DOES BIBI DEFINE JEWISHNESS?

Among Jews, a subtext of many debates about Israeli/Palestinian politics is the question of who gets to define Jewishness. Is it believers and militarists who believe that "Greater Israel" really is land "promised" to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac? Or humanists who take pride in Jews' diaspora history as "rootless cosmopolitans?" Who is more "in touch" with their Jewishness -- a secular Israeli or a practicing American? A peacenik, a kibbutznik, or a hawk?

Of course, like most debates over legitimacy and authenticity, these questions are reductive, silencing, and actually prevent people from understanding one another. The starting point for a political discussion on settlements, for example, or Palestinian statehood, should not be a definition of "appropriate" Jewishness. Why? Because fixating on that question, as Phil Weiss has written, makes it easier to elide the fact that the group of people primarily suffering right now -- and primarily culturally threatened -- are not Jews, but Palestinians.

That's not to say we shouldn't make political arguments informed by our own understanding of Jewish values -- and do so proudly and assertively. I've done so myself. But the bottom line is that those who seek to police other people's Jewishness betray an ideological rigidity that is completely unhelpful in the current political moment. That's why it's disturbing that a columnist for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, is reporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly calls Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod "self-hating Jews" -- because they support their boss' position on a settlement freeze. Barak Ravid writes:

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication [sic] normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama's senior aides: as "self-hating Jews."

It is patently absurd to claim that a Jew who supports a modicum of human rights for Palestinians must "hate" himself. This is an old and potent insult within the Jewish community. American Jews, who overwhelmingly support President Obama, will not take kindly to these words. Bibi's attitude is completely self-defeating.

--Dana Goldstein

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