Friday, July 9, 2010

Why U.S. Jews Can Talk About Israel

On principle, I usually refrain from responding to Sara Honig and Isi Liebler if I can. But this week they both raise a long standing debate in a somewhat disingenuous way. This debate concerns the role of U.S. Jewry in Israeli politics. Honig and Liebler both argue that Americans have no right to express opinions about Israeli security matters because they do not deal with the immediate consequences of the policies which they recommend. A fair point to be sure. Of course, many of the American Jews who comment on Israel do so through groups like AIPAC, the ADL, and CUI, which Honig and Liebler seem to not have a problem with.

Their characteristically smug approach is partial and condescending enough this time to warrant a response. So, in true Washington D.C. talking points fashion, here are three reasons Americans are legitimate to express opinions about Israeli security.

1) The United States underwrites Israeli security. In 2009, the U.S. gave 2.55 billion dollars to Israel in military aid. This is a significant amount of U.S. aid money, and a significant part of Israel's defense budget. 2.55 billion dollars doesn't justify demanding an American approval for every single tactical move or force placement. But it's reasonable to say that it does give Americans the right to comment on what their tax dollars are being used for.

2) Doctrine and Strategy are theories and not unique to location. This means that evaluating Israeli doctrine and strategy is a matter of having expertise on these topics. It does not necessitate living in Israel. Additionally, issues like settlement building or the Gaza blockade are not purely military issues, but political issues as well. Furthermore, the political ramifications of these issues directly affect the United States. If an IDF raid on a Gaza flotilla impacts American security, Americans have the right to an opinion about it.

3) Israelis (justly) criticize U.S. security policy all the time. Including Honig and Liebler. Israelis are not shy about their thoughts on President Obama or U.S. power politics in the Middle East. And considering that U.S. policy affects Israeli security, it's more than reasonable that they should stay informed. But Israeli policy affects U.S. security too. Honig and Liebler love to talk about double standards, but their position on this issue is a double standard on its own. By fundamentally denying that Israel's political and military decisions matter to the United States, they undercut their own argument in their typical style of short-sighted reactionism.

I would be one of the first to criticize those on the American left who criticize Israel having never visited the country or spoken to Israelis. But many of us mobilized centrist Americans have extensive professional and personal ties to Israel. Some Americans are in fact clueless...but not all of us.

And it would be foolish to deny that our view is different than Israelis. Their view is more granular, more immediate, and more personal. These are undeniable facts. But our view is more far-sighted, more broad-based, and includes a better understanding of American politics and those of the international community. Neither view is better. Like a left and a right hand, we of both views must work together. Divisive diaspora-Israel politics serve only to prevent the kind of collaboration which allows Israel to holistically evaluate and thus preserve its security, a goal which we all can share in common.

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