Mainstream Jewish organizations are often accused of squashing a vigorous debate on Israel. And it is too often true that supporters of Israel who object to certain Israeli policies and would like to see a more robust and creative push for peace are often marginalized or ostracized for representing an alternative viewpoint.
But to encourage an open debate about Israel’s future is not to endorse every viewpoint, nor to assert that anything that can be said about Israel should be said, or that all ideas deserve respect.
The New York Times is not a Jewish organization (no matter what its pro-Palestinian critics think), but its opinion pages in recent months have sought to widen the debate over Israel in ways that strike us as unhelpful. We welcome dialogue, but not from voices that seem to deny all hope and legitimacy to one or the other side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These writers are mirror images of one another — the Jew who denies the validity of Arab aspirations, the Palestinian who denies the very legitimacy of Israel.
And there is Max Blumenthal, an American Jew who denies the legitimacy of Israel and views it only as a “Goliath” state born in sin. In an on-line debate with other contributors to the Times, Blumenthal distorts the history of Israel to belittle Israel’s democratic aspirations and erase the distinctions between its Left and Right. According to Blumenthal’s formula, Israel is a priori a “racist” state, its democratic tendencies a mere cover for its “sectarian Jewish identity.”
Perhaps the Times picked Blumenthal to “balance” a contribution from Caroline Glick, an American-born Israeli with her own extreme views on Israel, including a “one-state” vision that means annexing the territories and letting its Arab residents apply for citizenship. But even a member of the PLO who contributes to the debate allows for the possibility of two states. Writers like Blumenthal seem less interested in the rights of Palestinians or in solving the real-world conflict than they do in the abstract delegitimization of Israel. That is not a formula for dialogue, but perpetual conflict, and does not deserve a place at the table.