Thursday, February 1, 2007

Red Lines: Crossing the 'Blue Lines' of International Legitimacy

Yesterday's Times article, "Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor, ", once again raises the question of when the line is crossed from legitimate criticism of a sovereign state to slanderous vilification. Natan Sharansky has provided excellent guidance with three basic criteria: 1. Does the criticism Demonize? (comparisons to Nazis, Nazism; spurious accusations of genocide, Apartheid, etc.) 2. Does the criticism De-legitimize? (call into question a state's very right to exist) 3. Is the state singled out, using a unique standard of judgment devoid of any context? (specious accusations of war crimes, worst offender of human rights, etc.) Considered from this perspective, the line, in fact, loses much of its blurriness.
No other nation but Israel has had its very 'Right to Exist' so brazenly called into question, as if this were a legitimate subject for debate. Yet because the question is seriously entertained, authors like Alan Dershowitz have had to actually write books defending this obvious, unassailable right (The Case for Israel). Yaacov Lozowick tackles the issue head-on in his landmark work, Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars. As Cynthia Ozick points out, "the title alone--the scandal of calling into question a living nation's existence--ought to shame the prevaricators and defamers, whether they be professors in universities, media distorters, 'peace activists' who justify terror, morally deformed intellectuals, self-deceiving unconfessed haters, or merely the herd of the easily led."
But the argument gains legitimacy when the defamers hide behind arguments of bi-nationalism(code for the dissolution of the Jewish state) or post-modern critiques against the nation-state. Why does Israel have to be a Jewish state, they disingenuously ask? The answer, of course, is glaringly obvious. Post Holocaust safe-haven arguments aside, the very question posits a false premise, namely that a Jewish state is some sort of theocracy. In fact, the Jewishness part of the Jewish state refers to us a people, Am Y'israel (the people of Israel). Israel, like America, is a secular democracy and is a Jewish state in the same way that America is largely a Christian nation, although with notable differences.
One of the problems with this entire debate is in the framing and lack of historical and current context. Another is that in the world of sound bytes and easy catch-phrases that are bandied about, few take the trouble to carefully scrutinize the arguments. A case in point is the yesterday's Times article by Patricia Cohen. In her very first sentence she mis-characterizes the traditionally centrist and liberal (in the best sense of the term) American Jewish Committee as a 'conservative' advocacy group. Thus the stage is set for a false dichtomy from the get-go. And no doubt, those who will take the time to read Alvin Rosenfeld's cogent essay linked here, "Progressive" Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,{42D75369-D582-4380-8395-D25925B85EAF}/PROGRESSIVE_JEWISH_THOUGHT.PDF, will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. To add insult to injury, 'the paper of record' today published four letters to the editor, and in their unique sense of balance, they lean 3:1 against
For more on this important discussion, see Thane Rosenbaum's fascinating, if overly optimistic Red State Jews written at the end of this summer's Lebanon War. My essay, in the July/August issue of Congress Monthly, "Schism in the Jewish Psyche: Defending Israel's Right to Exist", bears directly on this issue as well. And lastly, a piece on the panel discussion on this topic, looking at Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor's The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders;%20looking%20for%20old%20articles%20I%20wrote.EML/1_multipart_xF8FF_2_Jewish%20divide.doc/C58EA28C-18C0-4a97-9AF2-036E93DDAFB3/Jewish%20divide.doc?attach=1
And let's not forget the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., who forty years ago said, ". . . You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--this is God's own truth. "

1 comment:

Lao Qiao said...

A letter writer in the 2/1/07 New York Times, C.K. Williams, says, "Somehow these vigilantes of proper Jewishness never mention the large number of Israelis who share with American Jews dismay about the self-defeating policies of the Israeli government." The writer does not understand that this letter praises Israel. Israel, the most hated country on earth, a country that has never been at peace, nevertheless is a place where freedom of speech not only exists but blossoms. Israel's openness is evidence of its greatness and goodness.

Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, has persuaded the National Asembly of Venezuela to allow him free rein to rule for the next 18 months. How many people on the Left will criticize Chavez for this gross and totally unnecessary violation of the right of people to disagree?