Paul Pillar

What is Israel-Bashing?

For an example of an approach that is destructive to reason and reasonableness in any discussion having anything to do with Israel, see the recent opinion piece by Jennifer Rubin that dismisses as coming from “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” an open letter addressing the appropriate U.S. posture toward a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of continued Israeli construction of settlements. Read the letter, too, of course, and also see a subsequent comment by Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who initiated the letter. As Clemons points out, nothing in the letter could be construed as bashing or hating Israel; the subject is one specific, particularly damaging Israeli policy and how it should be handled in international diplomacy.

The all-too-common pattern that Rubin's dismissive comment illustrates is the conflation of general, unspecified support or sympathy for Israel with support for specific Israeli policies and practices, while having no regard for the exact nature of the policies and practices involved, their rightness or wrongness, their impact on the prospects for peace, their impact on U.S. interests, or even their impact on Israeli interests. Because the overwhelming majority of Americans, and at least the overwhelming majority of the letter's signatories (myself included), support the security and legitimacy of Israel, the conflation delegitimizes any criticism of specific Israeli policies and practices, however carefully targeted and finely tuned that criticism may be.

Clemons appropriately takes offense at Rubin's characterization, which displays on her part the very sort of lazy, undifferentiated aspersion-casting that she suggests the letter signatories exhibit. I am more saddened by the offense done to constructive and effective policy debate, and even to logic. If the kinds of views contained in the letter constitute Israel-bashing, then any criticism of any aspect of say, the Obama administration's foreign policy should be called U.S.-bashing. The offense to reason is especially strong regarding the issue of Israeli settlement activity, which does absolutely nothing to bolster the security of Israel and in which the United States has no positive interest (only the negative interest of incurring guilt by association). If pointing out what is wrong, damaging to peace, and damaging to U.S. (and even Israeli) interests is not to be accepted as legitimate discourse, then we are likely to see more policies that are wrong, damaging to peace, and damaging to U.S. interests.

Secretary of State Clinton says, in commenting on the U.N. resolution in question, that the issues in dispute between Israelis and Palestinians ought to be settled through negotiations. Exactly. That is why the United States ought to be on the side of condemning, not tacitly condoning, the unilateral creation by one of the parties of facts on the ground in disputed territory. This unilateral action is, as I have discussed earlier, the opposite of settling issues through negotiation.

Rubin unfortunately is probably right that Clinton's remarks presage yet another U.S. veto shielding another Israeli policy from opprobrium in the Security Council. If such a veto is cast, I will criticize it. In the lexicon used by Rubin, I guess that would make me a U.S.-basher.