Published in Israel Hayom, December 7, 2011
Have you heard of the place where “fundamentalists” and the “forces of darkness” are “surging in a tide of extremism” to “assault democracy”?
Are you familiar with a country (mention Afghanistan and Iran to hint at its nature) where the “tyrannical majority” seeks to “turn back the clock,” and is acting to “impose,” “intimidate,” “repress,” and “coerce” its “intolerant” and “discriminatory” views on a beleaguered minority?
Could you possibly support a nation where there is a “catastrophic silencing of voices,” where women’s rights are denied “similar to Saudi Arabia,” where a “black flag flies over parliament,” where “Nuremberg-like laws” are being passed, and where “extremists” are “placing democracy in peril”?
Can you imagine a “dark regime with thought police like that described in George Orwell’s 1984”?
Wouldn’t you want to steer clear of a place that has an “ugly wave of hatred washing across it, leading to dictatorship”?
Well, welcome to the State of Israel according to Tzipi Livni and other Israeli opposition figures.
No, I’m not making-up all this hyperbolic, radical imagery. The sentence about an “ugly wave leading to dictatorship” was Livni’s, and the reference to Orwell comes from Shaul Mofaz.
It’s no wonder that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is upset and frightened about the situation in Israel. She spent the weekend at the Saban Forum with Livni and other left-of-center Israelis. Clearly, she has been egged-on and riled-up by a hysterical and wildly-off-kilter Israeli left.
Methinks that Mr. Mofaz and Mrs. Livni have gone much too far. Israelis (and their North American Jewish supporters) ought to make their arguments about the wisdom or folly of new legislation relating to judicial selection, human rights funding and the limits of libel – without painting Israel in Islamic, medieval or fascist colors.
The “democratic” left ought to know how to carry-on a debate over democratic policies with less uncouth terminology and without making Israel out to be evil. Isn’t that exactly what we demand of Israel’s critics when debating our diplomatic policies? To criticize settlement policy, for example, if need be, without demonizing Israel?
The fact is that the controversial set of laws currently under discussion in Knesset is not without merit or reason. You may not like the specific contours or the conglomerate intent of the proposed legislation, but there are no “fascists” in Likud, and no “dark regime” is descending upon Israel.
But when Livni and others plaint repeatedly about “fundamentalists” and “extremists” who are “violently” taking over the country – don’t be surprised that Hillary Clinton is appalled. Don’t be shocked when Diaspora Jewry distances itself from Israel.
The danger in this exaggerated campaign is alienation. Who in their right mind wants to be associated with such a retrogressive, thuggish Israel? And what happens if the ‘good guys’ don’t succeed in stopping the alleged hordes of Jewish ayatollahs?
What if the NGO funding law is passed, or one of the nine members of the committee for choosing supreme court judges indeed is set (by law) to be the chairman of the Israel Bar Association? Is that the “end of democratic Israel”? Of course not!
But if Jews abroad or the Hillary Clintons of this world are force-fed all this drivel about collapsing Israeli democracy – what kind of relationship with Israel, if any, will they want?
Clearly, Livni and company are painting the situation in such dire and apocalyptic terms out of deep frustration with the fact that the electorate clearly prefers Likud rule. But I say that the spurious maligning of Israel as fundamentalist Iran in order to win a leg up on your political rival is beyond the pale. The use of gross exaggeration and overwrought language laced with hate to boost one side of the political map – is just plain wrong.
What’s good for your own political fortunes (or fundraising) is not necessarily good for Israel or for Jewry. The end (political gain) does not justify the means (demonizing Israel).
Don’t cut-off the limb – love for, and identification with, Israel – upon which all pro-Israel activity is based. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
Many years ago, the UJA was accused of similarly besmirching Israel, unintentionally, because it was good for the campaign. In the old UJA ads, Israel was a poor, undeveloped, “nebech” state, whose people lacked basic goods and life was a daily struggle. Later, Israel became the embattled, endangered victim-state, where bombs went off daily and people were dying. No wonder relatively few American Jews have ever come to visit or to live here. Who wants to live in a “pushka” (charity box) or a war zone?
But the current left-wing campaign themes are more corrosive, because they relate to the character of Israel; our soul that’s being corrupted, as it were. The Left is out to save Israel from rot, and will “battle-on” until Likud realizes just how good for Israel the left’s version of democratic pluralism really is.
So I say to Tzipi Livni: Cool the heated rhetoric. And to North American Jewry: Take the ferocity of Israeli political debate with a grain of salt. And ask yourselves – what are the models of Israel-Diaspora partnership and US-Israel partnership that will allow everybody to continue to love an Israel that doesn’t necessarily sign onto one very particular approach to democratic pluralism?