“Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
ChicoMarx in “Duck Soup”
Sometimes what you see is not what you get. We need only to be reminded of the footage of little Muhammed al-Dura, purportedly killed by Israeli soldiers–now known to be fake. But sometimes what you see is pretty accurate. Then come the “useful Zionists,” who present themselves as cleverer, better informed, and more insightful than the rest of us. Their mission is to show us how mistaken we are. Who are they? They are without any doubt devoted and well-informed supporters of Israel. Much of what they say is useful, and in numerous instances they have shown us what lurks behind the obvious. Like the rest of us in the progressive Zionist camp, they believe in “loving criticism”: true love of a country is often demonstrated by criticism of her actions.
The problem arises when they claim that nothing we see or believe is accurate, that the truth always lies somewhere else, and that there is no situation in which some culpability ofIsrael cannot be found. Their world view stems, paradoxically, from their wish to believe in the near omnipotence of the Jewish state:Israel allegedly controls its neighborhood, so when things go bad, it must be held accountable. Thus…
–Following the failure of theCamp Davidpeace talks in 2000, and Yasir Arafat’s starting of Intifada II, pundits left no stone unturned analyzing Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s errors. The leader of this campaign, Robert Malley, a member of theUSdelegation atCamp David, authored and co-authored numerous pieces purporting to set the record straight. Dismissing President Clinton’s ascription of the vast majority of the blame to Arafat, Malley shifted it to the middle (at best). Our eyes, however, could tell the difference between Barak’s artlessness and Arafat’s intransigence.
Enter the useful Zionists. Unwilling to go quite as far as Malley, but eager to demonstrate that Israel could have done more to save the talks, they describe the events of Camp David as “both sides made mistakes,” as if those mistakes were of the same magnitude. Such statements effectively (in both senses of the word) contribute a Zionist stamp of approval to the claims of Malley, whom they now characterize as a respected political analyst. Respected by whom other than themselves?
–In a scenario repeated again and again, the rockets fall on Sderot, and the Israeli army eventually responds. Hamas calls for a ceasefire. SometimesIsraelagrees, sometimes not. Some ceasefires work, others have been used by Hamas to acquire more rockets.
Enter the useful Zionists. They berateIsraeleither for not accepting or for violating the ceasefire. They criticize her response. Their position dangerously approaches the UN mantra: “WhileIsraelhas the right to self defense,” this or that response is “disproportionate.” The evidence of our eyes is rather different. After the thousandth rocket has fallen onIsrael, we wonder just what kind of response would be proportionate. What mechanism can be put into place to insure that a ceasefire will not be an exercise in arms acquisition? Might not an immediate ceasefire be put into effect if Hamas would, well, cease firing?
–All wars are examples of collective punishment. Innocent civilians are the victims of their leaders’ decisions; civilians often suffer more than combatants and always more than their leaders. That is without a doubt the current situation inGaza. The barrage of rockets intoIsraelhas been met with harsher and harsher measures affecting theGazapopulation. Nobody, certainly no progressive Zionist, likes this situation. Even if humanitarian medical aid and food are allowed through the Israeli blockade, businesses are failing and crops are not harvested. But this is a war. The response cannot be no response.
Enter the useful Zionists. They characterize theIsraelblockade as an act of vengeance and a demonstration thatIsrael’s departure fromGazawas not really that, since it still controls the borders. They mention Hamas’ role in creating this situation, but their loving criticism ofIsraelimpels them to highlight the human side of war: the produce rotting at the borders, the small Arab shopkeeper who cannot support his family, and so on. One of the more painful of these stories is the one of theGazamother begging for milk for her child in fluent Hebrew, the language, the author reminds us, that most American Jews cannot speak. What is the point about the American Jews? Is it to say that if they did know Hebrew, then they could better understand the mother’s suffering? But by that logic, they should also understand the suffering of the Hebrew-speaking suicide bomber, one very likely trying to cross the border in the guise of aGazafarmer.
To be sure, no one is suggesting that the useful Zionists are conscious tools of Hamas, or of other malign forces among the Palestinians. But maybe it’s time to carefully define just what constitutes “loving criticism.” Sometimes that look-behind-the-scenes cleverness plays into the hands of our enemies. Sometimes what you see is what you get.
Jeffry V. Mallow