No. 29: Is “Apartheid” the New Normal?

The following is a transcript of Episode 29 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Donniel Hartman:
Hi, my name is Donniel Hartman, and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Today is Thursday, July 22nd, 2021, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is the new criminalization of Israel and the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself, discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue.

Donniel Hartman:
Let’s begin. The new criminalization of Israel: Why now, and what can we do about? Why is Israel now being subjected to an unprecedented campaign of delegitimization? Unlike the “Zionism is racism” campaign of the 1970s, the current delegitimization is being led by some of our former rabbis. Segments within the American and even the Jewish liberal communities. Recent surveys point to almost a third of Jewish voters, believing that Israel is an apartheid state, that Israel is committing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, 90 rabbinic students, a dominant percentage of all liberal rabbinic students in America. The most knowledgeable and committed of the next generation of Jews are calling for holding Israel accountable for its discriminatory policy. Ben and Jerry’s is now refusing to sell its products in the west bank. And only because of their parent company, Unilever, did they not pull all of their products from Israel altogether.

Donniel Hartman:
The criminalization of Israel has moved from the fringe and is now a mainstay of progressive discourse, drawing direct lines between Black Lives Matter and Palestinian Lives Matter. For many on the right, there’s an ever-growing sentiment that Israel has lost its democratic liberal camp. And with it, the next generation of Jews. Is this correct? If it is, why is this happening now, and most significantly, what can we do about it? The fatalists say that nothing can be done. The attacks on Israel are a part of a larger American progressive battle against particularism, national identity, and white power as principled forces for evil and injustice. And in this context Israel is cast as the villain in all of those stories. Now, as I’ve said in the past, I don’t do fatalism. So what can we do can? Can one combat the apartheid accusations and the criminalization of Israel? If yes, how? This issue is one of the more critical and divisive issues facing Israel and the Jewish community today, it’s also, I know this is an overused term. It is a really complicated one. And in order to do it justice and not to be rushed, we will be discussing this issue over the next two podcasts. Hi, Yossi, nice to be with you again, the last podcast you weren’t doing so well with your back, how are you doing this time?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Baruch Hashem. That’s a very non-committal response

Donniel Hartman:
He doesn’t say anything, because in our tradition, we’re supposed to thank God for the good and the bad.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
I’m thanking God, Gam Zu L’tova. I’m thanking God for the good and the bad.

Donniel Hartman:
Okay. So, um, I’m sorry that in addition to your discomfort, this is a very painful issue and it’s paining us and it’s troubling us and it’s dividing us. And so, um, let’s talk, I want to start by throwing, I want to talk about how you’re feeling. When you hear of the Btzelem like report, or others that accuse Israel of apartheid, what do you feel, what’s your response, just put Yossi on record now.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
There’s an immediate response and a longer response. The immediate response is I go wild. I go out of my mind and it is part of a deliberate campaign to attribute the worst qualities that our generation, regards as the most loathsome and apply those to the Jewish state and to do so in, in a singular way, in an obsessive way. And by telling a combination of truths half-truths and outright lies, that’s my immediate emotional response.

Donniel Hartman:
So tell them how you’re feeling, Yossi. Don’t hold back. It’s a deliberate campaign to do what?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
To roll back the post Holocaust Jewish success story, and restore us to the condition of powerlessness. It’s Jewish power that is under assault. This is a war against Jewish power, and it is a war against the contemporary Jewish story. It is an attempt to take our foundational story and reverse it from one of the most inspiring sagas, not only in Jewish history, but I think in human history and turn it into one of the most sorted evil episodes of modern times.

Donniel Hartman:
You see this as a fundamentally anti-Semitic move?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
I don’t think that that’s the right question, Donniel. I know that that’s the question that the Jewish community is asking itself. But if the attempt is deprive the Jewish people of its ability to protect itself, to leave us vulnerable in one of the most dangerous regions on the planet, I don’t care if the motive is antisemitism or not. It is the most direct threat to Jewish wellbeing that we are experiencing in this generation.

Donniel Hartman:
I, I want us to, to, to let that point air a little bit. So in many ways, and here, I really appreciate what you just said. You’re saying that the word antisemitism, fogs the issue, because if you’re a Jew, how can we call it antisemitic? And if a person, some of my best friends, are Jewish, it almost, it, it confuses the issue. What you’re speaking about is what’s the motivation then. You’re taking the greatest source of pride and accomplishment of the Jewish people, and you’re, you’re stripping us of it. So why would somebody want to do that?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
I think there is a convergence of, of incentives. There, there is good old fashioned antisemitism at play. There’s no question about it.

Donniel Hartman:
We’re not talking about that one.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Well, no I mean, I think that that’s, it’s an important part of the mix because what I often hear is the kind of equivalent of “gotcha”. We have finally exposed the chosen people in all their arrogant conceit. We are bringing you down. There is that. And I, and I think we have to, we have to acknowledge that. There is at the same time and understandable obsession with what happens in this land, this in the holy land, you know, even if you’re a post-Christian and, uh, and many of our most vociferous critics are, are not necessarily Christian. They’re really post-Christian, but they’re still, they’re carrying 2000 years of contempt, unconsciously, but you see similar motifs coming up where the Jewish state takes the place of the Jew who turned against the Messiah, turned against redemption. There’s something in the story of the state of Israel, for many of our critics, that is a betrayal of who we were supposed to be after the Holocaust, we were supposed to be a light to the nations. We were supposed to be the ultimate victim people. And instead we turn around and become victimizers. And so our sins are magnified because we should have known better. And I really do feel that there are deep echoes of classic Christian antisemitism there.

Donniel Hartman:
I want to push back for a moment. You, you said let’s not talk antisemitism, but when I’m asking you, what’s motivated it, your first two responses were. So I imagine there’s going to be another response.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Yes.

Donniel Hartman:
There’s a problem here, because part of what is, uh, even psychologically as an audience, I’m being pulled back into the antisemitic motivation, when your initial mark was saying, let me leave antisemitism aside. I want to talk about something evil happening here, but it’s not, but then you went back to antisemitism.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Do you know why, do you know why? Because I didn’t really mean it.

Donniel Hartman:
That is such a classic, Yossi, I got to tell you, so for a moment you were trying to take the high ground, so I was going to continue with you, But you weren’t giving up, okay.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
You know, I’m going to get to your high ground, but first let me go through my low and middle ground. I really do think that we’re, we’re looking at a very complicated convergence of motives. Now what happens in the holy land is legitimately of concern to Christians. And so when I feel this outrage, when, when, uh, let’s say mainline Protestants apply standards to Israel, that they don’t apply to any other country, and my, my initial response is you’re treating us, you’re treating the Jewish state as the Jew of the states. And I do think that’s part of what’s going on, but it’s not all of what’s going on.

Donniel Hartman:
Okay. Could you do now, humor me. Yossi’s in the room, and now we’re gonna go the other part of Yossi, higher up. Cause the anti-Semitism part I understand. Then I have problems with whether it’s accurate or not, but I understand. It could be a motivation that’s not anti-Semitic because clearly many of the people who are using this language, it’s just, they’re not antisemitic. You can’t say that. It’s just objectively false.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
So let’s go back for, for a moment to the main line Protestants, their counter-argument, which has a lot of legitimacy is, you know what? We’re talking about a land that is sacred to us, this is, this is Jesus’s land. And if there’s oppression happening in the holy land, that is going to focus our attention in a way that oppression elsewhere might not. There is also I think an understandable, call it interest, curiosity, obsession with what happens when histories, most powerless people suddenly attained power. Uh, this is a really interesting story for the media, uh, for good reason. It’s a fascinating story. You know, it takes us back to the Kuzari that great moment in the Kuzari when the king of the Khazars says to the rabbi, oh, big shot. You know? So your, your morals, yes, you’re the most moral people because you have no power what’s going to happen when you do have power? This is a Kuzari moment. And the attention that we complain about is inevitable. You know, on the one hand, we’re saying this is one of the most compelling stories in modern times, which I certainly believe it is. And on the other hand, we complain about the obsessive focus. So I’ll tell you a story that has haunted me for many years. Uh, this was during the first Intifada and I was, I was working as a journalist and I went to Gaza one day, a soldier sees me, a journalist with a kippah, and he comes over to me and he says, let me ask you you’re, you’re a journalist. Let me ask you a question. Why are all of you here? Why is this an interesting story? You have teenagers throwing rocks at soldiers, we’re firing tear gas back. Why is this interesting to the world? That for me has really in some way been the question. And that’s the question that you’re asking.

Donniel Hartman:
No, it’s not, Yossi.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
No no no, it is. Donniel. Listen, listen a minute. It is because I believe that the criminalization of Israel comes from the interest, curiosity, obsession. I think that there is a progression.

Donniel Hartman:
They’re not the same Yossi because I could be fascinated by Israel. I can. I can be critical of Israel. But part of what we’re trying to understand is why the criticism moved to criminalization. And I have to tell you why, as I listened to you, other than the anti-Semitism, I still feel you’re certain you don’t understand it. I think it pains you and that’s okay, by the way, you don’t have to, I don’t, you know, I don’t understand antisemitism it’s, there’s something here. I think you’re struggling to make sense of it because there’s another movement that’s going on. Okay. So this is what we have. We have anti-Semitism. We have classic different pipes. We have a deep concern for what goes on in the holy land. We have a country that has been a remarkable story and has been, and is attracted so much attention. And there’s a direct line between exceptionalism, attention and criticism and criminalization give me one more. Try one mar.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
We have a people that experienced the worst act of genocide, uh, certainly in modern times, that is now occupying another people for half a century. This occupation is open-ended. We have, I think well-documented human rights violations that this state, the state that this people created is committing. And there is a, to some extent, and understandable attempt to come to terms with what this means and where it turns into obsession and criminalization is when there is an unconscious attempt to, in some way lessen the guilt of the west. If the Jews are acting as Nazis, then you know what, everybody is a Nazi in the end. And the guilt that you Jews have either explicitly or implicitly asked us to carry, um, maybe, maybe it’s your turn now, maybe we weren’t really as bad as you made us feel in the post-Holocaust era. So I think there is something of that.

Donniel Hartman:
I want to come in here for a little bit, and I wouldn’t distinguish between two types of criminalizations of Israel. I have an overall approach that when I feel that somebody is doing something evil, I don’t try to explain them in even in a sense I don’t try to understand them because I feel that I don’t want to give legitimacy to evil. I just leave that conversation out. But I do believe that your last point, that somehow we, we walked through history or for too long as, as the righteous victim. And there’s something about Jews abusing their power, just like the way everybody else did, that is self vindicating. For those who had the power. I want to, I want to move this conversation a little bit because that’s, see, part of the criminalization of Israel is saying you are now the criminal. You said we were the criminal, you are now. And it’s my chance. And this is what you’ve done. You are now just like we were. And just like you called and attacked everybody. Um, now I am going to be, your worst critic. I think that there’s another part of the apartheid conversation. And I think people, most people who use the apartheid conversation while they’re using the same word that is associated with South Africa, and there’s dangers to the words you use, I don’t think they’re doing a deep linguistic legal, dive into the category of apartheid and saying, Israel is exactly South Africa. And that’s why when so many Jews come along and say, oh, no, it isn’t, and I want to show you, we don’t have segregated bathrooms. You know, it’s like, you’re missing the point. The problem is the word itself is like a 20 pound hammer. But I feel that a lot of the discourse is meant to be a five pound hammer, where people are looking and are saying something really wrong is going on here. And, you know, I know that Syria and Iran and North Korea are doing much worse, but see, Israel, you were one of us. Not only you were one of us, you were and spoke up others as an exemplar of us, of how a people claims their rights uses their power justly. And you’re the closest in the Western world to apartheid-like stuff. And so I would suggest that there’s these three motivations there. I see three parts. The first is it’s a byproduct of evil, simple evil. Call it antisemitism, or just call it, call it anything it’s just evil. And evil, which discriminates unfairly, judges, And looks to attack somebody. And, you know, we’re, we Jews have been the product of that in Israel. So I think that’s part of the story. The other part of it is that we really, as you said, we really, we were the critics of the world. And, um, we weren’t fully aware of how painful some of that criticism was. And, uh, the moral high ground that we claimed, and the ability to take us off of that pedestal. But I think Yossi, a major part of the discourse today, is a discourse which uses criminalizing language, and that’s why it’s so dangerous, but I don’t think the source of it is criminalization. I think it is looking at Israel as one of the leading Western countries and saying, okay, America, Canada, England, France, Germany, Sweden, all of them, you know, we don’t do this anymore. And you’re still doing something that is profoundly problematic. And I think part of our challenge, part of our challenge is where do we allow that second part of the conversation to have its place here, especially when it is now being put forth by people who used to be our closest friends and members, and are in fact still upstanding members of the Jewish community. And so how do we ourselves, both attack certain parts and say evil separate from, and at the same time, not allow the apartheid language to struck down our need to talk about it because it’s a very, very, it’s, it’s a different conversation. It’s like, what, you know, I know this is not the same, but we both have children. You know, we have kids. How many times can kids tell you? I hate you. I hate you Abba. You’re the worst. Like there is something, there’s a cry this saying, I can’t take this, this is apartheid, you know, and goes to that place. Being able to hold both I think is going to be really, really important.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
I think what we need Donniel is to learn two languages simultaneously on Israel, we need to start learning to speak two languages. The first language is toward those who criminalize us, uh, who would turn us into the symbol of, uh, of evil, which is itself an act of evil. And to those people, I’m not interested in baring my soul. I’m not interested in doing what we call in Hebrew an Al Chet, acts of confession. They’re not my moral partners. They’re not my, my, my conversationalist, I don’t, owe the UN human rights council, anything. And when an Israeli human rights organization like Btzelem takes its case to the UN human rights council. That’s the moment that they become not just irrelevant, but illegitimate in Israel. So that’s one part of the conversation, Donniel, that’s one conversation. To the UN human rights council, my only conversation to you is you are a part of a pattern of a historical pattern that we Jews recognized very well. And we owe you no explanation, no baring of our soul. There’s another conversation that we need to have simultaneously. And that’s where I know you were going.

Donniel Hartman:
Yossi, are you telling me that I’m predictable?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
God forbid, neither of us are predictable.

Donniel Hartman:
I’m innovating, I’m rediscovering myself every moment.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
So, uh, so you know, the, the internal –

Donniel Hartman:
Yossi, the eternal is you’re going to have to learn that for the eternal, even if they use the A words and the R words, et cetera, to look beyond it. There’s going to be words that are going to be used that are conversation stoppers in the past. But if we recognize that there’s something more complicated happening, we’re going to have to make some space for that.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Donniel I’ll make your own point even stronger. I know that there’s no such thing anymore as an internal conversation. In the era of instant media, it’s a fiction. Everything is transparent, which means that any of our internal criticism is going to be used by our critics, by those who are trying to criminalize us. Despite that I have a responsibility to the integrity of Jewish discourse to speak the second language, however it’s going to be used.

Donniel Hartman:
But in fact, Yossi, there is no first language. There’s two discussions you’re claiming. And the first one is silence. The first one says, I owe you no explanation. I have nothing to say to you. I’m walking away from you. And then there’s an inner Jewish conversation, which will also be public in which you talk seriously about what is it that’s bothering people.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
It’s interesting because I think that part of the first conversation is reaching out to the very large numbers of people who are ignorant of most basic realities here. And we need to continue making our case. We can’t stop trying to make our case to those who really don’t know. And so maybe that’s a third category and maybe we need three languages if that’s the case. And yes, the first language is, is silent contempt. The second language is, is call it advocacy, quality defense. And the third language is moral self critique.

Donniel Hartman:
I want to put one idea on the table here, before we take a break and invite Elana to join. There is I believe the difference between moral self critique and embracing moral discourse. I don’t want to victim shame here, or victim blame, but I think we, not to the evil, but to like, as you know, you know, when we know in the Haggadah, in the Passover Haggadah, there’s different children or there’s different people, there’s the one who doesn’t know. I don’t think you’re ever going to make a case in this environment where there’s some fact that you’re going to know. And I’m just going to tell it to you. You now are being swept up by this larger critique of Israel and you just don’t know. And I could just tell you something. I think that is passing. I just think that doesn’t work. I don’t think anybody’s listening. I think that language is mostly a language which the committed speak for themselves. I think part of what we really need to do is that we have to not engage only in moral critique. It’s more complicated than that. Zionism and Israel has to engage again in serious, moral aspirations, first, before you even get into the criticism. Talk the talk, begin to walk some of the walk. For too long now I can tell you close to 10 years, and it could even be from 2005 Israel just, and we’ve gotten into defense mode. So we’re getting our facts and we’re telling everybody who dare criticizes, what you’re getting wrong. But what do we want to be? Forget about critiquing the occupation or whatever, before you even get there, there was a moral high ground that’s that shaped us as we were the critics of the world. You know, Leviticus 19, You shall be holy or Exodus 19, You shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, but who are we? I don’t know if we’re a long time now we stopped talking about our moral standards about our more, not just defending ourselves after we’re bombing. That’s too late, you know, say we fight the most moral war. Okay. But a serious embracing of a moral conversation. I think we got so in love with start-up nation in a shallow way, because as you know, um, as Saul has taught me start-up nation is much more complicated than just technological, but I think we’ve gotten so caught up in our economic power, our, all our success. You know, we didn’t try to be the best of. We’re now like the most successful of, you know, and, and you remember Heschel’s line about Shabbat that one of the most important lessons of Shabbat is that to have more doesn’t mean to be more, I think we stopped talking about what it means to be more when it comes to Israel. And when you don’t talk that way, the evil people are going to get you all the time. But the, the she eino yodeiah lishol, the one who doesn’t know, for those who are troubled, don’t be surprised when they’re going to say, you know, and they’re going to get swept up in a language where they don’t need it to its radical form, but we know that way leads to way. And then what should have been a serious question, saying who are you now? Who aren you? I know who you were when you were David. But when David defeats Goliath, you’re Goliath. Now who are you, you don’t get to be David after that, you can’t. And I think we’ve stopped talking about that. And I think in that environment, it’s too fertile a ground for criminalization language to begin to surface. I want to just leave that on the table and I want to take a short break and then I want to invite Elana to join us.

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Donniel Hartman:
Elana, it’s great to be with you. Yossi and I, we experienced a lot of this, this experience of criminalization from Israel. How are you feeling? Let’s leave aside sources, you’re in the midst of this environment in a way we’re the subject of it, but you’re in the midst of it. How are you feeling?

Elana Stein Hain:
Yeah, so the first thing I want to say is there is a term, a phrase that you, neither of you used. And I think from an American perspective, it is kind of what’s driving this, not, not among antisemites, but among others, which is the suffering of the Palestinians. You know, as Israelis, you’re talking about this as what, you know, what human rights abuses have gone on, but the compelling story here is there’s a group of people who are suffering and we can’t figure out how to end that suffering. And so we’re going to decide who is unilaterally responsible for that suffering. And the circle has been drawn around Israel. And I think part of that is because certainly in terms of boots on the ground. Israel is indeed ruling over Palestinians and there are going to be degradations that come with that by definition. But I think there’s also a reticence to deal with the role that Hamas plays in Palestinian suffering in terms of the acts that it perpetrates against Israeli civilians, but also the kind of education anti-Semitic education that they gave children about becoming martyrs and fighting against Jews, not just Israel, but jews and I think people are reticent to think about the role of Palestinian authorities, whether it’s rejectionism of opportunities or corruption, or just an inability to govern and do something right here. But that’s, it’s not an exciting story. And you can forget about people talking about the actual victimhood of Israelis, all of whom know someone who was killed either in a war or in a terror attack, because that’s not the discourse in the west right now, the discourse in the west, is there a victims and oppressors. And so Israel now looks Israel is the oppressor. And so what I’ll say is, you know, I see among American Jews, you know, my friends, my colleagues, it’s like three responses, right? One is the response that essentially says either there is no occupation or, there are no human rights issues or whatever the human toll is, it’s the Palestinians fault anyway, or anything else would be suicide. And then you have other people who are saying, oh, I’m so happy that Ben and Jerry’s is protesting the occupation. Jews, Right? Because we need to get rid of the occupation. And then you had this third voice, which is so, um, unpopular with everyone, which is, well, actually Palestinians and Israelis were Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Their fates are tied up in each other. So we actually want to raise all ships and we’ve got to figure out how to do that in a partnership kind of way. And I think that’s just not, that’s not, um, fashionable right now in Western discourse and Western thought. And so it’s, it’s either, or you’re on one side or the other, and it like comes from the sense of the world has to be fair and it can be fair and we can figure out what’s going to make fair. And, um, I’m very troubled by it because I just don’t think it’s, I don’t think there’s a willingness to actually consider all the different pieces. And I also know that there’s, as Yossi pointed out, there are nefarious forces at play and that mix, I’m not sure where it’s all going.

Donniel Hartman:
Let’s take apart. Cause there’s two points that I want to stretch out a little bit, in what you said. So the first, um, which was, you know, saying to Donniel and Yossi , you know, you’re trying to work out what are the motivations of the people? One of the motivations is, something’s going wrong here. I think you might’ve forgotten that. And I really appreciate that.

Elana Stein Hain:
And I don’t think you forgot it. I just think

Donniel Hartman:
No no, it was there, this is what’s beautiful about our chavruta together. It’s our, you know, the three of us are together because we find that the end, the totality of all our voices, it’s the bigger picture. And it’s a ritual. And, and I, I appreciate you saying, and you’re right, but there’s something else though, behind it, which I think is an ominous message to a lot of the pro Israel camp. And that is Israel cannot play the victim card anymore. That’s just part of what’s happening. According to your analysis. The first part is that for a long time, who was the victim? Was that clear? Now you just can’t, it’s just, it’s just clear. Now Israel is too successful, too powerful. You know, I use this language again, I’ll be predictable. So I’ll quote myself, you can’t be start-up nation and pathetic nation simultaneously. You just can’t, you can’t speak about all your successes and then, and be victim. And so one of the things you’re saying that I want to, I want to bring Yossi, I want to stay with this because it’s big, Elana. And I think it’s, uh, there isn’t, there’s another victim here and that victim is being seen and is attracting attention and, and moral support. And it’s coming out now more vociferously because who the victim is, is no longer complicated. Israel is too powerful. Now first, before I ask, I want to get to your second point, which is a point where, about a space where, how am I critical or how do I talk about it without falling into criminalization? But do you feel that’s a fair characterization of your first point?

Elana Stein Hain:
I think it’s fair. The only thing I want to clarify is I’m not advocating that that’s right. Meaning that, that is the way it should be. In fact, I actually am very concerned that that’s way too simplistic an understanding, but I do think it’s important to notice, like there are people suffering and there are a lot of parties responsible for that’s suffering. A lot and it’s not just Israel.

Donniel Hartman:
Israelis really see themselves as victims. And part of what you’re saying is that in the larger world, that might be true, in some sense, but it’s just, it’s not a public relations flaw. It’s just not, doesn’t play. Your self image and the way people are willing to see you. And even if it’s not fair, it just is.

Elana Stein Hain:
Right. I had a conversation. I remember with Motti Friedman a few years ago, and we were talking about, you know, Motti’s point of, and he often says this, of we’re, within our own land ,within Israel, we’re the majority, but within the middle east we’re the minority. And I just, I think that’s very hard for people to get. I think it’s hard for people to get, and I don’t think that’s just because of antisemitism. I think that’s because people like narratives where you’d have a good guy and a bad guy. And because Israel, thank God has a lot of strength too.

Donniel Hartman:
You know, it’s not the same. You don’t have the seven Arab countries whose armies are bigger attacking us all the time. So it’s, I almost feel that that Motti narrative is a 30 year old that was felt deeply in the seventies, but starting in the eighties, it just doesn’t, you know, okay, it’s technically numerically correct. But you know, do I really feel alienated and, and attacked by Iraq right now?

Elana Stein Hain:
When I think about like Hezbollah and Iran.

Donniel Hartman:
So I have Iran. I’m not saying, but again, you know what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to still hold on to that. No, I’m the minority. I’m the victim. I’m still the old Jew who you felt sorry for. You still, it’s just, I think part of it is just, it’s not playing anymore. Yossi you think, what do you feel here?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
No, I think, I think there’s something else going on here. Uh, I don’t think that most Israelis want to be the victim. I think that is antithetical to the Israeli ethos. Uh, but we also don’t want to be the ultimate criminal either. And, uh, is there some way in which, in which we can be treated as a country that is under a challenge that is that, that deals with the kinds of threats that very few of any other countries deal with while at the same time being critiqued for unnecessary acts of human rights violations. Now, let me give you an example. Okay. Let’s look at what just happened to us. Uh, we were critiqued really for two, supposedly offenses. One was Sheikh Jarrah, expelling Palestinians from their homes. The other was the war, the fighting in Gaza. For me personally, I don’t feel that Israel has anything to be ashamed of the way we conducted our war in Gaza. Maybe mistakes were made. But I think that the IDF went really the extra mile to try to minimize civilian casualties. We had no choice but to fight that war. To criminalize us because of that war to my mind is to turn any Israeli act of war into a war crime. And it’s basically saying we have no right to defend ourselves. So Sheikh Jarrah on the other hand was completely unnecessary. That was a gratuitous human rights violation. And yes, I know that legally it’s complicated. I, I, I have all the talking points. We all know the talking points, but in other words, what I’m trying to say is that there are certain things that we have no choice given the context of our situation. We have no choice, but to act in ways that other democracies don’t, they don’t have to resort to the kinds of, of strategies that we need to do to keep ourselves safe, but that doesn’t give us license for everything.

Donniel Hartman:
So Yossi, what I would say you is, can we do both?

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Yes, that’s exactly what we need to start doing.

Donniel Hartman:
But I want to say, you want to know something that if we want to do both, we actually have to do both. You can say to the world, give me credit morally for one and critique me for the other one. We ourself, how much moral criticism went on with Sheikh Jarrah. Almost nothing. Part of our challenge here. And I really, you know, with all of our need to defend ourselves and, you know, being upset, this criminalization and all of the above, if you want to make a fine line between where were, our use of power is absolutely necessary and where it’s abusive and to put it to the room, a recognition that we’re not going to have the victim get out of jail card in perpetuity. We

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Donniel, I’m with you.

Donniel Hartman:
I know that. But we ourselves have to make those distinctions. And we ourselves, who do we stand for? We’re not doing that anymore. And then what we’re saying is if I was justified in Gaza, that I’m also justified in Sheikh Jarrah, we’re kind of, you know, how moral I am and, you know, cause you’re all of the above and then comes Elana and says, I want to tell you, there’s a victim here. There’s a perceived victim here. Yes, Elana.

Elana Stein Hain:
I want to jump in here for a second because what I think is really difficult about this is let’s say in this conversation, Israelis who understand what’s going on among American Jews right now, and to also understand what’s going on among Israeli Jews right now you have two different significant others. Meaning what do you do about the fact? You know, when you say Donniel, that Sheikh Jarrah, we don’t have a lot of internal conflict about it within Israel, right? So what do you do about the fact that there are people within Israel who basically say, no, Sheikh Jarrah, it’s, it’s warranted and this is what we should be doing. And we need to take back our land. What do you do with that? And I think that’s part of it also because we, as the Hartman Institute, we think about these things. We so conversation about these things within Israel and within America. But there really is a gap between a lot of the people who are being critical in America. And a lot of the people in Israel who were saying, no, this is actually part of our values to do it this way. So I’m wondering how you experienced that tension.

Donniel Hartman:
So, that’s the story. I don’t want to come to a place. The worst place to be is if our North American friends take on the position of the moral voice and Israelis, and that gap is a gap that just can’t be. A gap experiencing victimhood is different. But when we divide ourselves along those lines, we’re in real real serious trouble. Yossi I have a feeling there was some, one more thing you wanted to say. I don’t want to end without giving you a chance to do that.

Yossi Klein Halevi:
Just that I’m with you about the need for a serious moral Jewish conversation. But at the same time, we have to continue to vigorously defend our story. To explain ourselves one does not negate the other. This is a very complicated moment. It requires multiple strategies. And I’m worried about something that Shimon Peres used to say in the nineties during the Oslo process, he said, we don’t need to explain ourselves. We don’t need to defend the Israeli story. All we need are good policies. And then the second Intifada came along and it all went out the window. We need to, our story, our core story is under assault. We need to defend our story. At the same time, we need to start taking serious moral responsibility for our actions.

Donniel Hartman:
Thank you. For Heaven’s Sake is a a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Tali Cohen. Transcripts of our shows are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs to find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at shalomhartman.org. We want to know what you think about the show. You could rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at, [email protected], subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. Thank you for listening and Yossi and Elana, thank you very very much.