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Saturday, September 1, 2007


Criticizing Israel

Recently Christiane Amanpour presented a three-part series on CNN examining the role of religious fundamentalism in the world, starting with "God’s Jewish Warriors." I watched, as did many of my friends and was appalled with what I heard. My antennae shot up quickly as I was contronted with false statements, one after the other in quick succession. I was afraid this would happen. Cristiane is Iranian, and I had a feeling she would be presenting something alien to the actual facts that I knew. The program moved along so swiftly that I could not take notes on anything. In order to counter any viewpoints, I needed to have taped the program and played it back with a lot of stopping and starting.

A non Jewish friend saw nothing wrong with the program. All three segments met with approval. The negative presentation of Jews was accepted. I, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong in the presentations of the Moslem and Christian segments, not being aware of any problem with their sides, whereas he was a little disappointed with the Christian episode.

Jews are so accustomed to negative comments about their religion that we are very sensitive to any criticisms. The same goes for Israel. People are just so ready to believe the worst about us, that they do. We are constantly either ignoring comments and hoping they go away, or get in the defensive mode, which I do. From the Dark Ages, people have been accusing us of poisoning their children, their well, their food. Adolf Hitler told lies about us and tried to exterminate every one of us. Persia’s Hamen told lies about us and tried to kill all the Jews and now Iran’s ruler is saying the same thing. These are but a few of the examples that come to mind.

Recently the British academia have come out against Israel and are boycotting any trade with it. Britain, who had the mandate to keep order in "Palestine" after the Ottoman Empire fell, never did favor the Jews there. Finally, someone has stood up to this hatred. Standing with Israel is the University of California’s Robert Birgeneau at Berkely, New York University’s John Sexton and Columbia University’s Lee Bollinger.

Since 1948 Israel has been constantly attacked by the surrounding Arabs, but have accomplished a great deal. It has no oil or other natural resources but produced universities, research centers and other institutions of like causes. The USA scientists have more patents in the world, but Israel is second. Israel has more start-up companies listed on Nasdaq and export more life-saving medical technology than any other country. Israelis have received more Nobel and other international science prizes than any other country. Israeli academics are at the forefront in working on peace efforts. The British boycott seems to be backfiring.* All this effort is from one of the tiniest states in the world, smaller than one third of the size of Oregon with only about five million Jews at the young age of fifty-nine years. With the creation of another state, Palestine, it will be even smaller.

Jews do a lot of criticizing of ourselves, mostly in regards to Israel. A friend of mine in Israel just wrote and said that he felt that unless you live there, you really don’t have the right to criticize. It’s the Israelis whose lives are on the line. He’s right. I lived there for five and a half years and became a citizen. I felt the same way. However, we have people to the left and people to the right living in Israel, and all have a chance to voice their opinions, just like America. It’s a different feeling when we criticize ourselves; it’s more like it’s family criticism. When others do it, we feel the antagonism, the hated of people with no understanding or empathy. Usually they criticize the wrong things. They swallow propaganda and it shows how little they really know. To be so quick to believe the worst hurts. If only they would criticize something blaringly incorrect.

When confronted with, "Gee, I can’t criticize Israel without you thinking I’m antisemitic", I realize that this is true. I am very defensive about Israel. I am aware of all the problems Israel is facing and know they are trying harder than most people understand to be fair and righeous in their dealings with Palestinians.

Somehow, child psychologists and marriage counselors have come up the idea of starting with something positive and then slipping in a criticism and ending on a positive, helpful note. I just wish people would do the same thing when discussing Israel. Don't just criticize us. Is it so much to ask that people learn something about the situation first?

* Alan M. Dershowitz "Academic Hijacking" in Hadassah magazine Aug. Sept 07

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