Commentary Magazine


The End of the Liberal Critique of Israel

After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

The contrast between the support for the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to attack Hamas’s rocket launchers and terrorist tunnel network in Gaza that is exhibited by most Israelis and the outrage that these efforts at self-defense have generated elsewhere is hard to ignore. Israelis understand the current conflict has nothing to do with arguments about settlements or borders. You don’t have to be a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or those of pro-settlement critics on the right here to understand that Hamas and its sympathizers don’t care where Israel’s borders should be drawn. Nor is there any real debate about the impact of a Palestinian political culture in which even the supposed moderates applaud terrorism and treat those who slaughter Jews as heroes. The point of the terrorist fortress in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces is trying to disarm if not dismantle is to serve as the base for an ongoing war against the existence of the Jewish state. The choice of Hamas’s leaders to deliberately sacrifice as many of their own people as possible in order to protect their terrorist infrastructure has not been lost on Israelis. Nor has it escaped their notice that the whole point of the massive investment in rockets and infiltration tunnels by the government of a district mired in poverty is to produce as many Jewish casualties as possible regardless of the impact such actions may have on the safety or the quality of life of Palestinians.

Just as important is the ugly anti-Semitic tone of much of the protests that have been mounted against Israel’s counter-attacks against Hamas in Gaza. Simply put, much of the world seems to think that Hamas has a “right” to shoot thousands of rockets at Israeli cities or to launch cross-border terror raids aimed at kidnapping or killing as many Jews as possible and that the Jewish state has no right to defend itself against these actions–even if they go to great lengths (as the Israel Defense Forces do as a matter of course) to avoid hurting the civilians that the Islamists use as human shields. The general invective against Zionism being heard on the streets of Europe’s cities and even in the U.S. protests against Israel is of a piece with the tone of Hamas’s talking points. The solidarity these demonstrators are expressing for the “resistance” against the “occupation”–a term by which they mean all of Israel and not just the West Bank or the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza–also makes plain the nature of the struggle. Even those who support a two-state solution that would entail an Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the West Bank must now comprehend that their dislike of the settlements or the desire to satisfy the Palestinian ambition for sovereignty can’t ignore the fact that the debate about these ideas is entirely moot while the rockets are flying and terrorists are tunneling beneath the border in hope of emerging inside Israel to slaughter innocents. In this context of hate and violence, the only real points of contention are whether you support the survival of the Jewish state or not.

That is why the energy expended by so many American liberals on behalf of projects designed to pressure Israel’s government to make more concessions to the Palestinians is not merely wrongheaded. It’s utterly irrelevant to the realities of both the Middle East and the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. Groups such as J Street that are predicated on the notion that Israel must be saved from itself by principled liberal critics are treated as both serious and representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media. But that group has little to say about the current conflict that requires our notice. Nor are its efforts to distinguish itself from far more radical anti-Zionist groups that openly support efforts to isolate Israel economically and support protests against its right of self defense of any importance any longer.

At this moment it is no longer possible to pretend that the conflict can be wished away by Israeli concessions that would, if implemented, create another 20 Gazas in the West Bank. Nor can one rationally argue that more Israeli forbearance toward Hamas in Gaza and a less vigorous effort to take out its vast system of tunnels shielding its rocket arsenal and terror shock troops would bring the region closer to peace when the only way to give that cause a chance is predicated on the elimination of Hamas.

If, at some point in the indefinite future, the Palestinians turn on Hamas and its less radical allies and embrace a national identity that is not inextricably linked to Israel’s elimination, perhaps then we can resume the debate about settlements and borders that J Street craves. But until that unlikely event happens, it is imperative that Americans realize that the J Street critique of Israel that is often echoed by some in the Obama administration and throughout the left is over. The only question to be asked today is whether you stand with Israel’s right to defend itself or not. Jews and others who consider themselves friends of the Jewish state must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate. Viewed from the perspective of the last week’s events here in Israel, anything else is a waste of time.

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9 Responses to “The End of the Liberal Critique of Israel”


    From a nice essay from today’s Times of Israel by someone on the Israeli left: “any lingering sympathy I had for J-Street . . . has dissipated in the past few days.” See:
    (h/t, Twitter feeds of Jake Tapper and Jeffrey Goldberg)

    • JACK LEVEY says:

      At a Jewish Federation rally this past Sunday, one speaker reminded us that there are other oganizations one can donate to in order to support Israel. He named only AIPAC and JStreet, and seemed genuinely surprised that many in the crowd jeered and protested at the mention of JStreet.


    From a nice essay from today’s Times of Israel by someone on the Israeli left: “any lingering sympathy I had for J-Street . . . has dissipated in the past few days.” See:
    (h/t, Twitter feeds of Jake Tapper and Jeffrey Goldberg)

  3. MAURICE EMMER says:

    Jonathan, that is very well said. I said the same thing in a LTE to the Aspen Times a week ago, i.e., I don’t live there so I don’t give them advice. I just support them. A tip, though. Too long. Too many writers don’t have time for a 500 word essay so they do a 1,000 word essay. Make them shorter so more people will read them. I am sure you are a good enough self editor to do that.

    All the best,
    Maurice Emmer
    Aspen, CO


    Hamas has predicated a cease fire on two demands: It’s border with Egypt must be opened and the prisoners recaptured in the West Bank must be freed. Reading between the lines, one then assumes that they also mean their remaining armaments and tunnels remain, and that the IDF simply leaves Gaza immediately. Israel’s response to this, presented to all of the interlocutors as well as to the Palestinian people, both in Gaza and the West Bank should be this. The Palestinian people, together with Israel and well wishers throughout the developed world, can do more than simply open the borders. Real peace, not Hamas’ notion of a cease fire, will enable a vast flow of commerce in both directions, in and out of Gaza via land borders, sea lanes and airports. It will enable foreign investment to enter and build factories and business to provide jobs. In brief, real peace will bring prosperity and life to the people of Gaza, while the Hamas notion of a cease fire and “victory” on its terms will only bring further war, poverty and death. What should be made clear to the Gazans and all of the Palestinians is that these two futures are totally incompatible. Either Hamas militants must go, and the Gazans will get peace and prosperity, or Hamas militants remain, with their rockets and tunnels, and the Gazans will get more war, poverty and hundreds, if not thousands more of civilian deaths. As this article properly states: Israel now finds itself facing an existential threat and can be expected to take every step to insure the total safety of its people.

    At this critical moment, President Obama can present himself as a true leader of the democratic world if he will not only come to understand and enunciate this, but will also present, in the clearest possible terms, the two alternatives that I have outlined above both to the Palestinian leadership and its people.

    David Lefkovitz

    • JACK LEVEY says:

      As usual, Israel’s enemies start a war, lose, and then demand that Israel surrender as the price of a cease fire.

  5. JAMES R SLAYTON says:

    Right! Being in The Land makes one aware of the imminent reality, as well as the realization that the reality disconnect offered elsewhere is just a dangerous distraction. Hamas is but one head of the Hydra of hate which suffuses cultures and teaches children and their mothers to sacrifice to a god who beckons them to its home in the bottomless abyss. The Almighty must slay the Beast. Until then we will refuse to bow to extermination.

  6. R R ROGGENSACK says:

    It is useless to seek support from those who cannot (or will not) understand the dilemma Israel faces in making peace with relentless terrorists who do not want peace, but rather they desire the destruction of the state of Israel, and the death or removal of all of its people. Why the UN has subsidized this bunch of killers for over sixty years is a mystery to me. Or why the US gives them financial support. Outrageous.

  7. EMILE TUBIANA says:

    History as we have known it for centuries repeats itself. Anti-Semitism is expanding. Since Dreyfus, and the holocaust, nothing changed. All the nations of the world, including America are jealous of the Jewish people who are creative and bring their contribution to advancement in many vital fields. Nobody seems to appreciate that. Even less so today’s Arabs. Even if you give them development on the silver platter, they destroy it. This is what happened with the light-train station in East Jerusalem that Israel built to enhance the Arab’s standard of living and connect them to the city. Europeans, who want good relationships with the Arabs could not care less about the Jews. Jews have to take it upon themselves to defend themselves, as they cannot count on anybody, even not on America and of course not on Obama. The American Jews are not aware that the ground is eroding under their feet.

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