Commentary Magazine

Literary Blog

Straddling the Non-Existent Middle

Over at Jewish Ideas Daily this morning, Erika Dreifus writes a cri de coeur of the young American Jewish writer who must somehow make peace with a literary left for whom Israel is far more disgusting and repressive than Burma or North Korea. “In defending Israel, you risk alienating friends, editors, and critics,” she writes. “As open-minded as these ‘liberal or leftist’ circles claim to be, they are as quick as their analogues at the other end of the spectrum to judge and scorn. There is no place for centrists.”

There is no place for centrists, because on the Israel question — the Jewish question of our day — there is no possible “maybe.” Should Israel exist? Should it grant a “right of return” to Palestinian Arabs? Should an armed Palestinian state dedicated to its destruction be founded on its borders? Not even a young American Jewish writer who is afraid of alienating friends, editors, and critics can answer “maybe” to these questions.

And that’s the problem. Too many young Zionists, with the best will of the world, want to stand on both sides of the question. God forbid they alienate their friends or professors or editors! They know — it is the ethos of the literary left — that anyone who speaks a good word for Israel must admit in the same breath, as Dreifus does, that “Israel isn’t perfect.” “I believe that with a little training and lot more study,” she says, “I could do a better job of making a case for Israel, even gaining the ability to acknowledge its flaws publicly.”

Strange, though, that champions of the Palestinian cause never get around to acknowledging its flaws publicly. The first lie of anti-Zionism is that you can criticize Israel without being anti-Zionist. Theoretically, perhaps, you can. But in practice, criticism of Israel never ends with the concession that the Jewish state “isn’t perfect.” It is instead the starting point, the opening salvo, of anti-Zionism.

The American Jewish writer who wishes to “do a better job of making a case for Israel” needs to leave the acknowledgment of its flaws to those who would destroy it. Then she needs to make the case. And the case cannot be made negatively, by simply refusing to associate with Israel’s enemies, but must be made affirmatively, publicly, without stint or hesitation. Dreifus tells how she resigned from the National Book Critics Circle when its blog became “a mouthpiece for criticizing Israel.” She tells how she “declined to join the 2,000 writers, many of them Jewish, who signed an ‘Occupy Writers’ manifesto supporting ‘the Occupy movement around the world,’ ” because of “episodes like ‘Occupy Boston Occupies the Israeli Consulate.’ ” (Then she goes on to criticize me, “COMMENTARY’s chief literary blogger,” for describing the 2,000 Occupy Writers as “useful idiots.”)

Dreifus would like to have it both ways. She would like the esteem and approval of the Occupy Writers, who are nearly unanimous in their implacable hatred of the Jewish state. But she would also like Israel to be publicly defended, just as long as it is defended in a way that is “helpful” and does not embarrass her. As she herself says, though, there are no centrists in this fight. There are only Zionists, anti-Zionists, and the “useful idiots” whose desire to appear “open-minded” and to stand with the angels on the literary left when it comes to every other issue but Israel gives hope and strength to the enemies of the Jewish state.