In a quandry about relating to Israel

The debate about how Jews should relate to Israel continues. I’m sure there are better responses than the one I am about to give below. I’ve only had half an eye on these debates because what I’ve read struck me as either communitarian or else to do with manicuring the self-image of the author. Since this blog is primarily concerned with antisemitic beliefs and acts, which we consider to be everybody’s problem, we (I think I can speak for all of us – let’s see) don’t feel that dwelling on the responsibilities of Jewish communities, or Jews outside communities, is right. How Jews act and think of themselves are community concerns – but these should be for their own sake, not as means of mitigating antisemitism.

However, a recent Ynet piece by Sara Reef (of whom I’ve been unaware up till now – she’s a specialist in intercultural communications with a Middle East focus, based in the US) was neither self-manicuring nor communitarian, but contemplated the problem as one of imposed spokespersonship.

Not that Sara Reef is resigned to this state of affairs, but resignation is unwise, I think. Sara lists the things that she cannot do, or isn’t expected to do, that Israeli citizens can and must, the most pertinent here being vote. It shouldn’t need pointing out that Israeli politicians who claim (and I can only half-remember one example) to act on behalf of citizens of other states, have no mandate to do so. None. Zero. No efforts at dissociation should be required. This kind of talk is a call for, rather than assertion of, Jewish solidarity. When people cite it to scrutinise ordinary Jews for dual loyalty, or the wrong loyalty, we should treat that in much the same way as we treat scrutiny of ordinary Muslims in the aftermath of terror attacks carried out in the name of Islam. That is, as wrong.

It shouldn’t need pointing out that if we begin to go along with expecting Jews outside Israel to follow Israeli politics, then this is liable – or perhaps even likely – to reveal a similar diversity of politics as there is among Israeli citizens.

It shouldn’t need pointing out that to follow Israeli politics at sufficient detail to intervene, as some have recommended, in a politically responsible way would entail a great many Jews outside Israel becoming more knowledgeable about Israeli politics than they are about the politics of their own states. That wouldn’t be good. And because it wouldn’t look good, either, Jews can’t deflect antisemitism this way.

It shouldn’t need pointing out – and this is where the conflicts Israel is embroiled in reach out, uninvited and unwelcome, to touch far-away Jews – that the concepts ‘Jew’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’ are already permitted to slide into each other with disturbing frequency, as Sara knows herself from the encounters with her colleagues. We’ve all been there I reckon – for more ominous examples see also this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, a small sample only. So it’s necessary to patiently explain why Jews of no official standing with respect to Israel cannot be assumed to know about Israel, and where they do, it’s a personal opinion informed by their own politics.

So do Jews have any special responsibilities with regards to Israel? I’d say that is a matter of individual conscience. Personally (and after all this, readers are entitled to wonder) I feel mine are independent of being Jewish: not to make myself, writing here, amenable to people whose Israel-eliminationist or Israel-expansionist politics I oppose; where writing about Israel, not to undermine – actively or by omission – people who are dedicating themselves to convincing Israelis and Palestinians to support civil rights and liberties for all and the circumstances which will end the occupation.

I’m equally interested in campaigning Israelis’ political responsibilities to Jews outside Israel – but that’s another story.

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