Talking to Israel’s critics


Prof. Shlomo Avineri, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a leading political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, wrings his hands in Haaretz about the growing rift between Israel and the Diaspora.

Not that Diaspora Jews have any right whatsoever to tell Israel what to do, Avineri writes, but now even Diaspora Zionists are fed up with Israel.

What’s going on? The answer is simple but painful. For the first time we have a government that’s succeeding, in its statements more than its actions (since the government has not done all that much ), in causing the rest of the world to hate us…

This isolation from other countries worries Israel’s friends and is responsible for the rift with Diaspora Jews, hence Israel is losing its inimitable voice as the representative of the Jewish public. One of the most important achievements of Zionism is being taken away from us.

In light of the trend, outrage and condemnation are not enough. Another path is open: trying to talk to Israel’s critics. Not by pulling rank or patronizing or accusing them of being self-hating Jews, and not by making do with self-righteousness and fiery speeches at an AIPAC conference – but by holding genuine dialogue.

Only one public figure can initiate a dialogue like this: President Shimon Peres. Precisely because Peres lacks formal political authority, both he and the presidency itself have the ethical authority to attempt to close the fissures and initiate an international Jewish conference on Israel-Diaspora relations.

I have not deluded myself into thinking that each side will convince the other, but they should be sitting around a table in Jerusalem to listen to each other instead of attacking each other, to the joy of Israel’s enemies. Perhaps the government will recognize that it also has a role to play in the estrangement, and perhaps the critics will see that reality is slightly more complex than they realize.

It isn’t simple, but a situation in which Jews for whom Israel is a significant part of their lives feel alienated from the state of the Jews is simply intolerable – from an Israeli perspective as well as a Jewish one.

Full column here.

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