Commentary Magazine


The 'But-However' Crowd

Listen carefully to those who claim to be friends and lovers of Israel and only want to help it through “tough love”—by using American pressure to force the Jewish state to adopt policies rejected by its own, highly charged, democratic system. When these supposedly passionate devotees of the Jewish national home must discuss actions that go beyond “tough love” toward Israel into outright hostility and anti-Semitism, one always hears a “but,” always a “however.”

As in: “Yes, academic boycotts of Israel are unacceptable, we all agree about that, but these sorts of assaults will continue to happen until Israel itself changes its policies” in the direction I prefer.

As in: “Yes, economic and artistic boycotts of Israel are enormously unfair, who could disagree about that, but since the settlers are acting in a fashion I believe destructive and unfair, boycotting the products they produce is not only justifiable but moral.”

As in: “Of course anti-Zionism is unacceptable because the Jewish people deserve their own homeland, we all agree about that, but the perspective of anti-Zionists is only gaining purchase because of the policies of the Israeli government”—therefore, Bibi Netanyahu is responsible for anti-Zionism.

As in: “Yes, we need to encourage support for Israel among our youth. However, the refusal of Birthright/Taglit to teach said youth about the cruelties toward Palestinians and Hillel’s efforts to ban open discussion on college campuses about Israel’s conduct are just going to drive young people away.”

What is the meaning of this? As a matter of rhetoric, the “but-however” gambit is a trick. It is designed to grant a general proposition to create common ground and then, having granted it, to flip it on its head.

“But” and “however” introduce conditionality. They create limits. So what exactly is the “but-however” crowd limiting?

Quite simply, they are limiting their support for Israel. They are making it conditional. They are saying they oppose boycotts when they are simultaneously saying Israel is summoning the boycotts upon itself by its malign behavior—which is to say, Israel deserves what it is getting. They are saying they oppose anti-Zionism even as they are saying anti-Zionism is a by-product not of Jew-hatred but rather of a Zionist perspective they do not like.

The twist, over the past couple of years, is the introduction of the idea that these conditional supporters of Israel are its true advocates. People who say Israel has the right to decide its future for itself because it is a sovereign land with a democratic government and a free press that expresses itself vociferously are not Israel’s true defenders, according to their argument, because such people are aiding and abetting those who are leading Israel astray.

The “but-however” crowd loves Israel so much that its members want the Jewish state corrected from the outside because it is too foolish to correct itself. They want the United States to fix it because Israel won’t fix itself. But the only way the United States can do that is if the very notion of what constitutes support for Israel is redefined.

You can support Israel, in this view, only if your support is conditional. If Israel continues to behave in a “bad” way, then your support for it must be withdrawn…for its own sake, of course. You must not love it any more; it will not be deserving of your love, and you must be true to that which is actually lovable.

Thus, it would appear to the “but-however” crowd, that those who seek to hurt Israel are actually helping it. Indeed, by this logic, boycotters who want to force change in Israel actually love Israel more than those people who don’t, in fact, hate it.

Perhaps there is a kind of love in this sort of thing, a twisted love, a love that is indistinguishable from abuse in the name of love. Call it love if you dare.

But.

However.

About the Author

John Podhoretz is editor of COMMENTARY.




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