Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Confusing self-criticism with self-debasement
I have just finished reading Ari Shavit's tour de force "My Promised Land." It left me deeply disappointed and angry.
Shavit is one of Israel's most talented and erudite columnists. He is a passionate Zionist and proud Israeli whose patriotism cannot be challenged.
His superb portrayal of history and life in Israel has received extraordinary acclaim which even extended to the anti-Israel-orientated liberal media. His book was selected as one of the Notable Books of 2013 by The New York Times Book Review.
To qualify for this endorsement he paid a regrettable price. He included one chapter which is so far out of kilter with his otherwise laudable book that one suspects it was deliberately written to achieve endorsement from the liberal glitterati for whom debasement of the Jewish state has become a key component of their liberal DNA.
As the Yiddish expression puts it, Shavit attempted to dance simultaneously at two weddings in order to ingratiate himself with all parties. To achieve his aim, he compiled this dark chapter which implies that the Jewish state was born of the sin of military victory and inflicted needless brutal suffering on the indigenous Arab population.
Titled "Lydda 1948," the chapter effectively endorses the core of the Palestinian narrative of dispossession. It describes, inaccurately, the battle of the Arab town in central Palestine that would become the city of Lod and the expulsion of the Arabs from that town. In summary, it argues that the events that transpired during and following the battle prove that the Jewish state was born in sin. Shavit alleges that we are now obliged to come to terms with the misdeeds ("the black box of Zionism"), that our forebears inflicted on the indigenous Arab inhabitants in the course of our birth.
This chapter has been utterly demolished by Ruth Wisse, Alan Gerson, Alex Safian, Seth Frantzman and others who have documented that Shavit's depiction of the Lydda battle is a perverse distortion of historical facts. Shavit fails to place the battle within the context of the larger military objective and does not mention the town's strategic geographical importance as a link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. His view of events is also jaundiced due to his reliance on one questionable Arab witness who depicts Israelis behaving like barbarians. He fails to even make reference to the prior Arab killing and mutilation of Israeli fighters.
The entire chapter is shoddy journalism, totally out of synch with Shavit's reputation and the rest of his otherwise admirable book.
Not surprisingly, the "Lydda" chapter resulted in Shavit being hailed by the politically correct liberal establishment as its new poster child. Liberal critics gushed over him for his "courage" in exposing the "dark secret of Zionism." The New Yorker, renowned for its savage criticism of Israel, even republished the "Lydda 1948" chapter as a full length essay.
Unfortunately, numerous independent reviewers, including even devoted Zionists like Jewish Agency Director Alan Hoffman, seem dazzled by Shavit and blind themselves to the damage he is causing. They "praise" him for "balancing" Israel's spectacular achievements with the negative aspects of the Zionist enterprise.
This perversion of our narrative is neither "balance" nor a legitimate critical review of events. The chapter is like a rotten apple. It is succumbing to the postmodernist approach that seeks to downplay and even besmirch national epics like the War of Independence. It is based on false and distorted historical data which creates a narrative in which Israel was born sin. It represents an assault on the morality of our genesis which is being consumed like manna from heaven by all who wish us ill.
Even if Shavit's depiction of transgressions in the course of a battle in one town was correct -- which, I emphasize, it is not -- would that justify the allegation that Israel was born in sin? Was Israel primarily responsible for creating the Arab refugee crisis? If so, why did such a large Arab minority remain in Israel? Does the "Lydda" battle warrant Shavit granting credence to the distorted Palestinian narrative and the "Nakba" which suppresses the fact that Israel was being invaded by Arab armies bent on its annihilation?
The War of Independence, like all wars throughout history, included fierce battles with painful consequences for those defeated. But we can take pride at the restraint displayed during Israel's War of Independence by the victorious Israelis towards the Arabs who had repeatedly proclaimed their intention to massacre every Jew after destroying the newly born state.
No other country has a better record of ethical military practices than Israel which trains its soldiers to abide to a strict moral code and punishes those who violate it. Despite being the only country in the world whose existence is under continuous threat and subject to unending siege and terrorism since its inception, Israel remains committed to defending itself in a manner that least harms innocent civilians. And notwithstanding that, it has retained a robust democracy in which a substantial Israeli Arab minority enjoys more rights than any of their kinsmen in the region.
That is not to say that we are infallible. As in any society, there are aberrations. We make errors and individuals commit crimes. In most cases a vigilant media and highly critical public demand transparency and rectification of mistakes or misdeeds. Our hyper self-criticism, at times even masochism, underlines the highly developed sense of morality to which the Jewish state holds itself.
That is why "My Promised Land" angered me far more than the numerous hate-filled anti-Israel books being pumped out. As a Zionist, Shavit's false implication that the State of Israel was born in sin is simply preposterous.
As an Israeli patriot, Ari Shavit may one day question himself whether there is not something remiss when the worst critics of Israel hail his book as a long-overdue example of soul searching by an honest Israeli with the courage to expose the evil at the core of the Zionist enterprise.
Like all of us, he should be sensitive to the reality that there is a huge difference between self-criticism such as exposing unacceptable behavior or crimes and undermining or besmirching the moral foundations of a nation whose overall record of moral behavior and concern for the sanctity of human life is superior to that of most Western democracies. Far from self-criticism, this is simply self-debasement.
And surely in these alarming times, when we are under such fierce global attack from venomous adversaries, there is a special responsibility on committed Jews and Zionists to hesitate before publishing historically inaccurate, distorted or even ambiguous messages relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which provide ammunition to those seeking our destruction.
Alas, Shavit's chapter questioning the morality of Israel's birth will have a far greater impact and will continue being exploited against us by those seeking to delegitimize us, long after the positive depictions of the Jewish state which comprise the bulk of his book have been forgotten.
Isi Leibler's website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.