Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Good Fences Make Good Communities

Alex Sinclair has a column up in Ha'aretz where he pleads with his right-wing pro-Israel friends not to attack his pro-Israel bona fides just because he approaches questions of Israeli policy from a more liberal perspective. In particular, he observes a dynamic whereby right-wing "pro-Israel" Jews, no matter how strenuously one disagrees with them, will never have their credentials as "pro-Israel" questioned; whereas for left-wing Jews this happens as a matter of course.
Very rarely do you hear left-wing Jews delegitimize the right-wing’s place in the Jewish community. Right-wing Jews who find themselves in situations where they are the minority amongst left-wingers may be subjected to harshly-worded questions, prejudiced assumptions, and even name-calling that goes too far (most right-wingers are not really “fascists”!) But rarely will you hear a left-wing Jew say that a right-wing Jew’s opinions make him suspect as a Jew. Or that her opinions make her unsuitable to lead a Jewish organization or community. Or that their positions should not be taught to the younger generation.

The same is not true the other way round. Discourse from the right towards the left often spreads beyond name-calling into delegitimization. Left-wing Zionists are accused of consorting with those who wish to destroy Israel, of not really being Zionists, of self-hate, of naivete.
Sinclair appeals for symmetry -- we should assume the good faith of left-wing participants on the same basis as we do our right-ward friends. Neither should be "delegitimized."

I certainly agree with symmetry. But it's interesting to me that I primarily think of this in the other direction: Just as a left-wing Jews' "pro-Israel" credentials are routinely questioned if they reach beyond certain lines, right-wing "pro-Israel" Jews should also find their status up for debate if they step beyond the pale. The point is that, if we want to say the terrain of "pro-Israel" is bounded -- that certain positions cannot be reconciled with being "pro-Israel" regardless of the assertion of the proponents (or even their subjective intentions) -- there must be rightward as well as leftward borders. Yet, as I observed previously, only one direction is policed:
The claim that one can purport to be pro-Israel, and yet act or advocate in ways that do it harm, is fair enough. But it has to be an even-handed principle, and there is little evidence that it is applied to right-wing Zionists, as opposed to only their left-wing peers. This is unjustifiable -- right-wing Zionists are guilty of many of the flaws Rabbi Kaufman identifies, and deserve the same level of chastisement for their breaches.
A bare assertion of good intentions is not sufficient to render a policy program "pro-Israel", and we need to have the space to call out people who stray from certain broad but recognizable boundary lines. But it has to be a two-way street. It can't be the case that right-wingers are free to be Zionist however they choose -- even when they criticize Israeli security determinations, even when they advocate a one-state solution -- while their leftist peers are constantly put under the microscope. There are borders on both sides, and we can't place one under stringent surveillance while leaving the other entirely unpoliced. One can claim to be a Zionist -- even a right-wing Zionist -- and still be a bad Zionist.
It is possible that this is a "second-best" compromise -- it would be better if, as Sinclair requests, that we all respect the good faith of all persons holding themselves out as pro-Israel. But I'm genuinely unsure. That "pro-Israel" is not infinitely malleable and that the Jewish community has the right to define certain borders strikes me as indisputably correct. While those borders should be broad, they should exist. For "pro-Israel" to be an intelligible category, after all, some things need to be excluded from its auspices. The point is that these fences cannot apply only to one side. I think it is a good and valuable thing that one-staters are not viewed as "pro-Israel," but that applies to those on the right as much as the left. If one only has a border on one end of the territory, one doesn't have a defined territory at all.

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