A reader writes:
I am a leader in the Jewish community who regularly influences the thinking of American Jews. I consider myself a loving critic of the state of Israel in the sense that I have been there enough to understand its imperfections and am committed enough to have credibility amongst people Israel takes seriously. I see it as my responsibility to regularly speak out when I think Israeli government policy undermines its long term strategic interests and moral standing. I think settlement expansion is a fool’s errand.
And Stephen Hawking’s boycott is making my job immeasurably harder. The people I most need to listen to my loving criticism become hardened by what they see as a global double standard when it comes to Israel and a convenient self righteousness expressed towards the only democracy in the Middle East that would even register such protests.
Yes, the Netanyahu policies have been corrosive to the vision of a Jewish and democratic state. And yes, the historically earned instinct among Jews not to trust the world is emboldened by overtures like Hawking’s. Please Andrew, stop supporting the grandstanding and start partnering with the people most likely to move the needle. Boycotts, divestment and sanctions make it too easy for Israel supporters to point the finger at Palestinian acts of terror and not the internal changes that the Israeli government must make.
I take my reader’s points, but I see no way to end and reverse the settlements if we stay on our current track. Imploring Israel to reverse the de facto annxation under Netanyahu is like spitting into a hurricane. If I saw any sign that the American Jewish establishment or the US Congress or the Christianist right were prepared to put a scintilla of pressure on Israel to reverse the settlements, I’d “start partnering with the people most likely to move the needle.” But the people most capable of moving the needle refuse to, and have been actively complicit in Israel’s democratic death-wish, and actively McCarthyite in their smearing of those who resist. At some point, you either look away or look for alternative strategies.
Another upset reader points to this item:
“Hawking’s decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system [he needs because of his motor-neuron disease] runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin.
A chip is a chip, for goodness’ sake. There’s no hypocrisy there, unless your mindset is irretrievably tribal. Another dissent:
I generally agree with your criticisms of the Netanyahu government, and your justified disdain for the hardening of Israel towards the Palestinians and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. But “David has become Goliath”?
Not when Israel is surrounded by extremely well-funded, well-armed and well-populated Arab and Muslim states that still deny its existence, actively talk about wiping it off of the face of the earth, either have or are developing nuclear capability, who encourage the use of violence as the exclusive means to solve the current problems, and who also indulge in some of the most offensive racial stereotyping derogatory to Jews in the primary school education of their children. Israel’s enemies were equally opposed to pre-1967 Israel and post-1967 Israel, to Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, to Menachim Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, and now to Netanyahu. But we tend to forget or overlook the Arab world’s hatred of pre-1967 Israel because Netanyahu has made it so easy to be critical of post-1967 Israel’s conduct as a state.
I think it would be more appropriate to say that David (i.e., Israel) is a more complex and ambiguous figure than the Bible would have us believe, at times acting in ways we don’t like because of its conviction that it knows more than we do about what it needs to do to survive given the reality on the ground, the reality that it confronts on a daily basis, and the reality that you and I can discuss in the abstract from our safe perch across the Atlantic. And make no mistake about it, while this guy David is a remarkable and worthwhile character, he is at times selfish, inconsiderate, arrogant, narcissistic, impulsive and more than a little dickish, and you just want to hit him upside the head and tell him to straighten out before it’s too late. But he doesn’t chop off peoples arms for stealing, he doesn’t seek the complete and permanent destruction of his neighbors, he lives in fear of Boston Marathon-style terrorist attacks in public places on a daily basis, and he is a democracy, where there is almost even division between those who support the right wing government’s hard line on settlements and border settlements, and those who oppose with the same passion and intensity as you do.
There is no David, and there is no Goliath. That is media oversimplification at its laziest.
(Chart of relative military power in the Middle East compiled by Global Firepower)