I have been trying to come up with a coherent response to “How I’m Losing My Love for Israel,” Jay Michaelson’s provocative essay in The Forward, since shortly before the Holy Days. But I just can’t seem to do it.
It’s bad enough when I have to defend Israel to the sort of “progressive” people who populate so many of the writerly and academic circles of which I would, on paper, seem to be a natural citizen. It’s infinitely worse – so much more frustrating and painful – when I find among the Israel-bashers fellow Jews.
And the icing on this most distasteful cake is having someone expressing Michaelson’s views perceived, as certain comments in the essay’s wake might suggest, as a generational representative. Let’s be clear about this much at least: Michaelson – who is two years my junior – and the commenters who commend him for articulating their own experience do not represent this Generation X Jewish-American.
Here’s what perhaps most upsets me in Michaelson’s essay:
“I admit that my exhaustion is exacerbated because, in my social circles, supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid or worse. I know this is a sign of weakness of will on my part, and I hope that the Times-magazine-sanctioned rise of J Street changes things, but I don’t think advocates of Israel understand exactly how bad the situation is on college campuses, in Europe, and in liberal or leftist social-political circles. Supporting Israel in these contexts is like supporting repression, or the war in Iraq, or George W. Bush. It’s gotten so bad, I don’t mention Israel in certain conversations anymore, and no longer defend it when it’s lumped in with South Africa and China by my friends. This is wrong of me, I know, but I’ve been defending Israel for years, and it’s gotten harder and harder to do so.”
Yes, bubbeleh, this advocate of Israel does understand. It can be hard. Somehow, though, I can’t help thinking that the difficulty scarcely compares to how hard life is in Sderot, or for Uri Grossman’s parents, or for Asaf Ramon’s mother, or, for that matter, for anyone who had to flee (or, worse, was caught in) Nazi Europe. That’s hard.
In the end, what Michaelson seems to be saying is that his “circles” mean more to him than Israel does. Personally, I tend to reach the opposite conclusion. If one’s “friends” are sufficiently misguided (I’m being charitable) to “lump in” Israel with South Africa and China, and to believe that “supporting Israel is like supporting repression…,” and if they are going to ostracize or attack me (it has happened) because I disagree, then maybe they aren’t the best, smartest, most clear-sighted people to keep as friends.
Michaelson says that he knows it’s wrong to sit there silently while those in these “circles” condemn Israel. I feel the same way. And I, too, realize how hard it can be to try to change others’ minds, because, like Michaelson, I’ve tried.
But here’s where he and I seem to differ: Israel means more to me than the “social circles” do, I’ve chosen to leave those organizations and online communities which are ostensibly devoted to another purpose (let’s say, book reviewing, or poetry), but, sooner or later, reveal exactly the kind of sentiments that Michaelson says prevail among his peers. I’ve chosen to stop listening to the BBC and to stop giving financial support to National Public Radio (aka “National Palestinian Radio”). Maybe I should remain and keep arguing. Maybe it would be better not to leave. Maybe this, too, is a “sign of weakness.”
Somehow, though, it leaves me feeling less anguished and conflicted than Michaelson would appear to be.