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Do Israel’s critics help?

Israel’s recent decision to prevent a visit to Israel by US Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who share a history of antisemitic and anti-Israel bias, has raised righteous indignation. Churning out press releases are the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations that rushed to speak out against the decision. But did they pause and think to ask: Is this the best strategy?

Personally, I believe that while these women’s ideas and rhetoric are reprehensible, banning them from Israel gave the situation more publicity and produced a PR headache for the Jewish state. And really, why not let them in? We can handle their criticism.

Even if that is correct, organizations still need to ask: Is denouncing Israel’s actions helping or adding fuel to the fire? Some will argue that American Jews have a responsibility to protest and speak out against an affront to members of Congress.

However there may be deeper issues at play. Some American Jews have a fantasy of what they think Israel should be – a democratic, righteous, humanitarian and progressive beacon of light in the Middle East. So when Israel doesn’t live up to the kind, considerate and peace-making image American Jews have, and takes a strong stance to protect itself, it can be hard to accept. Daily it fends off attacks – physical, financial and verbal. Israel can’t afford to absorb every blow. It has to fight back on all fronts and maintain a tough stance, even at the cost of looking intolerant and unaccepting.

Moreover, many Jewish organizations, in the quest to stay relevant and legitimate, rush to make statements and assure their members that they are noble and courageous for speaking out against something that makes us feel uncomfortable and, of course add: “Please support our valiant efforts.”

But even if Israel didn’t make the best decision this time, criticism of a legitimate and reasonable action it took to defend itself might embolden those looking to undermine the country. Those with malicious intentions have already seized on the push-back and are using it to support their causes, which are clearly not in Israel’s best interest. Omar has called for suspending American aid to Israel. Her comrade Tlaib is labeling Israel the next South Africa. There is no question they feel emboldened by the righteous indignation of American Jewish organizations, which felt it imperative to issue public statements condemning Israel’s decision.

There is room to disagree about the correctness of Israel’s choice, but not for condemning Israel for a legitimate response to people who are seeking its destruction.

As every rabbi knows, there are all kinds of critics in shul. You have the kvetchers who always have something to complain about: like if you – God forbid – serve a savory noodle kugel instead of a sweet version. When they criticize the pace of your prayers and your recipe for cholent, you learn to take their kvetching with a grain of salt.

And then you have the people who genuinely care and want to help. They’re the ones who will come up to you privately and quietly to suggest that you cut down a little of your sermon, “if that’s at all a possibility.” These are the people who tend to influence your decisions.
The kvetchers make a lot of noise, but the second group makes progress.

Too many American Jewish groups have become the resident kvetchers. They don’t help create real change, they just want their indignation known and echoed in the media. They often lap up anything fitting the anti-Israel narrative in order to preserve their human-rights advocate image and maintain relevance to their constituents. If they really want to affect change and have actual influence, it may be wise for them to hold back their public criticism, measure their words and share them in a private settings with people who can do something about it, rather than rile up the masses and boost the agenda of antisemites. That may not help them in their fund-raising efforts, but it will be far more effective in promoting the welfare of Israel and the Jewish people.

The writer is president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County, California.

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