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by Yaniv Reich on June 23, 2011

How many times have I heard Israelis try to shut down their critics with an argument that preserves for Israelis the right to criticize Israel? The argument is of the following general form: “until you’ve lived in Israel, you can’t criticize it”. Another permutation is that you can’t criticize Israel unless you’ve served (read: been brainwashed) in the Israeli army.

Of course, a massive proportion of the people who defend Israel’s occupation and colonization of the Palestinian territories have never actually seen, much less experienced, said occupation and dispossession. So I say to them, don’t defend the occupation until you’ve lived under it. But I digress…

Now Jeffrey Goldberg provides a perfect rebuttal to this argument. This is the second in the two-day series of Goldbergs (unrelated as far as I know) providing extremely cogent arguments for (1) cultural boycott of Israel and now (2) ardent criticism of Israel, even if you have never lived there.

The context is Alison Benedikt’s piece in The Awl, which ruffled the feathers of Jeffrey Goldberg and many others. Today, Goldberg makes it clear why he got so upset:

The outrage comes form the fact that many of us — I would dare say most American Jews — believe that you just don’t get to walk away. I believe — not just me, this is one of the messages of the Passover seder — that all Jews are responsible for each other. This means when you believe a Jew (or, say, a Jewish state) is going astray, you are duty-bound to intervene. Abandoning Israel, abandoning the Jewish people, is abandoning your own family. As Andy Bachman noted, it is a rabbinic dictum that, “all of Israel (read, ‘the Jewish people’) are responsible for one another.”

There you have it. If you are Jewish and think Israel is going astray, “you are duty-bound to intervene”. There is even a rabbinical pronouncement to this effect. For non-Israeli Jews out there, use this next time an Israeli is yelling at you to shut up for criticizing Israel because you haven’t gone through what they have.

For the record, my opinion is that this tribal collective responsibility provides a nice starting point for Jewish engagement in correcting the so-called Jewish state’s wayward course, but it is not enough. I don’t believe that any human simply gets “to walk away” from their human family. There is no reason save narcissistic navel-gazing to draw the line at one’s own ethnic/religious group. In other words, all humans are duty-bound to intervene when they see each other go astray.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clif Brown June 25, 2011 at 12:18 am

What tribal baloney. Doesn’t being a human being trump all tribal claims? Doesn’t the denial of basic rights cry out for every human being to point that denial out and demand those rights be granted? Don’t the historic Jewish giants of humanitarianism call out to everyone?

If anything, it is the fact that what Israel is doing is being done by Jews that has granted it a certain immunity bought at the price of the Holocaust. South Africa should have been so lucky! So isn’t it doubly the duty of Jews, because of that built-in protection, to use their immunity to the cry of anti-Semitism to speak out boldly?

By the way, I find it highly instructive to take almost any story dealing with Zionism and Jews and replace the word “Zionist” with “Boer” and the word “Jew” with “Dutch”. When this word substitution is applied, the auto-immunity factor is gone and the piece reads differently, stripped of the unconscious connotations associated with the word Jew (and less so, Zionist) – starkly so.

It would be one thing if Zionism arose from the death camps and the survivors were the driving force. But from the history I have read, Zionists appropriated not only y the sympathy for the Holocaust victims, but sometimes the victims themselves, jumped into the driver’s seat and rode to victory (which I believe will be Pyrrhic).

The flotilla is about to set sail and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, bless her heart, is to be on board the U.S. ship – while “Mr Hope” Obama will do all he can to stop it.

2 Yaniv Reich June 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Thanks for the great comment, Clif. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed. A commenter on Mondoweiss, where this was cross-posted, also highlighted your point.

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