Irwin J. Mansdorf- On Criticizing Israel From The Right

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One would ordinarily expect American Jews to show their support for a new Israeli Prime Minister, and, for the most part, Ehud Olmert, on his recent visit to Washington, did have the community’s backing.

But one group of “pro-Israel” Americans decided that the prime minister did not deserve their support, embarking on a clear anti-Olmert lobbying effort. In a series of blogs, e-mails and paid advertisements, people who were unhappy with Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip last summer decided to go all out in expressing their displeasure loudly, publicly and unashamedly.

Over the years, there have been many public demonstrations in the United States by those who opposed Israeli policies. While anti-Israel groups were behind some of these demonstrations, others were held by people, often on the political left who claimed that they cared deeply about the Jewish state. These left-leaning individuals, when challenged about their actions, consistently maintained their belief that they were acting in what they felt was Israel’s best interests.

So, we sometimes saw Jews joining forces with Arabs to decry Israeli actions, claiming that Israeli soldiers acted immorally, that Israel indiscriminately bulldozed homes and evicted families in the name of security and that Israel discriminated against whole segments of its own society.

Now, consider the following statement about the current Israeli leadership: “This is a government that uses riot police, border police, and the army to evict and beat… casting notions of rights and justice aside.” And in a recent paid advertisement, one activist accused the Israeli government of “genocide” and having “blood on its hands.”

What is striking about these recent statements, however, is not that they were made. Those who sympathize with Israel have been hearing similar sentiments for years. What is striking is that they were made not by leftists or Arabs but by mostly right-wing Orthodox Jewish political activists. What is striking is that they appear to be aiming their remarks at American Jews and that they apparently have not considered, or do not care about the fact that these statements can easily be retrieved, quoted and used by enemies of Israel to buttress the claims that Israel is non-democratic and oppressive.

Last summer’s disengagement continues to be a difficult, painful and certainly controversial action, and Ehud Olmert’s proposed “convergence” plan is no less a contentious issue. Whether or not diaspora Jews should involve themselves in this internal Israeli issue is debatable, but what should not be in dispute is that the loose and often irresponsible use of language to express one’s opposition needs to be checked and that one’s priorities need to be considered.

With Mahmoud Abbas selling the concept of the “prisoner’s document” as a potential peace plan, Israel’s friends should consider whether Israel’s interests are best served these days by lobbying against an elected Israeli leader or by educating Americans that the Palestinian president’s proposal does not recognize Israel, does not call for an end to violence and does not renounce flooding Israel with a hostile Arab “refugee” population. And while some executives of American Jewish organization are raising funds for the unemployed and displaced former residents of Gush Katif, nary a word is heard about the more than 250,000 other Israelis who are also without work and many others who live in sub-par conditions.

For years, many of Israel’s friends on the American left were guilty of what Israel’s right-leaning friends are now doing, namely supplying Israel’s enemies with inaccurate representations of how Israelis act and feel.

The messages being circulated opposing Israeli government policies will remain “Googable” time bombs in the war of words against Israel for some time to come. And like the lies and half-truths that Israel’s enemies have used, these words and quotes will come back to bite the very people these impassioned supporters of Israel are trying to protect. n

Irwin J. (Yitzchak) Mansdorf Ph.D. lives in Ra’anana, Israel, and directs the Jerusalem Project on Democracy in the Middle East (www.JPDME.org ) He is a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and was a participant in the SPME/Case Western Reserve University Conference on Post Colonial Theory and The Middle East www.spme.net/conference.html

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Irwin J. Mansdorf- On Criticizing Israel From The Right

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