Friday, August 12, 2011

From the Outside Looking In

My thoughts, ideas and opinions about Israel - as much as I try to get an insider's perspective - are those of an American Jew looking in. As I have said before, perhaps there is something to be gained from this vantage point. Maybe the distance allows us to see things in a way that some or most Israelis don't.

On the other side of that coin, Israelis looking in at the American Jewish Community may be able to see things that some or most of us don't. Well, Haaretz's Akiva Eldar interviews political psychologist Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal. Here's Bar-Tal's take after spending a year in the U.S.: 
When I arrived in the United States, I assumed I would find a receptive audience in the Jewish community, and a willingness to discuss the processes taking place in Israeli society. To my great regret, in most of those communities I found paralysis. The most progressive Jewish circles there - those who demonstrate against any American injustice, protest the undermining of human rights in Iran and Sudan and of freedom of speech in China and Russia - turn blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to the lack of social justice, or oppression and discrimination, in Israel. They don't want to know what's happening, and for the most part refuse to conduct a rational discussion about the deterioration of Israeli society.
There's a combination of existential fear, a desire to hold on to the symbol at all costs and quite a bit of strong-arm tactics on the part of people with money and influence. I saw how a wealthy businessman threatened the rabbi of a Reform temple in a small town, Newton, near Boston, that if the president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, spoke in his synagogue, he would discontinue his donations to the community. The rabbi panicked and canceled the lecture.
It's hard to believe that in the strongest democracy in the world, such a destructive process is taking place. The same Jews who followed the greatest critics of American society, such as Louis Brandeis or Martin Luther King, Jr., are losing their principles and their way when it comes to Israel. They prefer to ignore the deeds of their 'wild relative' and don't understand that if they don't cry out in time, this behavior will only increase and they will be left with a symbol empty of any moral and humane value.
But I also met courageous, open and active groups that are ready to fight for their principles and to warn against the path of Israeli society. Recently, Brandeis University hosted the annual conference of the Association for Israel Studies [comprising scholars in the social sciences], which by the Israeli Foreign Ministry's definition could be considered the greatest anti-Israel conference in the world. At dozens of sessions, penetrating criticism was heard about the behavior of [Israeli] society in all areas of life, from the deterioration of democracy and the institutionalization of discrimination against the Arab minority, to the reinforcement of the economic gap and the loss of the moral compass, and up to the destructive influences of the occupation and the militarization of society.
You can read Akiva Eldar's entire interview with Prof. Bar-Tal here.


  1. "It's hard to believe that in the strongest democracy in the world, such a destructive process is taking place."

    Hard to believe? Not so much if you watch what's happening to one of the two political parties of this great Nation.

  2. A more cynical person than me might ask which political party you are referring to. (What in the world has happened to the Dems?) But it began before the Tea Partyization of the GOP. What Professor Yehoshua Leibowitz warned about in Israel after the Six Day War has migrated to the US. What he said was that maintaining an occupation would require eliminating dissent.