February 10, 2010
When to Be an Extremist
What is it about criticism of Israel that is so hard to take for so many Jews? That question was on my mind this week as I was reading about the brouhaha with the New Israel Fund (NIF). In case you missed it, the NIF has been accused of funding human rights groups in Israel that provided much of the ammunition against Israel in the Goldstone report.
These human rights groups — like B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch and Breaking the Silence — are, in the words of Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz, “nudniks” and “one-sided.” As he says, “they pick up any story floating around, often giving exaggerated credence to hearsay testimony and they have a tendency for overkill, conflating every report into a phenomenon.”
Yet, he asserts, we couldn’t do without them: “With their resources and their zeal they are serving as eyes and ears, not just for the Israeli media, but for the Israeli public as a whole. Despite all the media’s efforts, much of what goes on across the Green Line remains unreported, and without the researchers of these organizations and their local informants, we would know even less…. They draw attention to what many of us would prefer not to know about — but have to.”
These groups are kindred spirits with the NIF, which since its inception in the United States in 1979 has provided, according to its Web site, “more than $200 million to more than 800 cutting-edge organizations.”
Now, if you read the NIF’s mission, it’s hard to argue with what they’re trying to do. They are “committed to democratic change within Israel” and they “fight inequality, injustice and extremism because [they] understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy — and the only lasting road to peace.”
Regarding the latest fracas, the NIF didn’t take a position on the Goldstone report, and, according to spokeswoman Naomi Paiss, “is very proud of the groups we have supported…. Their reports were carefully documented and in some instances were the only available information out of Gaza because the international press and the Israeli press were kept out.”
So why, then, if its goals are so noble, has so much of the Jewish world not come to the NIF’s defense regarding the charge that it contributed indirectly to the Goldstone report?
I see a specific reason, and a more general one.
The specific reason is the Goldstone report itself, which has garnered almost unanimous disapproval in the Jewish world, and which Elie Wiesel has called “a crime against the Jewish people.” Really, no matter where you sit ideologically, which Jewish group would want to be associated with this piece of plutonium?
But I think there’s also a general, more emotional reason: Many of us are simply tired of beating ourselves up and seeing our situation grow worse and worse.
It’s not that we’re blind followers who don’t understand the importance of self-criticism. We do. Self-criticism is part of who we are. We must constantly challenge ourselves to be better. That’s the Jewish way.
But there’s something else that’s also the Jewish way: not being stupid. When most of the world is already doing such an amazing job of pointing out our faults and turning us into criminals against humanity, what should be the appropriate Jewish response: To pile it on or to balance things out?
This is the word that seems to be missing with Jewish groups critical of Israel: balance.
For example, the NIF says they love Israel and are passionate about human rights, but on their Web site, there’s hardly any positive mention of Israel’s record on human rights — just one Israeli injustice after another.
Yes, I know, this is called tough love, and God knows we all need tough love. But tough love is better received when it’s balanced by pure love, the kind you feel when you get a hug. What would a hug from the NIF look like? Well, for starters, a little recognition that Israel’s record on human rights — whether with gays, women, Muslims and other minorities — is far superior to that of any of its neighbors. You’d never know that from seeing their Web site and fundraising pitch.
Relentless criticism that goes only in one direction might in fact be good for fundraising, but it’s a form of extremism and it’s divisive. So here’s an idea for all Israel lovers, left or right: let’s be more extreme with our love and more moderate with our criticism — of Israel and of each other.
But let’s not be moderate at all when confronting this poison: the double standard that the world imposes on the Jews and Israel and the global assault on the legitimacy of Zionism and the Jewish state. This is an injustice on an epic scale.
As groups like the NIF fight to make Israel a more just and noble nation, they must remember our other fight — the one against enemies who don’t give a hoot about how just and noble we are. This is also a fight we can’t afford to lose. l