Now is not the time to scapegoat Israelis who are critical of Israel
It is perhaps understandable that many seek a person or organization on whom blame can be placed, so that they may be sent into the political wilderness, cast out of the community, no longer allowed to contribute to the conversation. Understandable, perhaps, but woefully mistaken.
In the aftermath of the flotilla incident off Gaza, Israelis and supporters of Israel are even more anxious and apprehensive than usual - worried about the implications of those events, and searching for the best way forward.
Some of Israel's leading lights - politicians, former military brass, intellectuals - have questioned the wisdom of Israel's raid on the MV Marmara, and are struggling publicly with love for their country, and fears for its future. Others chose to immediately close ranks and throw up defenses.
It is perhaps understandable that many seek a person or organization on whom blame can be placed, so that they may be sent into the political wilderness, cast out of the community, no longer allowed to contribute to the conversation.
Understandable, perhaps, but woefully mistaken.
As easy as it may be to attempt to scapegoat those who voice opposition to official Israeli policy, it is neither helpful nor wise. The former members of Knesset who have decried the loss of life; the Israeli naval reserve commanders who wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge an
independent inquiry; the Israeli novelists and commentary writers and professors and nonprofits and ordinary people who have questioned the Gaza blockade itself - all have Israel's best interests at heart.
All seek a solution that will leave Israel stronger and safer. Their efforts are not to undermine Israel, but to build a better Israel.
This in stark contrast to some on the world stage who would, indeed, delegitimize Israel and wish it removed from history. We do not question that there are nations, international NGOs and demagogues who wish to see Israel disappear. On one hand, we have those who would see Israel strengthened; on the other, those would happily see it destroyed. Never, perhaps, has it been more important to see the difference between the two. This is the real red line, the line between the loyal opposition and Israel's real enemies.
As the new leaders of the New Israel Fund, we have the tremendous good fortune to work with many Israeli organizations that act on the promise in Israel's Declaration of Independence to "uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex." Some of these nonprofits advocate for new immigrants; some work with the poor of the periphery, others focus on civil rights.
We have seen these organizations buoyed by success, and watched them face down angry opposition.
Advocating for social justice in Israel, we watch the ebb and flow of political discourse and have, at times, worried for the State of Israel's democracy. In a country that so often lives in fear, the
temptation to simply shut down those with whom we disagree is particularly powerful.
Yet for all our experience in Israel and in the Jewish world at large, we have never seen the impulse to muzzle the opposition expressed as bluntly as it is today. We can't help but be reminded of the backlash, which led, ultimately, to the assassination of a prime minister.
Scapegoating the loyal opposition, smearing the good names of people dedicated to advancing Israel's democracy, and demonizing those who seek genuine pluralism is not what Israel needs right now. Pushing away those who love Israel enough to engage honestly with its mistakes will not
make Israel stronger, but will in fact delegitimize its standing as a democracy in the eyes of the world.
In our positions with the New Israel Fund, we often come into contact with individuals or organizations with whom we do not entirely agree. Love of Israel and dedication to its survival, we've found, takes many and varied forms, and democracy works best when all are given a chance to speak. A word here or a phrase there may make some uncomfortable, but what is most important is to look at the body of an organization's work, rather than don blinders and focus narrowly on any disagreements we
There are limits, of course, in any democracy, and we're not required to open the conversation to include those who would see the democratic state of Israel destroyed. But neither are we served by shrinking Israel's democracy to include only those who support governmental policies at all costs. Indeed, that's not democracy by anyone's definition, not at all.
Now is not the time to shut down discourse and seek scapegoats from among those Israelis and supporters of Israel who take issue with some of the policies of the Netanyahu government. Now is the time to listen closely to all the voices that Israel's democracy offers, and work together to find real solutions that will lead to equality for all, a lasting peace, and true security.