Despite the ongoing threat from Hamas, Israel has demonstrated ample willingness to help avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Over the past several months Israel has risked the opening of key border crossings – which have often come under attack – to allow shipments of food and medical supplies to the residents of Gaza.
The reader is left to infer what the JCRC prefers to omit: namely, that Israel has, with few and minor exceptions, systematically blocked the entry of food and medicine to Gaza, thus creating the humanitarian crisis that Israel is supposedly “ampl[y] willing” to help avoid. Likewise, the JCRC wastes no words on the widespread condemnation of Israel’s economic strangulation of Gaza, including by the United Nations, to which Israel has responded by imprisoning and expelling UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Prof. Richard Falk in order to prevent him visiting Gaza in order to be able to report in detail on the conditions there. The UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of ensuring that the population of Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has been forced by the Israeli blockade to stop providing food and medicine to Gaza, but, again, not a word from the JCRC.
The JCRC does, however, see fit to boast that Israel’s attacks have received the seal of approval of the Bush Administration. As Boston Legal’s Alan Shore once quipped: “When such an obvious straight line is lobbed at me, I cannot be held responsible for my actions.”
Much of the remainder of the JCRC statement is a litany of the standard, long-discredited clichés. No such litany would be complete without a few bars of Hamas’ avowed goal of Israel’s destruction, or that oldie-but-a-goodie: Whenever Israel’s military is called into action, it consistently seeks to minimize civilian casualties. Those of us who prefer a sentimental tune will be happy to hear Israel is still committed to peace, but there can be no peace while an entire population is subject to terrorist attacks. For the grand finale, we are treated to Israel’s right to exist.
This charming medley is not spoiled by pointing out such inconvenient facts as Hamas’s formal recognition of the two-state settlement based on the international consensus as the basis for negotiations. Similarly, the authors of the statement do not point out that even Alan Dershowitz has tacitly admitted that the only way one can speak with a straight face of the IDF’s efforts to minimize civilian casualties is to redefine the term civilian (by concocting a “continuum of civilianality [sic]”). The invocation of “Israel’s commitment to peace” could stand to be qualified by reference to Israel’s consistent record of rejecting diplomatic settlements in favour of expanding illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, or its consistent use of violence to avoid the danger of serious negotiations. And when even Ehud Olmert is forced to describe settler violence (with near-complete impunity) against Palestinian civilians as a “pogrom”, one might be forgiven for asking which “entire population” is subject to terrorist attacks (at least if we accept standard legal definitions of terrorism). Furthermore, it just wouldn’t do to point out that no state has a right to exist, apart from the right to exist in peace within recognised borders, a right that also applies to the Palestinians, who have repeatedly offered over the past few decades to recognise just that right for Israel.
One wonders why the JCRC bothered to issue such a statement at all when the virtually identical press releases of the Israeli government would fully suffice!
In a time when Jewish opinion is increasingly moving in the direction of disgust at the behaviour of the Israeli government, statements like these by mainstream Jewish organisations raise an uncomfortable, but urgent, question: Do these organisations see themselves as representatives of the interests of our Jewish community in the US, or those of the Israeli government? Some might think that those interests are one and the same. Certainly, this is what we are led to believe by such groups as the Antidefamation League.
However, if there ever was a time in which the interests of Jews here coincided with those of the Israeli government, that time is long since past. By issuing uncritical statements of support for criminal Israeli policies whilst claiming to represent the Jewish community, groups like the JCRC paint us all as advocates of and accessories to criminal actions that more and more of us condemn. It cannot be in our interest for Jews to be portrayed in the media as unquestioning supporters of some of the worst international thuggery of our time.
This certainly is in the interest of the Israeli government, which depends on the appearance of international (and especially US) Jewish support to insulate its conduct from criticism. However, it is most certainly not in the interests of the Jewish community as a whole. As long as mainstream Jewish organisations such as the JCRC seek to create the impression of unity between Jews in the US and the Israeli government, they virtually guarantee that Israel’s crimes will result in an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment (which Israel then uses to encourage immigration in order to solve the “demographic problem”).
As long as “our” organisations continue to blur the line between Israeli conduct and Jewish opinion, it is incumbent upon us to make it clear that these organisations do not represent us. If groups like the ADL and JCRC will not clearly and unmistakably draw the line, it is up to us to draw it ourselves by unequivocally and publicly stating that we do not condone the crimes that Israel commits in our name.