Last Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to Canada announced he was resigning over differences with the new government back home.
Ronen Hoffman has served only about a year in the role. He was appointed by the last government and, before that, had been a Yesh Atid party member of the Knesset under the leadership of former prime minister Yair Lapid. So, Hoffman was a political appointee, which makes his resignation significant but not the bombshell it would have been had he been a career diplomat.
Nevertheless, this was perhaps the most conspicuous example in Canada of ripples of response to what media around the world have taken to calling Israel’s “most right-wing government ever,” which was sworn into office under the once-and-then-again-and-now-again Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Dec. 29.
Having alienated, via policies or personality, a great number of potential allies on the centre and right, Netanyahu cobbled together a parliamentary coalition that includes some of the most extremist voices in Israeli society. As we mentioned in this space last issue, some of the approaches the new government seems bent on are not merely matters of policy but structural tampering with the fundamental tenets of Israeli democracy, including the courts, definitional foundations of citizenship, possible assaults on LGBTQ+ rights, as well as what appears to be a new bull-in-the-china-shop approach to governance and settlements in the West Bank.
In this issue of the paper alone, two separate Canadian organizations express concern about the impacts that perceptions of the new government in Israel will have on their work here.
Some Diaspora voices have been saying that this is the time for overseas allies to express in whatever ways possible to their Israeli counterparts, family and friends the impacts that certain policy approaches there will have on Jewish people here, and on relations between Jews in both places.
There is no doubt that the people who have made a cottage industry of attacking Israel in the past will continue to do so, using as fuel any evidence that the state of Israel is abandoning its commitments to human equality, democracy and pluralism. Haters gonna hate.
But there is another possibility, a conceivable glimmer of light shining through the cracks of Israeli-Diaspora relations.
There has always been a rhetorical disconnect between “anti-Zionism,” which by definition seeks the elimination of the Jewish state, and “criticism of Israel” or “criticism of particular policies,” which tends to be more nuanced. There has also been a casual accusation that pro-Israel voices are “uncritical” in their support for Israel, that there is a tendency to turn a blind eye toward things taking place in Israel that deserve condemnation.
Recent developments put these various positions in stark contrast.
There are now many issues and policies that probably the vast majority of Jews outside Israel (as well as inside Israel, as enormous protests in recent days have shown) find disagreeable, even abhorrent. For those who support Israel’s right to exist and for those who don’t, these issues and policies present an opportunity.
It is now especially necessary for supporters of Israel and allies to be absolutely clear that it is possible and reasonable to be emphatically, unequivocally supportive of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the form of the state of Israel while at the same time pointing at very specific policies with which we disagree vehemently.
There has often been far too much vagueness in this discussion, allowing people with unreasonable positions to appear reasonable, to allow people who would like to see Israel wiped off the map claim they are only criticizing “policy.” On the flip side, while there has always been a vibrant discourse among Diaspora Jews on events in Israel, critics have somehow been able to ignore that vibrancy and claim a monolithic Zionist hegemony of ideas. (This is, ironically, a conspiracy theory masquerading as a conspiracy theory.)
As this Israeli government proceeds with its agenda, and recognizing that Israeli voters have the final say, overseas Jews who for generations have supported and helped build the Jewish state have a right to express our opinions. We also have an obligation to be specific. There has perhaps never been a time when it has been easier to be clear: Israel has a right to exist. But efforts to chip away at the foundations of Israel’s judiciary, human rights and citizenship definitions are unacceptable, and it is right for Israelis and their overseas allies to say so in our loudest voices. Criticizing policies and being steadfast defenders of Israel have never been contradictory impulses. Now, more than ever, these are our obligations.