Don’t slur me, Mr Leibler, en­gage with me

Antony Ler­man replies to Isi Leibler’s per­sonal at­tack on his lead­er­ship role on this page last week

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis -

It’s a sure sign of a bank­rupt ar­gu­ment when you re­sort to call­ing for the dis­missal from his job of the per­son you dis­agree with. When Isi Leibler in­cited An­glo-Jewish lead­ers to “act against me” in last week’s JC, he not only mis­rep­re­sented my views, he failed ut­terly to en­gage with them.

Far from en­dors­ing the de­struc­tion of Is­rael as a Jewish state, I’m for the re­con­struc­tion of Is­rael as a state in which Jewish val­ues guide pub­lic be­hav­iour and can be per­ma­nently sus­tained. With Is­rael’s “own moral and phys­i­cal ex­is­tence be­ing eaten away ev­ery day”, as Jonathan Freed­land ar­gued in last week’s JC, its cur­rent path leads in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and threat­ens dis­as­ter. The dan­ger to Is­rael’s ex­is­tence comes not from crit­ics out­side who are con­cerned for the coun­try’s fu­ture, but from the many Leiblers inside Is­rael (and out­side) who, in the name of a Ju­daism lack­ing all derech eretz and gemil­lut chas­sadim, see sal­va­tion in wag­ing war on their Jewish “en­e­mies”.

We Jews who live in the UK, or any­where out­side of Is­rael, are im­pli­cated in and af­fected by ev­ery­thing Is­rael’s lead­ers do — they con­stantly claim to speak and act on be­half of the en­tire Jewish peo­ple. It is there- fore nec­es­sary for con­cerned Jews to dis­cuss the many pos­si­ble fu­tures Is­rael faces. To deny this is to bury your head in the sand.

But it is very dif­fi­cult to have th­ese dis­cus­sions in an at­mos­phere coars­ened by vi­cious lan­guage and reck­less il­lus­tra­tions. What­ever the in­ten­tion of the car­toon­ist, one in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his il­lus­tra­tion that ac­com­pa­nied last week’s ar­ti­cle is that Jews like me, who crit­i­cise Is­rael, de­serve to be branded as Jew-haters. Who would not be hurt by such an im­pli­ca­tion? As some­one who lived in Is­rael, is an Is­raeli cit­i­zen, served in the IDF and vis­its reg­u­larly, would it be un­rea­son­able for me to feel that hurt more acutely?

Surely we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that we dis­cuss our dif­fer­ences in a Jewish way. That means en­gag­ing in rig­or­ous, pas­sion­ate, truth-seek­ing de­bate. Not pro­scrib­ing cer­tain is­sues or brand­ing fel­low Jews as be­yond the pale. Machloket has been a defin­ing fea­ture of our ex­is­tence; not the re­pres­sive Jewish unity im­plied in Leibler’s di­a­tribe, which takes it for granted that Is­rael and Zion­ism have set­tled once and for all the na­tional and eth­nic sta­tus of the Jewish peo­ple.

As He­brew Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor Hedva Ben Is­rael,a fore­most ex­pert on na­tion­al­ism and Zion­ism, said re­cently: “All forms of Jewish ex­is­tence con­tinue to ex­ist, and some ex­treme forms are get­ting stronger. The Jewish peo­ple is more split than ever on na­tion­al­ism and Jewish uni­ver­sal­ism. His­tory tri­umphed over Zion­ism and not the other way round.”

Ad­mit­ting Zion­ism’s fail­ures is not heresy; the fu­ture of the Jewish peo­ple is still a mat­ter of de­bate. We are strength­ened by en­gag­ing in it; fa­tally weak­ened by those who level the slur of “self-ha­tred” at those who do.

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