Now that the dust has settled and pundits have had their say on the issue of being within your rights to be critical of the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, now is the time to understand why being seen to be endorsing the State of Israel governed by Netanyahu has become impossible for Jewish liberals.
Actress Natalie Portman explained her decision to snub the prestigious Genesis prize in Jerusalem, also known as the “Jewish Nobel,” saying that she did not want her attendance to be seen as an endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She chose to boycott a ceremony which “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.”
Boycotting Israel, questioning the legality of governmental decisions and treating Israel’s democratically elected leader as a pariah, encouraging others by your actions to withdraw their support of Israel, are all strikingly similar in content and in language used by the BDS and anti- Israel movements in America that promote the de-legitimization of the State of Israel, irrespective of Portman’s claims that she doesn’t support the BDS movement.
For too many liberal Jews, Israel in their minds, has become an “oppressor” of rights. They have repeatedly attempted to brand Israel as an intolerant society. Liberal Jews will also be the first to disingenuously claim that they are on Israel’s side.
What seems to escape liberal Jews like Portman is the very composition of democratic life here in Israel. Their understanding is based on recriminations and false accusations suggesting that they can save Israel from itself, if only Israel would adopt their liberal values. The fact that Jews and Arabs all enjoy equal civil and legal rights and are subject to judicial review should they feel that their democratic rights are being impinged always seems to escape their minds. The fact that Israel’s Supreme Court of Appeals has adopted “judicial activism” in its orientation and is at the forefront of protecting the rights of all sectors of the population in Israel also doesn’t seem to hold water for Liberal Jews.
However by dividing Israel into good cop, bad cop, and making out the Israeli Prime Minister and his ruling coalition an amalgamation of Dirty Harry and The Chosen so as to make Israel palatable to liberal Jews is avoiding the real issue at hand. The problem lies - and here I quote the Jewish liberal Peter Beinart - liberal American Jews “are not especially connected to Israel because they are not especially connected to being Jewish".
Supporting an Israel that elects a conservative/right-wing/religious government is messy, complicated, and raises too many questions concerning Jewish identity and Jewish affiliation for liberal Jews, especially if they want to fit in with today's Democratic Party..
We can't love the need to disapprove and denounce more than we love Israel itself.
Yet, when one considers the worldwide movement in recent years to de-legitimize the State of Israel; their aim is not to engage or interact but to undermine and demonize. Their opposition to Israel is not open to reason or good will. In short, their hatred is unconditional. With his being the current geo-strategic reality challenging Israel, than why is it that liberal Jews become so uneasy by expressing unconditional love and support towards Israel?
Had Natalie Portman accepted the Genesis Prize here in Israel, no one would have assumed that she was representing or endorsing Netanyahu or any other Israeli politician. For Liberal Jews many of our debates about Israel have become coarse and divisive, their enthusiasm and eagerness to express tough, critical love towards Israel even when unwarranted and hypocritical has become the accepted norm in how they relate to Israel.
But we can't love the need to disapprove and denounce more than we love Israel itself. For Israel’s supporters, unconditional love and support should be the sentiment that ought to trump all others; the emotion that fuels and gives meaning to our actions. I can challenge my child and rebuke him, but I can never forget to show him unconditional love and support. In their liberal zeal to express tough, critical love of Israel, liberal Jews have forgotten about pure love and unconditional support.
In recent weeks, Noa, a world renowned singer and similiar to Natalie Portman in that she too was born in Israel, Jewish, and known for her ultra-liberal political viewpoints visited Israel to meet with local Israelis who represent the very core of what liberal Jews detest about Israel, and this was her reaction;
This was the most intriguing part for us, the reason we had come to begin with. Finally we could get into the thick of things, listen to the personal story of every participant, learn about their way of life and points of view, including things which are at the core of our differences… and most importantly, discuss our visions for the future of the country we all love so deeply”
I admit, it was challenging. Here were these sweet, generous, warm hearted people…with a huge, seemingly impassable abyss between us. We came out feeling it would take many more hours of conversation and exchange of ideas to scratch the tip of the formidable iceberg of misunderstanding, misinformation and disagreement, to try and melt it some how and find common ground…but we saw great importance in the meeting, as the conversation, even when at times painful and difficult, was honest, respectful and deep”
The only thing we could truly agree upon was our love for Israel and concern for its future.”
As Natalie Portman and her cadre of liberal Jewish supporters fathom the implications of her boycotting Israel and her democratically elected political leadership, I would suggest that she re-think all that has transpired in the past week and ask herself if she wants to be associated with those that defame and slander the State of Israel, as just another “useful idiot” empowering the enemies of Israel or accept the idea that Israel’s complex reality cannot be expressed by one viewpoint nor one dimension. As a complex reality Israel both inspires and infuriates, is filled with joy and sorrow, yet allows us to celebrate unprecedented achievements yet at the same time overcome the challenges awaiting us.