Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How I’m Losing My Love For Israel

By Jay Michaelson

"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.

How much of Israel’s pariah status is fantasy and how much is reality is, of course, a complicated question, and one that I would not presume to answer in this column. In the conversations I’ve had, it’s some of each — and again a subject for equivocation. Yes, Israel’s new government is a right/far-right alliance whose foreign policy looks suspiciously like Yitzhak Shamir’s era of “Say yes and do nothing.” But on the other hand, I understand why many Israelis are fed up and voted for it, and the oversimplifications among Israel’s critics are many. For example, just because this government is expanding settlements does not make doing so an essential part of Israel’s identity.

But I’m not sure the parsing matters. I’m not sure any state with tanks can win a propaganda war against an occupied people with guns and Molotov cocktails — even if the occupied people’s leaders deserve plenty of blame. It’s exhausting to keep fighting this fight, especially as Israel’s authentically odious actions (excesses by soldiers, expropriations of land) continue to pile up, and the yes-buts grow harder and harder to maintain.

The second reason for my waning love of Israel is that the Israel I love is increasingly disappearing. It started in Jerusalem, with the exodus of the secular left and the slow, agonizing demise of the culture they created. Now, many of my sabra friends are leaving the country entirely, desperately looking for tech jobs in California or academic postings in Indiana. However worn out I may be by the matzav my friends who have lived in it are far worse. For now, Tel Aviv’s liberal, secular, life-celebrating culture continues to thrive and is even developing a spiritual aspect — but like many Israelis, I feel like I’m reading the writing on the wall.

Part of the problem here is that the Israel I love is not the Disneyland most of my fellow Americans seem to adore. Sure, I cry at Macadam and even feel moved at the kotel. But my Israel is one of shuks, cafes, shtiebels and hiking trails; of family and friends; of my alma mater on Mount Scopus and my favorite field in Talbieh (Churshat Hayareach, an open space continually threatened with destruction). Personally, I find the way many Americans strut in and out of Jerusalem for the holidays partly ridiculous and partly nauseating. So while the storybook Jerusalem remains more or less intact, I care less about it than the delicate, messy harmonies of the real one.
Jay Michaelson is a columnist for the Forward newspaper, the Huffington Post, and Reality Sandwich magazine, and the author of Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism


  1. I really wonder how many people are aligned with the viewsof his "friends" in the US.  Hopefully many, but it would surprise me if that were true.  Anyway, when I have time, I'm going to read the comments.

  2. I did, when I first came across that article (at Mondoweiss, I think) -- the comments were almost all pro-Zionist attacks agianst the author. And this was a very mild essay btw.

  3. <span>And this was a very mild essay btw.</span>
    Mild indeed but scathing nevertheless. That a convinced and a staunch Zionist like Jay is saying this is symptomatic.

  4. That whole "J Street" thing is so laughable.  As if there's a difference between compassionate Zionists and bad Zionists.  American Jews have been doing this for years - "oh, I don't support Likud, just the Labor government".  Give it UP.  It's all racism. It's all apartheid. 

    This country was the craziest idea from the beginning.  And we have EUROPEAN anti-Semitism to thank for it.  having read about the pre-1948 history, I still can't get over that they actually made this "jewish state" happen.  All they were supposed to get was a home within Palestine.  But the terrorists got their way.  Do you know the Zionists "militia"/terrorists Lehi assassinated a UN Mediator who tried to get them to accept the refugees back?  I mean - vengeance for trying?  Crazy fanatics.  And still are. 

  5. and only a third of the refugees, btw.

    i am trying to understand the knee-jerk defensiveness and weird affection Jews have for this country.  they know how it was created, and yet they don't want to see it for what it is because then it will make them responsible because they're associated with it, or they don't want their dreams shattered, or they really believe they have historical rights to the land when it's nothing more than a sentimental attachment.  zionism is doomed.