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Jewish Journal

It’s Not Our Right to Challenge Israel

by Avi Davis

January 9, 2003 | 7:00 pm

I grew up in Australia in the 1960s and well remember, as a child, sitting by the radio or television anxiously awaiting developments during the Six-Day War.

I vividly recall scouring the paper for details of troop movements during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and remember being unable to sleep at night for fear that Israel might not exist when I awoke the following morning.

But I also remember a more powerful lesson from childhood. My Jewish day school education left me with the enduring belief that decisions regarding the security interests of the State of Israel were best left in the hands of those whose sons and daughters were asked to fight its battles.

Whatever our opinions about Israel's claim on the territories, its attitude to Palestinian nationalism or its rights to self-defense, no one was asking us to risk our lives for Israel's sake.

I had neither the right nor privilege to challenge the government of Israel's decisions on how to protect its citizens. If I did so, I was in some way undermining that government and endangering Israel's existence in a hostile world.

In a cynical age such as ours, this parochial attitude might seem charmingly out of date. And yet, this central tenet of a Zionist education remained embedded in my consciousness throughout high school, through my student leadership days and even into my 30s, when I had to make strenuous efforts to channel my bitter opposition to the Oslo process into nonpublic activism.

I resisted and continue to resist attacking a democratically elected government of Israel. I remain committed to the notion that short of living full time in the Jewish State, the policies of Israel, for better or worse, deserve to be publicly respected.

The wisdom of this approach is often challenged, particularly within my own ideological circle. My usual response to such criticism is that the State of Israel will always have far greater enemies than its own government, and that these enemies are much worthier of challenge.

Maybe that is why I am so angered by advertisements and articles in our local papers that claim that alternative voices are being muffled in the community. By "alternative," they, of course, mean opposition to the Israeli government.

When I read the most recent lachrymose statement on the back page of The Jewish Journal, my first reaction was a sense of irony. How often during the long years of Oslo, when many in my own circle felt that Oslo was a deathtrap leading Israel not to peace but war, did we feel like pariahs, with no audience or forum to hear our perspective? Yet, I still can't remember anyone suggesting that we buy advertising space proclaiming our sense of exclusion. Despite our worst fears, we knew that time would prove us tragically right.

My second reaction was more pointed. What does this self-described loyal opposition really want?

For two years, Israel had a national unity government composed of left and right -- a government that achieved a record 70 percent approval rating.

It was a government in which the prime minister's own right-wing party was in the minority. It was a government whose leader had expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a government that had laid down a clear agenda for negotiations, had accepted many American proposals from Mitchell to Tenet to Zinni. It was a government attempting to extricate Israel from one of the most difficult security situations it has ever encountered.

While Israelis are dying in their dozens, for no other reason than that they are Jews in the wrong place at the wrong time, who are we to tell the Israeli government how they can best be protected? Maybe this unity government doesn't have all the answers, but surely it is better equipped than any of us to under take the necessary problem-solving.

Finally, I thought of the many community forums in which I have participated or which I have attended. In these community gatherings, there has almost always been another spokesman with an alternative point of view.

No one that I am aware of has ever been ejected from a forum for challenging anyone's right-wing perspective. Even this very paper, which represents itself as the voice of the community, has, to its credit, pains over the course of the past two years to achieve a balance between competing points of vie .

It is said that when truth becomes apparent, it blazes so intensely that the unprepared must shield their eyes. That certain members of our community remain blind to realities in the Middle East can be debated.

But whatever we believe to be the solution to the Middle East conflict, there is no advantage to either Israel or ourselves in denouncing the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.

We are outsiders. It is not our democratic right or even our Jewish right to voice opposition to Israeli policies, anymore than it is Israel's right to voice opposition to American social policies.

If you want that right, then live in Israel and become a citizen. In the meantime, we should allow those who must contend with daily risks to their own and their childrens' lives to make their own security decisions entirely free from our unwanted interference.

Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and senior editorial columnist for www.Jewsweek.com.

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