July 26, 2001
In the midst of the speeches at Sunday's solidarity rally for Israel, I felt a growing swell of ambivalence and even discomfort over the event. It wasn't just the "Kahane Was Right" signs or the booing of Shimon Peres. It was a broader feeling of malaise. For many, this will seem inexplicable. Who, after all, could not take pride in the large and multigenerational rally, especially if one feels passionately connected to Israel and her people? Isn't solidarity an all-too-rare commodity in our community? I readily acknowledge these points.
But I still hesitate to embrace fully this recent call for solidarity, particularly when it rests on the following misguided premises:
1) Now is the right time to rally in solidarity with Israel
Israel has faced -- and, regrettably, may face again -- truly perilous situations in which its survival is in question. The current situation, despite its destructive cycles of violence, is not one of them. One of the triumphs of Zionism was to empower us to realize that we are not passive victims. And we are not, in this case. Israel is the dominant military presence in the region, and, undeniably, the stronger party in the conflict with the Palestinians. As a result, I would prefer to save the solidarity call for a rainy day.
2) Israel bears no responsibility in the current conflict
There can be no question that the Palestinian side deserves a healthy dose of blame in the present situation. Arafat's reticence to condemn and restrain terrorism is the height of irresponsibility. But all of this cannot blind us to the fact that Israel is not a mere bystander. From the shooting of innocent civilians to the indiscriminate bulldozing of houses, Israel has engaged in more than its share of aggressive actions.
3) We should place trust in the government of Ariel Sharon.
While it is true that Sharon has operated with relative restraint, this is as much a function of international pressure as anything.
I, for one, haven't the slightest trust in the man. In virtually every military operation he's commanded, Sharon has wrought a trail of destruction -- most infamously in the the Lebanon debacle.
4) The war we need to fight here is against a biased media.
We hear constant refrains about the media bias against Israel. In fact, I doubt whether any of those lobbying under the rather presumptuous name Jews for Truth Now would relish swapping places with Arab-Americans in the media's eye.
Reporting on Israeli military action is not bias; it is, more often than not, reporting, plain and simple. If one adds up the casualties on both sides of the conflict, it becomes hard to argue that there is only one responsible party in this conflict.
5) Solidarity on these terms is constructive.
Solidarity in this guise is an empty phrase. It is a call to arms in a public relations battle in which careful introspection, sound judgment, and recognition of the other side are suspended. This papering-over of complex political and moral issues may provide a measure of gratification and relief for American Jews. But it will not contribute much to the resolution of the long-standing conflict.
If these premises are what is meant by solidarity, then I must respectfully part company. My own response to the current crisis is to go to Israel, as I will next month, to be with friends and relatives who are passing through a terrible period -- and to share with them the pain of confronting both an ugly enemy and a debilitating occupation.