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Now is the time for American Jews to speak up on Israel

As an Israeli in the U.S. I learned that criticizing Israel is not an option for many American Jews. But there is a legitimate way to criticize Israeli policy, and if you care about someone or something you won’t let it go astray.

By Abraham Gutman

Thousands protest the Gaza war in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

Thousands protest the Gaza war in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

We were sitting in front of a lagoon at the top of a volcano in Costa Rica. We were happy to get some rest after the three-hour hike, and took a short swim in the freezing water. With us was a group of tourists along with a local guide. There was a Dutch man, some Americans, a group of Canadians and two German women. After the swim we ate our lunch before the hike back down. As we chatted the guide asked me where I was from. “Israel,” I answered, and he immediately responded, “We have a lot of Israelis here, they are the worst clients.”

For the past couple of years I have been living in New York City, where I have learned that mocking Israelis or Israel is just not something that people do. Every conversation about Israel comes with baggage, be it historical, political or religious. Usually when people talk to me about Israel they chose their words very carefully, as every choice of word can change the tone, and changing the tone can transform the conversation. The Costa Rican guide laughed when he told me that Israelis are the worst customers. He was the only one laughing.

The guide and I then proceeded to get into a back-and-forth about Israelis. The truth is that he was dead on. The moment I started laughing at his precise observations, others began laughing as well; they saw my laughter as permission for them to laugh. It was the first time that someone outside of Israel was honest with me about Israelis. There was no underlying tone, no political context, no history – just a tour guide who found it funny that Israelis think nothing is difficult because they served in the army, or how we will always take the advice of another Israeli even over someone who clearly knows better (like a tour guide, for example). There is a way to criticize Israeli people, even jokingly, without a hidden context. How unfortunate that this can only happen on a volcano in Costa Rica.

Protesters gather in Tel Aviv's Rabin Squre to demonstrate against the Gaza war. (photo: Activestills.org)

Protesters gather in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to demonstrate against the Gaza war. (photo: Activestills.org)

In the U.S. I learned that criticizing Israel is not an option for many American Jews. But just like there is a way to criticize Israeli people, there must be a legitimate way to criticize Israeli policy. Many people say that if I criticize Israel my loyalty to my country or my love for it is questioned. They are wrong. I criticize Israel because I believe that when you care for someone or something you don’t let it go astray. And I am not the only one. During Israel’s offensive on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, a group of Israelis living in New York City published a letter to the American Jewish community, which stated: “The belief that being ‘pro-Israel’ means uncritically supporting the actions of the Israeli government and military does not help the Israeli people.” In the span of just a few days, 230 Israelis had signed the letter, which called on American Jews to be critical when discussing Israel, and empathetic to the lives of the four million Palestinians who are living under military occupation.

Read: Israelis urge American Jewish community to take closer look at Gaza 

Users of social media contribute to the polarization between those who are pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. With so much happening on social networks, it’s hard to make one’s voice heard. But there is another voice: Social media campaigns, such as #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies – in which Arabs, Jews and people from all over the world talk about why they believe in peace – are trying to diffuse some of that polarization.

To reach a peaceful solution, we, the people of Israel and Palestine, as well as those who can affect public opinion all over the world, should move toward a more civil and peaceful form of engagement. Perhaps the next time we hear someone criticize Israel, we will imagine that we are on the top of a volcano in Central America, and that the words coming out of that person’s mouth are all he or she means. Maybe then we can talk about what really matters.

Abraham Gutman is originally from Tel Aviv, and is currently enrolled in a dual BA/MA program in economics in New York City. He tweets from @abgutman.

Israelis in the U.S. urge the Jewish community to take a closer look at Gaza
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    1. Whiplash

      I imagine that you mean well when you say:

      “which called on American Jews to be critical when discussing Israel, and empathetic to the lives of the four million Palestinians who are living under military occupation.”

      What seems to be missing is the other half of the equation. Should not American Jews also be critical when discussing Palestinians and empathetic to the security needs of 8 million Israelis living with the consequences of Palestinian terrorism and enmity for the past 66 years since the rebirth of the Jewish Nation of Israel.

      While you are doing this you might discuss what would happen if Israel gave up a military presence in the West Bank and Judea and Samaria. Not only have we seen what happened when Israel left Gaza, but we also saw the terrorism from areas of which Israel gave up control following the signing of the Oslo Accords. Even prior to the second intifada Jerusalem suffered intolerable bombings and other terror attacks. In the second intifada Palestinians used Arab areas like Shuafat and Bethlehem to shoot from and to carry out suicide attacks. Arabs used Palestinian cities like Hebron, Qalqylia and Tulkarem as jump off points for suicide bombers in Israel, with the majority of attacks inside the green line.

      You also might want to ask the people in your group, both Jews and Arabs, what are the prospects of peace when:

      1. Hamas has a Charter and a leadership which actively calls for destruction of the Israeli state and a genocide of the Jews.

      2. When Fatah maintains an underground, armed militia, called the Al-Asqa Brigades, which is willing at anytime to return to planned terrors against Israelis at the command of Fatah leaders.

      3. Palestinians have a policy of non cooperation with Israel even though it signed an agreement which set up 25 commissions for the handling of matters peacefully between Israelis and Palestinians.

      4. Palestinians call for a Judenrein East Jerusalem and West Bank and call for a right of return of millions of descendants of refugees from the war of 1948, while at the same time refusing that any peace agreement be an end of conflict agreement.

      I suspect your tent will only have in it like minded people who want to criticize Israel. Few Israelis will be influenced by what your group does or thinks.

      Reply to Comment
      • trent

        so much writing for rubbish..u should get a life bro..
        those thing u mention are normal in the time of occupation, u normally want to kill your oppressor right?, their security concern are breed from their own act of occupation, remember hamas are legitimately elected by the system u all choosing democracy and they had any right to defend the gaza, and all the rubbish out there that hamas kidnapings are false get more info don’t be blind and don;t stop being human

        Reply to Comment
      • Tareq Saleh

        Not really, and here is why:

        You never, if you are a fair person ask the victim to completely surrender and be quite. You can not, and should not do that if criminal gangs occupy your house, put your son in prison and exile your wife. What if this happens to you for 40 years.

        You express security worries about the israeli army leaving the west bank. Do you mean to say that the israeli army should stay their forever?

        You whine about Hamas charter, which is only a piece of paper. What about the systematic occupation, land grab, imprisoning 400 000 and expelling 800 000 and stealing their land ? What about home demolishing and uprooting trees which have been DONE let alone what zionists say and preach.

        Then you talk about Palestinians who are not cooperating and the peace agreements. Wasn’t it israel who kept on stealing land and oppressing the natives during 20 years of negotiations ?

        Then you shudder at the right of reurn of Palestinians but at the same time believe it is OK that any jew from any where and race can come to Palestine and become an israeli citizen at once.

        You close by saying that few israelis will listen to calls of reason and justice. If so is the case, why then Palestinians ?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ray

          Israelis hypocritically demand the Palestinians make “sacrifices” and “compromises” from a position of security and power. They have no concern for fairness in such a deal, because fairness is bad for them; they want most of the land, in a deal in which they themselves dictate the terms. They want to “win” so bad they forget the old saying that nothing is as important as how you play the game.

          Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Whiplash – “Rebirth of the Jewish Nation of Israel”?? Doesn’t that sound like another rebirth we’ve seen, “The Third Reich”? You’re even more blatant than the Third Reich, you name the race you have to be (Jewish). Third Reich only implied it (Aryan). Israel was created (by Zionists) specifically to control all of Eretz Israel for The Jews. Doesn’t that sound like another race-defined expansion we’ve seen, “lebensraum”?

        Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Gutman’s letter was addressed to Jewish Americans, not to Israelis.

        I doubt that we can expect any significant change for the better within Israel in relation to recognising both the injustice and long term stupidity of maintaining a military occupation over the Palestinians.

        Jewish Americans just may be able to stand back just a bit and cease their blind support of Israel and all Israeli actions.

        Reply to Comment
    2. bor

      American Jews should speak up against Israel’s enemies.

      First, they should watch this speech by Yair Lapid.


      Reply to Comment
      • Anna

        Guess what? Apparently you need someone to point this out for you here, which is pretty disturbing in itself, but the Palestinians aren’t the Nazis, they don’t hate you *because* you’re Jews, it’s not antisemitism and theirs is not an irrational hatred, meaning it didn’t or doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. Yet that slick man somehow manages to not even once allude to or mention something at the heart of all of this: the dispossession, occupation, oppression, brutality and abuse that Israel has been inflicting for decades and decades and at this point shows no intention of ending. In those conditions for decades and with no hope of any end in sight, no one can possibly argue that it is not completely rational for the people who are OCCUPIED to feel and demonstrate animosity towards their OCCUPIER. For God’s sake, do Israelis have any grasp on reality or have they created a new one they alone live in? This speech is preposterous. There is no one trying to get Jews or Israelis for that matter, on a train. Not the Palestinians, not any significant group or nation. However there are many people in your own government and among your fellow citizens who openly discuss their desire to force the Palestinians to board at train so-to-speak. They have far more to fear from you than you can from them. Hello? What planet do you live on? It is not for fair for Palestinians to suffer because Israeli society is in denial about the trauma it suffers from, inflicts on each generation and then projects its disorders or pathologies on the very people they’ve been abusing, humiliating, dehumanizing and dispossessing for 60+ years! Seek professional help and get a grip on reality.

        That speech was a cry for help but not the one it might have been intended to be. If the speech actually reflects what most Israelis believe, which seems plausible given the current reality, they need some serious intervention so they can seek psychological help. That’s just madness! Totally disconnected from reality and from their actions.

        Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pull my hair out and bang my head on a wall.

        Reply to Comment
        • bor

          If it’s alright with you, I didn’t bother to read all your screed.

          That’s a great speech by Lapid.

          You should learn some history.

          Reply to Comment
          • Anna

            I didn’t expect you to read it, so no big surprise. But thanks for demonstrating two of my comments: denial and projection.

            I didn’t say it was a bad speech. It can still be a great speech (although I personally wouldn’t go quite that far) and be nonsense. But it says what you want to hear so of course you like it – that’s hardly surprising.

            Reply to Comment
          • bor

            Listen, Anna, I don’t know you, but for some strange reason I care about you. Maybe our chemistry matches or something.

            Anyway, I’m writing to let you know that even just looking at your comments you seem to be in a bad place in life, full of tension and aggravation. Unhappy and angry. May I suggest taking a small break for a few days? Go to a nice beach or lake, take a book and some nice fruit. Lose yourself in the moment and then do it again and again. Hopefully, you’ll come out the other end well rested and a little happier and more relaxed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Shannon Hall

            This is the most misogynist paternalistic bullshit I read for a long long time.

            Reply to Comment
          • bor


            Paternalistic, perhaps. But misogynist? Come on! Obviously, you don’t read much.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav


            I think you too should seek medical help. Take Anna with you. I hear that there is a serious epidemic underway amongst haters of Israel (also known as bitches for Palestine). It is known by the
            name of Poly (Pali) Whinitis.

            Symptoms: extreme whining.

            Body parts affected:
            – The brain.
            – Tear ducts.

            – Brain shrinkage
            – Paranoia
            – Dehydration due to shedding of copious amounts of tears.

            Not good. After a while, patients lose the ability to distinguish right from wrong. They make baseless accusations. They suffer from an acute case of double standards and spasms of hypocrisy. It is a recurring condition for which there is no cure, once acquired.

            Normal people who come across sufferers of Poli Whinitis are also mildly affected. They are left with a need to shake their heads in disbelief and with sadness for the sufferers of the disease because of the inability of patients see the real world with proper perspective.

            Reply to Comment
          • Anna

            Awww thank you for showing concern for my well being, that’s so nice of you. However I assure you these concerns are unfounded..

            I just realized that was you interpreted as unhappiness or aggravation is in fact disgust and dismay. Not much a few days away would change, I’m afraid.

            You know who probably needs a good few days off to forget the unbearable stress? I can imagine Israel’s civilian prisoners in Gaza probably could use it more than me right now. Unfortunately they’re trapped in their prison and grieving one or several (or all!) of their family members or friends who were killed by your army and possibly trying to figure out where they’re going to live after their homes and entire neighborhoods are just a pipe of rubble.

            Deny, deflect, derail, avoid. Repeat.

            You’re pretty good at this. I can see you’ve had lots of practice. 😉

            Reply to Comment
          • bor

            Anna, Anna, Anna,

            You’re not listening. Your stress level is through the roof.

            Of course Gaza residents have nothing to worry about. Their leaders are being received with cheers on the streets (really!) after coming out from their hiding places. The people cheering them are those placed in harm’s way while the Hamas fighters broke every rule in the war-book by firing from among their civilians.

            And you know what Gaza residents are saying? In the most recent poll 89% (eighty nine percent!!!!!) say they support firing rockets at Israeli civilian targets.

            So why are you concerned about them? They have precisely that for which they asked.

            Now go ahead and deflect and derail all you want (even if it’s another screed I won’t read), but thems the facts ma’am. Or go to a lake with a good book and relax a bit.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav


            I’ll tell you what. I’ll send you Hamas’s contact details to you so that you can forward It to your Gazans who will then be able to address their complaints to where those complaints belong: Hamas.

            Will that satisfy you?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “I just realized that was you interpreted as unhappiness or aggravation is in fact disgust and dismay. Not much a few days away would change, I’m afraid.”

            See what I mean, Shannon?

            She has got it bad. Paranoia, double standards, hypocrisy. The brain shrinkage is evident from her irrational anger. The rational side of her brain disappeared already.

            All poor Anna has been left with is her amygdala, which controls her emotions. When our amygdala is provoked, we experience fear or anger and, during the age of the dinosaur was the period when our amygdala held absolute sway. Poor Anna has hopelessly regressed to a time when our fight or flight impulses were dominating our brains. She has been left with only the primitive functions of her brain.

            Reply to Comment
    3. TOMER

      It does not matter what American Jews say or don’t say since they are dying out anyway.

      50% marry out and another 30% don’t marry anyone. Just 20% marry another Jew and pass on the faith to the next generation. In another 20 years, only the Frum will remain. All others will disappear!!

      Reply to Comment
      • Anna

        If you’re right, they’d probably take their 3+ billions/year with them. Wonder if Israel would find a new sugar daddy.

        Reply to Comment
        • bor

          Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna,

          This comment demonstrated your fundamental misunderstanding of the support Israel receives: it is driven primarily by the Defense Industry.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Whiplash


      1. We made the Germans, Japanese and Italians surrender unconditionally. They accepted responsibility for their actions and we helped them move on with life. The Palestinians have chosen to evade responsibilities for their choices and actions and therefore continue to suffer the consequences. No one forced Arab Palestinians to go to war in 1947 or ask their Arab brothers to invade Israel in the hope of destroying Israel and killing its people. No one made them continue on with their efforts to destroy Israel and kill Israelis for the next 66 years. In 1965 the Palestinians turned down a proposal from the ruler of Tunisia for Palestinian independence in the West Ban and Gaza. They were not interested if Israel was therefore recognized. Even after the 1967 war Israel proposed returning the Gaza strip and West Bank in return for peace and recognition. No one made the Arabs say no negotiations, no peace and no recognition. No one forced the Palestinians not to join the 1978 peace negotiations and carry on war from Lebanon. No one forced the Palestinian Arabs to transform the peace envisaged in the Oslo Accords to build a terror infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza and use it against Israel and Israelis. No one forced them to embark upon the wanton killing of the second intifada. No one forced them to turn Gaza into a Somalia with an Islamic terrorist entity as it ruler. No one force Arafat and Abbas to turn down peace proposals and not respond.

      2. If Palestinians are victims, there are victims of their own actions and inactions. Between 1949 to 1967 Israel built a country, incorporating a million refugees. It built the infrastructure and the towns, and it created job programs and the public services and utilities to support its population. It did this under attack and constant threat of attack from Palestinian Arabs and neighboring countries. What did the Palestinians build? It built fetid ghettos for its people and have kept them there. It did not build a state nor the infrastructure for a state. What they built was infrastructure of terrorism in the Arab world and in Gaza and the West Bank.

      Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        part 2, Tareq

        3. At this point in time, it is impossible to say that Israel can completely pull its military out of the West Bank at any given point in time. It would be suicide to surrender the West Bank to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Asqa Brigades, the Salfists and other terrorist groups which would use the West Bank as a staging zone for ferocious attacks against Israeli citizens.

        It would be many years (10 to 20) after a comprehensive peace agreement was signed and peace followed before Israel could relinquish security control over the Jordan Valley.

        A substantial problem is that the PA is unable to provide security in the West Bank without the IDF. Palestinian’s security services in the West Bank would simply crumble with any sustained attack, as the Iraqi army in Iraq did to Isis or the Lebanese Army has when faced by Hezbollah.

        4. Hamas’ Charter is more than a peace of paper. It is their blue print for action and realizing their goals. They have been following their Charter with regard to Islamization of the strip, martyrdom for the cause, indoctrination and education of the children and people of Gaza, the militarization of Gaza, and the destruction and genocide of the Jews no matter how many hundreds of years it might take.

        5. Israel stole no one’s land and the Jewish people of Israel have a moral, historical and legal right to live, settle and develop any part of historic Mandate Palestine. The Paris Peace conference, the San Remo Resolution and the Mandate for Palestine established under international law with the unanimous consent of the members of the League of Nations the setting aside of 0.6% of the lands of the Ottoman Empire for the re-establishment of the home of the Jewish people. The Mandate for Palestine was a sacred trust of civilization. As Winston Churchill said Jews were in Mandate Palestine by right. This home and the state of Israel were formed as a small refuge for Jews. So, no there is nothing wrong with any Jews in the world returning to the home of the Jews.

        6. No Arab would have had to leave his home if the Arab Palestinians had chosen to accept the partition plan instead of embarking on a war of elimination of the emerging state of Israel and a genocide of its people. The Arab Palestinian and Arab countries attacks against Israel and its people were in contravention of all international laws. Having lost the war, the Palestinians suffered a shattering of their society and the inability to return to attack Israel again. the forced expulsion of Jews from Arab countries with 75% of them being resettled in Israel, created an involuntary transfer of populations which cannot be undone.

        7. Tareq, your should remember that the Arabs are the colonists in this land not the Jews. The Arab and Muslim presence in Israel, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and the Maghreb was obtained by conquest, booty, slavery, imperialism, killing and colonialism.

        8. The Jews have not been adding any significant number of new communities. In fact Israel had withdrawn all of its communities and military bases in Gaza and a number of communities which Israel considers illegal. Jewish communities have grown in population due to normal growth and the wish of Israelis to live in communities in the historic heartland of Israel.

        9. Israel has offered the Palestinians a compromise which would have entailed the removal of up to 100,00 Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria while retaining the major communities in Judea and Samaria and in Jerusalem. Israel offered land swaps as additional incentive. Abbas says to his Arab public that all of Judea and Samaria together with East Jerusalem will be Judenrein. In the meantime Hamas engages in war with Israel every couple of years.

        If the Palestinians are not interested in peace, do not expect Israelis to worry about what some critics in other countries say about them.

        Reply to Comment
        • Anna

          So much of what you write is such nonsense. You’re just making up facts, it seems. Complete nonsense, total waste of time to even engage with. How do you expect anyone to even take you seriously? SMH.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav


            Go take your medications. Your whining stresses me out. I hate to see poor girls like you suffer needlessly.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whiplash

            So which parts are made up? Did not the Japanese, Italians and Germans surrender unconditionally and then were helped? Did some one force, and if so who, the Palestinians Arabs to wage war against the Jews?

            Did not President Bourguiba of Tunisia make a proposal to establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza? And did not the Palestinians refuse, burning Bourguiba in effigy?

            Did not Israel build a country between 1949 and 1967 while the Palestinians did diddley squat in establishing a state on land controlled by the Arabs after the 1948 war? Did not the Palestinians and the Arab states shunt Palestinians into ghettos in which many remain 66 years later?

            How is it that when Israel begun its administration of Gaza and Judea and Samaria that only 4% of the villages and towns were hooked up for water?

            Did not the Egyptians and Israelis invite the Palestinians to talk in 1978 at Camp David about peace and autonomy and statehood? Did not the Palestinians refuse and continue terror operations and shelling of Northern Israel?

            Maybe Anna you should learn some history. I have lived through most of these eras.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Gustav

      About the writer of this story:

      He is just the latest Israeli Jew who is different than all other Israeli Jews. He is good and the rest of us are bad beyond redemption. That is the typical narrative of that particular brand of Israeli Jew.

      Now here is reality: the idea that criticism of Israel is taboo is a blatant lie. The truth is that we are one of the most self critical societies in the world.

      What is more, not only are we self critical but as a consequence, we are also one of the most criticized countries in the world including in America. But those with an agenda (for example the writer of this article) want to pretend otherwise. Why? Because they want to silence those of us who speak up in defense of Israel and who dare to criticise the criticizers when they exaggerate, tell half truths and sometimes tell outright lies about us. In other words, the criticizers themselves cannot stand counter criticizm.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Susan

      This is why when I disagree with Israeli policy, I don’t speak up publicly. We get people like Average American who cozismpare Zionists to Nazis and it becomes a debate on Israel’s existence instead of a legitimate debate on the actions of the present Israeli government.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Kyle chapman

      We’re all talking about the occupation of Palestine but nowhere are we discussing the issue if Hamas and their role in things. When will we see things arn’t as simple as they may seem?

      Reply to Comment
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