Amid the stunning beauty and enviable tranquility of a recent vacation in Switzerland I was twice jolted into the warped landscape of Israel as viewed from the opinion page of The New York Times.
“Israel’s American Terrorists” (September 4), written by aspiring scholar Sara Yael Hirschhorn, excoriated American-born Israelis who participate in “the deeply illiberal” settlement movement. Three days later, Ami Ayalon, formerly head of the Shin Bet and a prominent Labor party politician, urged Israeli cooperation with the United States in support of the nuclear agreement with – or surrender to — Iran.
Paired together, these articles illuminate the abiding anxiety of Times publishers and editors lest Zionism and Jewish statehood implicate American Jews by raising the canard of divided loyalty or by challenging their liberal precepts.
Ms. Hirschhorn, drawing upon her forthcoming book about American Jewish immigrants in the settler movement, is riveted (and disgusted) by “a long list of settler extremists with American roots.” Beginning with Dr. Baruch Goldstein (a loyal Brooklyn follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane), who murdered 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, she concludes with the current “fanatical fringe,” three of whose American-born members are currently detained under suspicion for setting the July house fire that killed an 18-month-old Palestinian child.
By her account, 60,000 Jewish settlers (12-15% of the total number) have emigrated from the United States. “This provides hard evidence,” she claimed in a recent lecture, “that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel.”
Yet her “long list” of criminals contains the names of exactly eight American-born settlers who have been implicated in terrorist murders during more than 20 years since Goldstein’s rampage.
To Ms. Hirschhorn’s evident dismay, American-born settlers, living in “the mansions of settlement suburbia,” tend to see themselves as “good liberals.” They actually cite “American values and idealism,” rather than biblical or messianic sources, for their decision to live in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Condemning “the deeply illiberal settlement project” and American Jews who support it, her liberal myopia permits her to see only “professed liberals [who] are now helping to deflect attention from crimes committed by Jews.” Affirming “peace and justice” as she castigates American-born Jewish settlers, she amply demonstrates her qualifications for the Times opinion page.
Ami Ayalon is highly qualified, if for different reasons. Formerly commander of the Israeli Navy and director of Shin Bet, he has more recently collaborated with Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh on a two-state peace initiative that would save Israel from “a kind of . . . apartheid.” Early last month, he joined 70 former members of Israel’s defense community in publicly urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to accept the American nuclear deal with Iran.
“What I and my fellow signatories oppose,” he wrote, is Netanyahu’s “spiteful battle” with President Obama, which “risks limiting cooperation in monitoring Iran.”
Conceding that “Israelis have real and legitimate fears about Iranian intentions,” he urged Netanyahu to “recognize that the nuclear accord is a done deal.” Ayalon insisted that “he must stop fighting with the Obama administration,” lest he jeopardize the Israeli-American alliance that has been “the cornerstone of Israel’s security.”
Yet Ayalon concedes that the United States and Israel “must also prepare for a day when they find out that Iran has violated the agreement.” And he recognizes that “real deterrence” requires preparation of “a viable military option.” If (and likely when) Iran violates the agreement, “military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be seen as a legitimate target.”
For now, he laments, Netanyahu lacks the necessary balance between “analyzing realistically the threats [Israel] faces and detecting opportunities.” One might have thought that Netanyahu rather clearly understands the danger of a nuclear Iran. Why else would he strenuously oppose President Obama’s capitulation?
In a quick segue, Ayalon notes that Netanyahu has also failed to provide leadership on “the Palestinian question.” For any successful international challenge to a nuclear Iran, he argues, Israel must accept a two-state solution with Palestinians to satisfy the Sunni states whose support would be necessary. In translation, Israel must pay the price of Palestinian statehood to secure Arab support to combat the nuclear Iran that he criticizes Netanyahu for opposing.
In tandem, Hirschhorn and Ayalon exemplify the liberal critique of Israel that has guided Times publishers, columnists and reporters ever since June 1967, when six days of desperate fighting returned the state of Israel to the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Consistent with its tortured Jewish identity, the Times offered its distinctive prelude to Rosh Hashanah. No wonder my vacation serenity was so abruptly interrupted.