The Great Diaspora Dilemma: To Criticize Or Not To Criticize
April 19, 2007

“Diaspora Jews concerned for Israel’s welfare’
Have the obligation to state their views, and if
Necessary, criticize Israeli policies.” Morton Klein

(As printed in The Jewish Tribune)

PHILADELPHIA — Some argue that Diaspora Jews may debate and criticize a range of Israeli policies — social, domestic issues, economic policy, and so on – but not manners of life-and-death, like nation­al security and defense policies.

The reason usually given for this stance is that only Israelis directly reap the benefits, or pay the price, of Israeli life-and-death decisions and that, therefore, only Israelis should debate them pub­licly. But this conclusion does not follow from the premise.

It is perfectly true than Israelis alone have the right and obligation to decide what Israel should do in life-and-death questions of national security and defense. That is as it should be, and indeed, we would strongly oppose anyone other than Israelis deciding Israel’s future. But this does not mean that Diaspora Jews cannot contribute by debate and criticism to the evolution of those deci­sions that Israel takes. On the contrary the onus is upon those who disagree to explain why Diaspora Jews, on matters of vital importance to the future of Israel and thus the Jewish people, should sud­denly be struck dumb.

Jews, like others, criticize the governments of other states for their internal and external polities all the time like Egypt, Russia and France. Why would Jews, therefore, be silent on the country that matters so much to them –Israel?

Those who make the argument opposing Diaspo­ra criticism of Israel usually assert that the proper role of Diaspora Jews is to be partners with Israelis by providing political, moral and material support to Israel and the development of the coun­try. We agree, but if this is so, is it not absurd and unrealistic to then demand that, as soon as a vital matter of Israel’s future security and even exis­tence arises, Diaspora Jews keep out of the discussion?

Realistically, which Diaspora Jews — genuinely committed to Israel’s future welfare — would exempt themselves from discussion or criticism on a vital issue of the day, if they believed they had something important to say? In this context, it is noteworthy that Israeli political leaders of different hues have stated that the Diaspora should be heard on vital matters.

What exactly are opponents of Diaspora Jewish criticism of Israel on vital issues trying to achieve? If they had their way, they would simply preclude a hearing of all Diaspora Jews, the views of those motivated by love of Israel no less than those who detest Israel.

It is perfectly true that some Jewish criticism of Israel on vital issues comes from those motivated by hatred or unease with Jewish national inde­pendence. Such people, however, will never be induced to abstain from making their hostile criti­cism for obvious reasons. It is also true that some criticism of Israel from non-hostile, well-meaning left-of-centre Diaspora Jews adds to pressures upon Israel to make concessions, thus weakening Israel’s negotiating position. Additionally, it adds to hostile international perceptions of Israel because even Jews are seen to be urging Israel to make various concessions. For this reason, we would argue that such left-of-centre critics should display great care and circumspection in making public their views.

None of these considerations apply to Diaspora Jews who criticize Israel on life-and-death issues from a right-of-centre position, for example, those who, like the Zionist Organization of America, opposed the Oslo process or oppose now unilater­al concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Such criticism, by exposing the hostile nature of Israel’s enemies; by publicizing the perils Israel faces and how these unilateral concessions worsen them; and by indicating that any Israeli concessions can­not be made lightly and might mortally endanger Israel, can only strengthen Israel’s negotiating position and international understanding for Israel. When Israel is under international pressure to make concessions and there is significant Jew­ish right-of-centre opposition to it, Israel can point to such opposition, which strengthens Israel’s negotiation position and helps it stand firm against such pressures.

Why should such Diaspora Jewish criticism not be heard and perhaps heeded? How would Israel benefit from being deprived of such criticism? On the contrary, perhaps if more Diaspora Jewish leaders spoke out in opposition to certain policies — like negotiating with and giving land to Arafat or withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza — a groundswell of opinion might have induced the Israeli government to reconsider these actions that have brought only tragedy and bloodshed to Israel. I personally know several Jewish leaders who opposed these policies but who decided not to speak out because the Israeli government had chosen to pursue these policies.

Imagine if Diaspora Jewish leaders had publicly opposed Moshe Dayan’s decision after the 1967 war to hand over control of the Temple Mount to Muslim authorities. Much tragedy, including riots and bloodshed, the destruction of Jewish heritage beneath the Mount in recent years… could have been prevented.

I repeat: Only Israelis can and should decide the future direction of the country. My point is differ­ent. God gave Israel to all the Jewish people, not only those who reside within it. It is that Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and whatever Israelis may in the end decide, Diaspora Jews con­cerned for Israel’s welfare have not only the right, but the obligation, to state their views, and if nec­essary, criticize Israeli policies.

Morton A. Klein

National president

Zionist Organization of America.

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