Blood on a Beach

The taboo against criticizing Israel hurts both Israel and America

800px-Border_between_Israel_and_Egypt_visible_from_space“It’s terrible,” my lover Patrick says by phone from Brussels about anti-Israeli demonstrators holding signs that say, “Hitler was right.” As a native of Congo, he is familiar with war. He knows that peace is not served by fomenting hatred.

The latest outbreak of war in Gaza gained plenty of steam from maneuverings by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Hamas was all too eager to accommodate him. Netanyahu has made it clear he has no intention of giving up the West Bank. Hamas, meanwhile, wants to wipe the Jews from the map. Caught up in this are innocent children on both sides, though Israeli children are far safer thanks to Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

That Hamas locates missile launchers near civilians and gains a public relations benefit when return fire causes collateral damage is damnable. That Israel attacks anyway appears to be driven more by domestic political considerations than security.

No serious discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict can ignore the existential threat that Israel has faced since its birth. In decades of arguments with opponents of Israel, I have found that if you press them, many acknowledge that they do not just oppose imperialistic actions like the West Bank occupation and settlements; they oppose Israel’s existence. Some describe Israeli policies toward Palestinians as Apartheid, and say all is fair for freedom fighters.

If you were the parents of the boys killed by Israeli naval shelling on a beach in Gaza on July 16, you could hardly be blamed for taking that view. But conceding that all people have a right to self-defense is only the start of the discussion. Israeli rhetoric equating restraint with disarmament leaves no space for an alternative to endless war.

As to Israel’s pro-gay policies, those who cry “Pinkwashing!” have a point: virtues in one area do not excuse wrongs in another. But neither are Israel’s enemies progressive paragons. Those Nazi sympathizers in Europe are no peacemakers. Nor are Americans who use the myth of exceptionalism to whitewash history. A recent example is Hillary Clinton, who told Jon Stewart on July 15: “We are not perfect by any means, but we have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity, and let’s get back to telling it.”

Peter Beinart responded in The Atlantic that “in the developing world … barely anyone believes that American foreign policy during the Cold War actually promoted those things. What they mostly remember is that in anticommunism’s name, from Pakistan to Guatemala to Iran to Congo, America funded dictators and fueled civil wars.”

We are all implicated in what is done in our name. We must face our shared responsibility for American politics and its bloody consequences abroad. We war with our own values when we condone behavior by an ally that we would condemn back home.

Last week I told bereaved Jewish Iranian immigrant friends who had lost their mother, “May her memory be for a blessing.” What would I say to relatives of children killed in Gaza? Sorry my taxes subsidized it? Sorry our politics makes it hazardous to talk about innocent Palestinians? There are no innocents? That last one would do Al Qaida proud. One friend said the deaths were regrettably necessary. Isn’t that a line from Dr. Strangelove?

Speaking of cold-blooded analysis, demographic trends show that without a two-state solution, Israel must eventually choose between being a democracy and being a Jewish state. What will America do then? Israel’s bunker mentality, and its posturing as a victim despite its power, blind it to its slow self-destruction. Assisted suicide is still suicide.

Our ubiquitous social media are a game changer: having seen pictures of dead boys on a beach, we cannot un-see them.

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