I have an ongoing dialogue with a religiously observant Israeli-American friend who disagrees with my dovish Mideast politics. He wrote to me today:
I don’t like what you wrote there [in your last blog entry]. I did not mean to “defend” or “explain” anything. I am not advocating any relaxing of moral standards [by the Israeli army]. If a soldier violates the ethical code then he should be punished, and severely if appropriate.
What I meant to say was that the IDF does enforce moral standards, but that in the real world it sometimes happens that there are violations, and that, while the IDF can be criticized for such lapses committed by individuals, your zeal to publicize them in the world at large is sending the wrong message at a time when Israel is under fierce attack from all quarters. Especially when, in the very same context (your blog) there is not a word about the horrifying demonization of Jews and Israel by the Palestinian media, and the glorification of suicide to kill as many people as possible. By speaking about the Israeli army the way you do, you (unwittingly) contribute to the defamation of Israel and give encouragement to our enemies.
The people that read your blog–and let’s face it, the only people who would even know about it basically agree with you already–are only going to hate Israel more, certainly not less because you happen to be Jewish.
In my opinion, your comments belong in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz, or even better Yidiot Aharonot or Maariv, where they might really have some influence on Israelis. Because unless your message is aimed at Israelis, it is nothing but lashon hara
My response follows:
You say the only people who ever read my blog will be those who already agree w. me. Thats not necessarily the case. There are now scores of web directories (Weblog.com, wanderlust.com, eatonweb.com, Webring) that publicize web pgs. (blogs, home pages, commercial sites). Im not talking about search engines. These are separate sites which catalogue sites by subject & enable you to search for a site that matches your interests. So anyone on the net who does a search on the word Mideast might possibly find my site.
Regarding publishing my views in the Israeli press, I agree that it is VERY important to try to influence Israeli opinion. If someone in Israel asked me to write something in Hebrew for publication, Id gladly do it. But language & geographic distance are tough barriers to overcome, esp. when you dont know if all the work you invest in the writing & translation will end up being published.
Regarding lashon hara, I guess we have very different definitions of this. Lashon Hara (in my view) is not just words that injure; it is words whose intent is to injure. My intent is not to injure Israel. My intent is to heal it. When a patient is in severe jeopardy from illness, sometimes the treatment requires great stress, pain & discomfort. This is sometimes the only path to healing. Thats what Im doingproviding physical therapy to an injured Israel. Calling my blog entry nothing more than lashon hara (unless directed solely at Israelis) is a bit harsh, dont you think?
Do you feel that a society (any society) should try to represent itself to the world at large in the most appealing way possible by omitting a blemish here or there? We need to shave a bit off here; touch up a bit over here to make us more appealing to the world. It reminds me of that old saw you hear from Israelis & Jews whenever Israel faces a crisis: all we need is better, more aggressive hasbarah [public relations]. Thats ridiculous because it isnt the lack of hasbarah that causes the crisis; it is the actual events themselves. The only way out of such a crisis is a serious & immediate negotiation w. ones enemy. Possibly you could conceal your national blemishes before there was satellite communication & 24/7 cable TV. Now, almost everyone in the world can find out about almost anything at any almost any time. If the IDF murders an unarmed Palestinian, the world knows within minutes. My focus on this act in my blog does not reveal a blemish that no one would notice if I didnt point it out. Do you believe that I should leave it to the anti Semites to criticize Israels blemishes? Thats not a credible argument. Your friends, when they are honest, give you the ability to examine your behavior & correct it when it is wrong. An enemy attacking you does not encourage you to change.
You contend that I present Israel to the world at large in an unbalanced way because I do not explain the serious jeopardy it is in which puts these breaches of human rights into a better context. In political debate & discussion (as I have in my blog), you dont always have to finely balance every argument that you make with pros & cons. Not every issue requires deep context. Unlike you, I believe that almost everyone in the world (except for anti Semites) knows the danger that Israel faces. And also unlike you, I believe that the number of people who discount Israels jeopardy is very small compared to the number who recognize it. So why in this environment do I have to warn my reader that Israel is in severe danger? They know that. Do you, when you present your ideas about Israel always make sure to explicitly represent the Palestinian position & place it in context w. Israels positions? If you dont, then why should you require me to do so? BTW, my attempt to balance my argument [in an earlier blog entry] involved a discussion of the ethical values of Israels founders. In this, I was trying to put Israel in a good light (or at least acknowledge that at one time Israel really tried to live up to these values in a serious way). That was my attempt at balance.
I acknowledge that you & your IDF comrades do try to adhere to the highest values you can given the situation you are in. That is admirable. But I contend that the very situation in which your government has placed youoccupying, oppressing & killing the Palestinian peopleis inherently unstable & untenable. Yes, I understand that none of you are there because you want to be; and that many of you feel that the Palestinians have forced this Occupation on you. But thats almost beside the point. The present military policy is bankrupt. It will not stop terrorism for any length of time; it will not bring peace, security or stability to Israel (just the opposite in fact). The longer people feel that they have no choice but to occupy Palestine, the longer this bloody conflict will last. Israelis feel that if they can outlast the Palestinians & force them to bleed for every Israeli they kill, then eventually they will keel over fr. exhaustion & give up. I just dont see that happening & anyone who harbors an illusion that it will is in for tremendous disappointment.