The New U.S. Zionist: Israel-bashing, Made Kosher

The deal to release Gilad Shalit has changed the way American Zionists relate to the Israeli government - and the freedom with which they criticize its policies.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Israel-bashing is not what it used to be. In fact, Israel-bashing is not what it was a week ago. The difference is Gilad Shalit.

The difference is that it now turns out to be just fine for U.S. Jews to denounce the actions and policies of the government of Israel – so long as it's being done by hard-line rightists.

Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as Noam and Gilad Shalit embrace, October 18, 2011.

These are the very people who for decades have maintained that American Jewish condemnation of Israeli security-related measures is dead wrong on principle, because it will be Israelis and not Jews living in the United States who will ultimately bear the potentially lethal consequences of these critical positions.

But all that is now over. American Jews are now free to fire at will. The only proviso is that the critic take Israel and Israelis to task for being too soft, too sentimental – in short, not muscular enough, not warrior enough, too wimpy, too Ghetto Nebbish - for the likes of the American Jew, bayonet between the teeth, fearsome at the keyboard, heroic in the home office.

In approving the exchange of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to win the release of Gilad Shalit, wrote Michael Rubin in Commentary, the Old Ironsides of U.S. Jewish conservatism, Benjamin Netanyahu "has legitimized terrorism and ensured the scourge will continue."

"With this swap, he has done as much to enable terrorism as have predecessors who believed they could negotiate with terrorists to bring peace."

The new Israel-bashers are not satisfied with lecturing Benjamin Netanyanu – a former anti-terror commando who lost a brother in a gun battle with ruthless kidnappers of Israelis – on the potential dangers of terrorism and kidnapping.

Some, like Steven M. Goldberg, national vice chairman of the Zionist Organization of America, also feel a need to preach to Netanyahu about how Israel – in gaining Gilad Shalit's release from five years in darkness and danger - has forever soiled the good name of Judaism, and has caused Jews everywhere to feel ashamed of their association with it.

"Sukkot, which is supposed to be a joyous holiday, has been stained and scarred," Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

"It will now mark our craven surrender to evil, to the shame of Israel and the entire Jewish nation."

Not In My Name, cries Rubin. Israel doesn't speak for me, proclaims Goldberg.

"It wasn't so long ago," Washington-based commentator Ron Kampeas wrote recently of Goldberg's organization, "that the ZOA was haranguing anyone who would dare advise Israel what it 'should' be doing, and who would counsel the Jewish state on what was and was not a 'strategic error.'"

As recently as August, the ZOA took pains to blast away at leftist critics of Israel, in particular those who support boycott campaigns. "Israel is under existential threat from many countries and peoples around the world," the ZOA wrote.

"We, in America, thankfully do not have to worry about and deal with these kinds of threats," the statement continued.

"Therefore, the ZOA believes that Jewish organizations should be very careful about telling Israel how to protect its security," it said.

But that was August. The ZOA now has this to say about the most significant Israeli security measure since then: "Freeing terrorists causes additional murders of Israeli civilians."

"If this dilemma was posed to any other government, it is hard to believe that they would accept the demands of terrorists and kidnappers. If a U.S. serviceman was kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan who demanded the release 100 terrorists from Guantanamo, would the U.S. government agree? Clearly, it would not."

Wake up, the ZOA is telling Israelis, and smell the testosterone.

Not to be outdone by the ZOA, is the trail blazer of this type of Israel bashing, the pioneer of the I'm-too-tough-for-Israel school of the American Jewish right, Daniel Pipes.

"This exchange points to the sentimentalization of strategy," Pipes declared in the National Review online. "Leaders who place the concerns of one individual over the interests of the country betray their mandate and poison its future."

"Shame on them."

Nonetheless, it remains the Zionist Organization of America which has come closest to explaining the relative emotional comfort of opposing a prisoner swap by remote control – the relative emotional ease of supporting at a distance of two seas, a policy which could have effectively sentenced a captive soldier to death.

"The appeals to put ourselves in the shoes of the families of the kidnapped are deeply moving and understandable, but cannot be the basis for our decisions."

Of course they can't. You don't live here. Why should you have any idea why nearly 80 percent of Israelis supported the exchange?

For that matter, why should people who have claimed the title of Zionists of America be swayed by the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Israelis – who are, after all, the ones who are putting themselves and their loved ones at direct risk in accepting the deal?

The leaders of the ZOA are, after all, a very particular sort of hardass. More Zionist than Thou. Hardliners by proxy. Zionists, of America.

To read a letter to the editor in response to this article, click here.



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