Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the The New Republic, has an excellent piece up about what he calls the “lost art” of simultaneously defending and criticizing Israel. Here’s the crux of his argument:
SO ISRAEL MUST be defended and Israel must be criticized. Almost nobody any longer practices the lost art of doing both at the same time, with similar emphasis, out of equally intense convictions, in a single breath. Instead there is the party of security and the party of justice, as if the country, any country, can endure without both. The debate is a stale contest in cursing between gangs, a tiresome exchange of to-be-sure sentences, uttered by people with anxieties about credibility, or worse, with no such anxieties at all.
This is a piece that I’ve been waiting to see for a long time, and I think it describes where I am perfectly. My experience studying abroad in Israel lured me away from the right-center of Israeli politics, and more towards the center-left, but not into “Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish state” territory. As I was discussing last night with my good friend who is a peace and conflict studies masters candidate at American University, either you’re allied with AIPAC or with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Those of us who fall somewhere in between, who are more prone to intellectualism and objectivity than to eager — and usually reckless — passions, are misunderstood. We do not care to constantly rehash and re-dissect the specifics of Resolution 242, but to rather look at the bigger picture and deal with the here and now.
I often think that I must confuse a lot of my Jewish friends and family. I think that the concept of defensible borders is obsolete, but I also believe that it’s not realistic for millions of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. The current government is destroying Israel one cabinet decision at a time, but the left isn’t exactly well-organized, and I don’t think leftist parties will make much headway in the next elections. This morning I didn’t buy a bag of Bamba at the supermarket, even though a portion of the proceeds go to building a community center in Sderot, because that money runs through the Jewish National Fund, which is notorious for its blatant anti-Palestinian views and policies. I don’t see the conflict through the eyes of AIPAC, SJP, B’tselem, Stand With Us, or even J Street. Instead, I take a Wieseltier-esque approach of practical intellectualism — of objectivity, balance (whatever that means), and genuine curiosity.
So will I celebrate Israel’s Independence Day this year? Of course. Do I believe that Israel should be an independent Jewish state? Absolutely. But I also think that Israel’s policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are colonialist, and that the IDF is not as moral an army as public and private hasbara makes it out to be. According to most, this makes me anti-Israel, a sort of political apikoros. And to others, I’m still supporting an apartheid regime that will stop at nothing to cleanse Israel of Palestinians once and for all.
What bothers me more than the fact that what I’m describing is a lost art is the fact that I am made to feel so uncomfortable about where I stand. I have completely refrained from being vocally pro-Israel, pro-two state solution, or pro-Palestinian because I do not want to be known as one or the other. I’m not quite sure where this leaves me, but I will keep practicing this lost art. It’s the only way to be credible.