the past, and I've visited many, many times, have close family there, and many friends, and I'm well aware of what Israel looks like from the inside. I also know that Israel is so unique, both in human history and in current geopolitical terms that the scrutiny it receives is directly proportional to its uniqueness.

What many lovers of Israel don't realize, though, is Israel's massive strength, and that the ability to take criticism doesn't weaken it. Countries reflect the attitudes of its populace and supporters, and so they're in some way like people themselves. Those who can take smart thoughtful criticism are better for it; it shows maturity, reflectiveness, a willingness to confront difficult issues, and most importantly a secure sense of self. It saddens me, but many of Israel's advocates, at least in the diaspora (I think Israelis themselves suffer less from this) have a long way to go to reach that place.

What's most disheartening is how usually smart people completely lose their shit when Israel is criticized. Even more, there's so much real fear among Jews about losing friends/community over this.

While touring for my book, people competely lost their marbles after THEY asked what I thought about Israel, and I, with exacting diplomacy, shared about my love for Israel with just a few mild remarks on how I wish some things were done differently--but this didn't satisfy many, and I got piles of criticism for it. It's like you're being tested: you're asked a question, but there's only one correct answer.

In my book: I have exactly half a sentence, where I mention that I chose, back in 2003, not blog about Israel because I was no longer sure where I stood, after learning of the decades of Palestinian suffering. (Both at the hands of Israel and others.) Consider: I wrote what I felt in 2003, not currently, or at the time I was writing.

Out of a 300-page book, that half sentence is the single largest source of critical feedback I get in emails from strangers. Not the fact that I don't believe in God, that I am an apikorus by every standard put by Chazal, that I happily chomp down on bacon, but a half-formed thought I had in 2003, and recounting in 2015. THAT'S what gets me hate mail. THAT, my friends, IS INSANE.

For most people, the fear of losing friends and community keeps them quiet. That's not something we should be proud of. Thankfully, the only people I'll lose on this issue are a bunch of Internet hypocrites who like(d) me for confirming their anti-Charedi prejudices, but can't stand to hear an actual opinion they disagree with. But look back on this thread, and think how this would affect the average person in your circles who might not shsare your view: it doesn't change their views,but it forces them into silence. And that is a real terrifying shame.

At the same time, NUMEROUS people have told me privately how they just remain quiet on Israel, because they can't afford to speak their minds. The tragedy in this is that young people, who feel less connected to the institutionalized Jewish community (and therefore have less to lose) are a lot less afraid to speak, and when they encounter hostility from other Jews for it, are pushed even further away.

Two prominent American Jewish newspaper editors told me how they avoid speaking their minds on Israel, because there is just too much irrationality on the issue, and they can't afford this battle.

In New Orleans, a sweet, soft-spoken young Jewish woman came up to me, and whispered: "I want to thank you for one thing you wrote." She was standing in line to have her book signed, and was afraid to say it out loud, so she pointed discreetly to the above-mentioned line in my book. When I asked why that moved her so, she gave me googly eyes. "Are you kidding? I could NEVER say this here!" motioning to the people around her.

All of which is to say, Jews have become very afraid to speak out on this issue, and fear-mongering around discourse regarding any nation-state is never to its credit; it IS a strain of fascism, or something very close to it. And I think smart people, even those who feel strongly protective and defensive of Israel (and I count myself among those), should be worried about what's happening and why.

P.S. The few who complained I unfriended them should get over themselves. I don't know them, and they've each made a succession of idiotic comments, with some ad hominems thrown in because there's nothing like a good ad hominem to show just how logically weak your position is. (In this thread alone -- it's like the idiots can't resist. It's like Roger Waters has become the Godwin's Law of Israel debates.)\Search for more information about ### at4torah.com

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