March 24, 2010
Pro-Israel? DON’T ASK
I hate the term “pro-Israel.”
Just saying it sounds like an apology. Do people describe themselves as “pro-Italy” or “pro-Iceland”? After all, Israel is no more or less a country than those are, no less than Argentina or Russia or Mexico. To have to describe oneself as pro-Israel is to identify Israel as little more than a cause, and causes can be fleeting, causes can be lost.
The insidious reason behind such a term is that, of all the nations in the world, Israel alone is attacked as being illegitimate. Astonishing, when you think about it. No one ever says we ought to reconsider the existence of Pakistan, a fluke of English post-colonial partition, a flailing, nuclear-armed chaos-cracy. No one ever challenges the legitimacy of the Emirates, desert sheikdoms that have more foreign laborers than citizens. And that doesn’t include nations like Sudan, Libya and, yes, I’ll throw in Saudi Arabia, which are, at best, human-rights-abusing oligarchies; at worst, terror-generating kleptocracies.
So, no, ask me if I’m pro-Israel and I’ll ask you if you’re pro-Switzerland, or pro-Maryland, for that matter. What kind of question is that?
It’s a question that, after 62 years, reveals Israel’s enduring vulnerability.
The writer Christopher Hitchens, who came to town last month to deliver the eighth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, has written that the existence of Israel, far from ending anti-Semitism, as its founders hoped it would, has simply repositioned it.
“Israel is now incredibly dependent upon non-Jews for its own defense and, moreover, rules over millions of other non-Jews who loathe and detest it from the bottom of their hearts,” Hitchens wrote. “How long do you think the first set of non-Jews will go on defending Israel from the second lot and from their very wealthy and numerous kinsmen? In other words, Zionism has only replaced and repositioned the question of anti-Semitism.”
If vulnerability is the quintessential condition of diaspora, that leads Hitchens to a provocative conclusion.
“The Israeli family is not the alternative to the Diaspora,” he writes. “It is part of the Diaspora. To speak roughly, there are three groups of 6 million Jews. The first 6 million live in what the Zionist movement used to call Palestine. The second 6 million live in the United States. The third 6 million are distributed mainly among Russia, France, Britain and Argentina. Only the first group lives daily in range of missiles that can be (and are) launched by people who hate Jews. Well, irony is supposed to be a Jewish specialty.”
He has a point, but he also misses a larger one. That vulnerability is not all that defines us, but it is one of the things that unites us. It is an eternal condition of Jewish peoplehood and a reason our sages wrote that we all are responsible, each for the other. And, I’ll add, for Israel, as well.