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Israeli Liberals’ Advice to Diaspora Jewish Counterparts: Grow Up

Carlo Strenger, an Israeli psychology professor, regular Haaretz columnist, and dedicated leftist, offered some useful advice yesterday to all the Diaspora Jewish liberals now bemoaning the end of their love affair with Israel: Grow up. Or as he put it, “only adolescents demand ideal objects for their loves.”

“Jewish liberals … need to realize that the time has come to stop mourning Israel’s idealized image,” Strenger wrote. “Israel is an impressive achievement in many ways, but it was never an ideal society.” Rather, it’s a real country with real problems, just like any other country, and deserves to be treated that way.

American Jewish liberals, for instance, didn’t stop loving America because they loathed George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, “So how come we Jews have such problems with the fact that in Israel we have our own Limbaughs, Palins and Cheneys?” Nor did they stop loving America because it has yet to achieve perfect racial harmony (as witness the recent police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri), so “How come we cannot accept that Israel is a multiethnic society that still hasn’t worked out a modus vivendi” among its numerous religious and ethnic subgroups?

In short, if you care about a country, you can obviously criticize its shortcomings and work to ameliorate them. But you don’t wash your hands of it just because it fails to meet the “completely unrealistic” expectation that “our state must be a beacon of light unto the nations”–an expectation, he noted wryly, that exists in the first place because liberal Diaspora Jews “never quite got rid of” what most would publicly dismiss as a highly illiberal notion: “that Jews are chosen.”

Diaspora Jewish liberals’ expectations are all the more unrealistic, Strenger noted, because they completely disregard the real-world problems Israel faces:

The Arab world’s initial rejection of Israel’s existence, and the scars of war and the constant security threats from groups like Hamas, have left an indelible mark on Israel’s mentality, one that will take many decades to mitigate. The profound rifts between its ethnicities, its religious conflicts, its inability to integrate its Arab citizens, have shaped Israel’s political culture, and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Moreover, in their disappointment at Israel’s failure to live up to their ideal, they are ignoring the fact that “there is much to love and admire about Israel for Jewish liberals, even if we profoundly dislike, and sometimes hate, other aspects of it.”

While Strenger didn’t elaborate, another Israeli professor and dedicated leftist, Michael Gross, did exactly that in a guest column for Haaretz two days earlier. Rhetorically asking what standard Diaspora Jewish liberals use to evaluate Israel’s liberalism or lack thereof, he continued, “Do they mean a well-functioning public health care system, expansive reproductive rights, gun control, a ban on the death penalty or inexpensive higher education?”

Gross obviously knows the big issue for most liberal Diaspora Jews is “the occupation.” His point is that like any real country, Israel is multi-faceted. And if you examine the real Israel in all its complexity, rather than treating it as a cartoon character with no existence beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, then on many trademark issues to which liberal Jews accord great weight in their own countries, Israel is actually closer to the liberal ideal than America is.

Essentially, both men were making the same argument: If liberal Diaspora Jews would look at Israel as a real country, rather than as a projection of their fantasies, they would see it was neither as perfectly good as they once imagined it nor as irredeemably evil as they imagine it today. Like any other country, it has real problems, and like any other country, it deals with some problems better than others, but its positive qualities are no less real than its flaws.

And if Diaspora Jewish liberals are incapable of seeing the real Israel through the cloud of their adolescent fantasies, then that isn’t Israel’s fault. It’s their own.


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