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
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.