Dissent means going against the majority when you believe the majority is wrong — and not just to be contrary. That means being unpopular almost by definition; the majority will never send us flowers.
My colleague Mairav Zonszein has written an eloquent piece in The New York Times decrying the state of dissent in Israel, lamenting the persecutions and constraints on those who criticized the latest Gaza war from the left. She points to a number of disgraceful examples.
The article has generated debate, as observed here. However, much of it breaks down along disappointingly predictable lines: those further to the right, such as Tablet Magazine, attack her observations; those on the far left, like Mondoweiss, defend her. The Right rolls out the knee-jerk defense of everything Israeli: lumping the falsehood of the accusation that Israel stifles dissent right along with the falsehood of any culpability for Israel in the conflict at all.
The Left jumps to affirm any critique of Israel, as packaging all criticism together will serve the mission of proving Israel’s culpability in the conflict.
But freedom of expression is a separate issue, and Israelis should analyze it substantively, not as an automatic extension of their “left” or “right”-ness.
No, Israel is not China, not Iran, and not even Azerbaijan. But the Right should take no comfort in that; the Right must not use such unsavory comparisons to justify or trivialize those terrible things that did happen.
But I think some on the Left have mis-characterized these real issues in a distracting way. If Israel was a society that completely controlled or stifled expression, censoring or shutting down websites, closing newspapers or arresting journalists, it would crush both criticism of and information about the conflict. There might be no protest against Israeli policy at all. Although existing criticism has not ended the occupation so far – at least we know that there is a vocal, organized and articulate community of Israelis searching for ways to change course.
Thus a left winger like Noah Efron, looking at it from a very sober perspective, pointed out in Haaretz that Israel is clearly not smothering dissent in ways described above.
Jumping to the convenient accusation that Israel as a state conspires to silence dissent, Efron argues in a point I take to heart, ignores the...Read More