The Israeli left adheres to Jewish values just as much as the right

published: 11.3.2014 

Equating Israel's political left with Jewish self-hatred is wrong but not totally new. Being called a "lefty" has become a pejorative expression, used in some circles to describe all those who differ from the consensus about Israel's policies. This is precisely what Shraga Blum (http://www.i24news.tv/en/opinion/140309-anti-semites-detest-servile-jews-more-than-jews-who-stand-up-and-fight) does in his article, accusing the left of inviting and supporting boycotts and other anti-Israel measures simply in order to please anti-Semites.

I belong to Israel's left and am proud of it. I belong to the left because I believe in human rights and in a society based on human solidarity. Those, I believe, are Jewish values, as well. I have chosen to live in this country and defend it because I believe in the Jewish people's right to have a homeland. By the same token, I also believe in another people's right, the Palestinians, to dignity and self-determination. Those, I believe, are also Jewish values.

Being sensitive to other people's sufferings, not only our own, is also part of our heritage – going back at least to the Bible ("love thy neighbor as thyself) and subsequently to prominent Jewish scholars.

Unfortunately, many Israeli Jews have chosen to ignore this edict.

I do not need to read Shraga Blum's slanted and rather selective choice of episodes in our history to understand the Jewish people. I would rather highlight the story of Dona Gracia Nasi, a wealthy Renaissance era Jewish woman who used her social standing and money to smuggle hundreds of Jews out of Spain and Portugal in order to save them from the Inquisition.

Contrary to what Blum and many others contend, when renowned, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy reports about the suffering we inflict on the Palestinians, this is not self-hatred. He is merely holding a mirror to our face and what we see does not correspond to the values that Judaism teaches us. Gideon Levy's lonely voice is telling us what needs to be changed. It should be a wake-up call for those who still believe that our occupation of another people is good and benign.

Our occupation of the Palestinians and their lands has now lasted 47 years. Even a right-wing Prime Minister like Ariel Sharon understood that it must come to an end. Sharon and others of his political camp understood that precisely because the gap between us and our neighbors is difficult to bridge, we cannot do it alone and we need outside help.

Believing that the international community can help cannot be presented, as Blum does, as some sort of subversive activity. It is preposterous to describe it as a call for outsiders to apply pressure on Israel or intervene in its internal affairs.

There are, no doubt, extremist groups in Israel and abroad who would encourage boycotts of Israel. They do so because they believe that Israel's leaders only "understand" political and economic pressure. But Blum conveniently ignores right-wing groups in Israel who conducted a boycott campaign against academic freedom of speech. He overlooks groups of right-wing politicians who for years have been tabling Knesset bill proposals banning financial support by foreign governments and foundations for Israeli human rights groups in order to silence them and put an end to their activities.

Why, one may ask, are such activities more legitimate than those of left-wing Israelis who seek to protect minorities and prevent human rights abuse? By what standards are donations to right-wing Israeli causes by Evangelical church groups, who would not mind seeing us fight the Arabs down to the last drop of our blood, more acceptable and preferable to donations given to organizations that promote peace?

Boycotts are tools of weak people. They often hurt innocent people, and as such they should be condemned. But stigmatizing the left in Israel, lock, stock and barrel, and accusing it of playing up to anti-Semites, is equally wrong and should be condemned.

Colette Avital is a former Israeli ambassador and former member of Knesset for the Labor Party.

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