What right do American Jews have to criticize Israel?
Some say that while American and Israeli Jews have a special kinship, American Jews simply cannot understand what it is like to live in Israel and know the threats and fears of an Israeli. They question whether American Jews have a right to tell Israelis what to do.
What We Say:
Historically, Jews around the world have been partners with Israelis in building and maintaining the Jewish homeland. The relationship between Israel and the world’s Jews is unique. As former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon once said: “Israel is not only an Israeli project. Israel is a Jewish, worldwide project.”
We recognize that Israel’s citizens must make the decisions about the country’s policies and direction. Only the Israeli people know what it is truly like to live under constant threat from terrorism, rocket attacks and frequent incitement to violence against them. It is the Israeli people alone who choose Israel’s leaders, and it is Israel’s leaders who decide when and how Israel should act.
However, as conscientious Americans committed to Israel’s future, we have a civic duty to be involved in the US policy-making process. As members of the Jewish people, we have a right and obligation to be honest about the circumstances in which Israel now finds itself. J Street is continuing in that proud tradition. Israelis have to make their own choices; as friends and family, we are offering our perspective and our advice out of love.
Facts and Figures:
A majority of Israelis support the right of Diaspora Jews to freely and publicly criticize Israel, according to polls by the Anti-Defamation League and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Anti-Defamation League, 6/15/2012, Haaretz, 3/20/2007.
A 2012 poll of American Jewish voters found that less than a third are bothered when American Jews publicly disagree with Israeli government policy. GBA Strategies, 11/6/2012
Mainstream American Jewish organizations have become more willing to constructively criticize Israeli policies as a means to help Israel grow and strengthen its Jewish democracy. JTA, 1/11/2011
Los Angeles Rabbi John Rosove explained why he and hundreds of American rabbis believe it their duty to speak out against Israeli government policies that they believe endanger Israel’s founding principles. Huffington Post, 12/26/2012
Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston declared that “American Jews are tiring of being told that opposing Israel's policies puts Israelis in danger.” If they think Israeli policies are “self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop.” Haaretz, 1/1/2013
American-Israeli writer Emily Hauser examined the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews, stressing that “Israel really can’t have it both ways—the Jewish State really can’t tell us that it’s our near-religious duty to love it, and then tell us that we don’t get to have any say in how its future plays out.” Open Zion, 12/7/2012
Florida Rabbi Bruce Warshal used the biblical story of the prophet Amos to advocate for constructive criticism of Israeli policies. He explained that “the Book of Amos teaches us that it is easy to criticize the enemy, but very difficult to critique one's own people…Amos is revered simply because he loved Israel enough to confront its failings.” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/18/2011
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi debated the right of Diaspora Jews to criticize Israeli policies, particularly in time of war. New York Jewish Week, 11/20/2012