Elliott Abrams says J Street (and along with J Street, no doubt, all Americans and Israelis who define themselves as the pro-Israel, pro-peace Left) isn’t really worried about Israel’s fate as a Jewish state and a democracy.
No, says Abrams, “the gloom and doom is absurd… As to internal matters in Israel, we’ve heard all that before: a couple of decades ago people said the Sephardi-Ashkenazi splits would deepen and threaten national unity…. J Street’s real problem is that Israel is thriving under [conservative] Likud leadership and it drives them crazy.”
Abrams' statement raises the question: is the doom and gloom really absurd, and how does he define “thriving”?
Maybe Abrams hasn’t heard about the growing national scandal in Israel related to the treatment of women. Maybe he missed the news of the ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh who spit on an 8-year-old girl and called her a prostitute because he thought her dress was insufficiently modest. This was no isolated incident and led to mass protests against the growing intolerance of the ultra-Orthodox, especially against women. Maybe Abrams hasn’t seen the myriad reports about how women are disappearing from ads in Jerusalem, and are banished to the back of buses across the country.
Maybe, despite his keen interest in Israel, Abrams is unaware of the non-stop stream of anti-democratic initiatives in the Israeli Knesset these days. These are initiatives unabashedly designed to stifle quash dissent and the kind of free speech and protest that is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy—if proposed in any other country they would be held up as evidence of a worrying anti-democratic trend. Abrams must have missed the fact that not just the Left is worried about this, with the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman and the American Jewish Comittee even weighing in.
And finally, I can only assume that nobody told Abrams about the escalating "price tag" attacks by settlers and their supporters, aimed at both fellow Israelis and Palestinians. He must not have heard about the attacks and death threats against my colleagues in Peace Now, the attacks on IDF soldiers and their bases, the attacks on mosques inside Israel, including in Jerusalem, or the hate graffiti in a Jewish-Arab school inside Israel. Abrams must not have heard about any of this, because how could anyone who remembers the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin be so cavalier about such things?
Perhaps Abrams has been so busy defending the Netanyahu government and bashing the peace camp that he hasn’t had time to visit Israel and see the situation for himself, or even read in the Israeli press about the wrenching social and political issues the country is grappling with today.
Or perhaps he knows all about these things and simply doesn’t care.
Because for some people – perhaps Abrams among them – these things don’t matter. For such people, “Israeli democracy” isn’t a value or a precious commodity. It’s a slogan used to defend Israel. Ditto for talk about Israeli rule of law and respect for civil rights, Israel’s progressive stance on the rights of women, and Israel’s robust civil society sector. All of these are mantras, memes, and mottos whose invocation, such people believe, inoculate Israel from any and all criticism, especially as it relates to settlements and other Israeli policies that are inimical to a two-state solution.
For such people, the devil isn’t in the details – the details don’t matter. The devil, for them, is in the people who insist on paying attention to those damn details – those damn details like the ones that Abrams either doesn’t know about or, more likely, simply dismisses as unimportant.
Israel today is a center of culture, science and innovation. And yes, it has a strong economy (though perhaps Abrams didn’t hear about last summer’s unprecedented mass social protests in Israel. One out of every 14 Israelis, coming from across the social and political spectrums, came out to protest the government’s policies – exorbitant housing costs, loss of social programs, etc. And perhaps Abrams didn’t hear about the crisis in the Israel health system that lead to a barely-averted strike by Israeli medical residents, doctors resigning, and hospitals shutting down).
By many measures Israel is indeed thriving. However, nobody who truly cares about Israel – not even Elliott Abrams – can simply dismiss the very troubling trends inside Israel today and what they mean for Israel’s future. And these trends are inextricably linked to the broader challenge facing Israel – achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abrams suggests, cynically, that those of us sounding the alarm – those of us who speak in tones clouded with “doom and gloom” as we contemplate Israel’s future in the absence of a two-state solution – aren’t really motivated by concern for Israel. The truth is that our concern for what is happening inside Israel, and our activism around it, is proof of how much we care.
We know that caring about Israel demands more than just mouthing platitudes about how the country is thriving and proclaiming “all’s well.” All’s not well, and caring about Israel demands that we fight to make sure that all those mantras, memes, and mottos that people like Abrams so blithely invoke aren’t just empty words.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.