My Mixed Feelings About Israel/Palestine

I do want to post something at least once a week, but last week I felt it was time to start introducing my musings about certain things that have mattered to me & still matter to me when I think of them.
One general subject, which I’ve summed up in the title of the present post, keeps coming back to me, even nagging at me to at last come out with these things.  I think it comes upon me in waves, sometimes in response to something I read or see on the news (the most recent of these being the spate of news & commentary about “Prisoner X” Ben Zygier & about dual Australian and Israeli citizenship, & also a short article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 130307 by Ruth Pollard, “‘Systematic’ abuse of Palestinian youth”).  & sometimes it comes with an urgency, a want to express, usually accompanied by a feeling of not knowing how to do it or what good it might do anyway…  So last week I started trying different ways of introducing it, & it has taken me a fortnight to prepare this post.

I wonder how many Jews really have very mixed feelings (as I do) about the Israel/Palestine nexus. From what I see & read online & on TV, Jews who publicly express themselves seem to have quite unmixed & unambivalent feelings & views – most of them defending (at least, if not championing) Israel & tacitly accepting or even justifying whatever inhumane action “the Jewish state” commits in the ongoing conflict as regrettable but necessary “collateral damage”, a minority protesting, condemning (if not attacking) Israel for any or all of those.

Foremost among the former are the presidents, chairpersons or spokespersons of national or state Jewish roof-bodies made up of delegates of officially recognized Jewish organizations in that country or state. In Australia these roof-bodies are the federal “Executive Council of Australian Jewry” (ECAJ), and the state Victorian & NSW “Jewish Boards of Deputies”. In the US, where the most important “pro-Israel” lobby in the world is active, there is a more complex network of Jewish roof-bodies. One of these is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which together with another Jewish roof-body, has set up the Israel Action Network to protect Israel’s “right to exist as a sovereign democratic Jewish state“. The JCPA honestly characterizes itself as “the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community”.

But I suspect that today most Jews in any country (& especially in the more “developed” “First World” and “Second World” countries), are (like myself) not “organized”, & do not belong to or identify with any of the official Jewish organizations. I also feel that all the Jews in any country do not really constitute a “community” in any real or physical sense, though I think there is certainly such a thing as Jewish “community feeling”, even when it goes little further than feeling something in common with other Jews. That feeling may also extend to feelings about Israel. After all, Israel is so often referred to, not only by Zionists but also by the media at large, as “the Jewish state”, and Zionists even call Israel “the state of the Jewish people”.

I also suspect that all those who do publicly express themselves unambivalently do actually also have very mixed feelings, but that they keep the feelings that conflict with their chosen position  to themselves (or suppress them in themselves) for fear of one kind or another (or several).

Anyhow, I have very mixed feelings about the whole complex Israel/Palestine nexus, & also some understandings that I sometimes think & feel are important, & I want to try to express them (over time) in this blog.

My own case is not a typical one, I know. I lived in Israel for more than half of my 76+ years, as a dual citizen. I married my Israeli-born wife Nitza there, we raised our three sons there, we all had occasional (& sometimes close) contacts with the families of Nitza’s sister & cousins, & also had not a few friends & many acquaintances there. While living in Israel I lived as an Israeli citizen: I worked (for many years as an untenured university lecturer on English & American Literature, & for even more years as a translator of art-critical, scholarly & literary writings from Israeli-Hebrew to English & paid income tax & “national insurance” (social security) levies; I voted in elections, served in the army reserves, participated in demonstrations against the Occupation. Nitza & I left Israel for good almost 12 years ago, primarily because we now had a grandson, Emmanuel, in Australia, born to our eldest son Jonathan & his Israeli-born wife Ora, & our youngest son Zohar was also living in Australia, but also because we both wanted to live here now. & I was glad to leave Israel, even though I loved so much about living there, because I wanted to no longer feel complicit in any way in so much that I opposed, and felt (and I still feel) that Israel’s wars are not my wars. Another important reason why we came back here was because we could, because we were & are Australian citizens.

& we’re still living here, as Australian citizens – & as immigrants (I can think of myself as a second-time immigrant: the first time I immigrated was with my mother in 1946) – & like  many first- & second- generation immigrant families, we (Nitza & I & our three sons & two Israeli-born daughters-in-law) are all bilingual – & on an everyday basis. We speak to each other in a mixture of  Israeli-Hebrew & English, sometimes even switching languages in mid-sentence. Our middle son Ohav lives in Israel but visits us for about a month every year, & when he’s not here we often skype, sometimes en famille.  I still do some translation work & continue to conduct email conversations with clients in Israel. I still have very warm feelings for friends & acquaintances in Israel, even if I don’t keep up contact except perhaps rarely with some on facebook; Nitza has skype & email contacts with close friends in Israel; she reads news & articles in Haaretz & Maariv & Ynet online every day & keeps me posted on many things; I feel & think much & often about the situation there & the issues surrounding it. & we also have the same, if much more occasional and random, bilingual contact with quite a number of immigrants from Israel now resident in the Byron Shire, individuals & families generally of our sons’ generation or younger, who have also chosen to live here rather than there… (I’ve heard it said that the two largest groups of immigrants in the shire are from Germany and from Israel – and by the conversations in Israeli-Hebrew or German I sometimes overhear in passing on the street or in a shop I think it’s probably true).

When I first came to Israel, in 1959, I was an idealist who believed in Zionism & had come to Israel to help to “rebuild the Jewish homeland” (which, as a believer in the Borochovian Socialist Zionism of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, I thought of as a necessary condition for effective participation by Jews in the world socialist revolution). Had I been told then that I could do this only if I gave up my Australian citizenship, I think I would have done it. But I wasn’t, & I was happy to keep my Australian citizenship, an Australian passport would be better to have when entering other countries or visiting Australia again. It wasn’t until 1967, after the Six-Day War & the occupation of Palestinian territories that followed it, that I started having second thoughts about Zionism, & also to feel glad I hadn’t given up my Australian citizenship. Nitza & I were living in Melbourne then: we’d come to visit my mother  in 1965, not intending to stay, but we stayed four & a half years, during which time Jonathan was born, my mother died, I “turned on” & “tuned in” (a subject for some later memoirings & posts), & I might well have stayed here then had Nitza not decided to go back to Israel because she didn’t feel secure with the “tuned in” me in Oz & also wanted Jonathan to have the same kind of childhood that she’d had (as if that were possible).

When I left Melbourne again in 1969 to go back to Israel, it was not as a Zionist, it was to be with Nitza & Jonathan. For the next few decades I lived there as a citizen who loved many things about the country & the culture & lots of people but had increasingly strong feelings about policies & practices pursued by successive governments of the country & the occupied territories. Many of the Israelis I mixed with had similar feelings. There were then (& there still are) not a few other Israelis who publicly objected to & opposed those policies & practices. I read or heard or saw some of these in the media, encountered many of them at demonstrations, & felt with them the increasing general frustration & sense of inability to do anything real about these things or to affect the views of the majorities that elected these governments. Like so many other Tel-Avivians I knew, we lived our life there in a bubble that essentially closed us away from matters that did not directly impact on our everyday lives (although, like them, we would often find ourselves putting our lives on pause to watch “breaking news” reports of terrorist actions, reprisals, wars, & “critical” political developments). The “everyday life” of this Tel-Aviv “bubble”, I should add, also incorporated a rich, vibrant & diverse cultural, social & economic life, replete with media, literature, cinema, theater, music, museums, art galleries (with access to both the latest & the best in Israeli-Hebrew and international cultural creation), sport, restaurants, cafes, etc., etc.  & there was much to love (& much that I loved & still love) about Israeli-Hebrew cultural creation & people involved in it.

I’m glad we came back to Australia, glad to be living here without the pressures of life in Israel, glad to be no longer paying taxes to a regime of occupation that I opposed. I’m glad to be a resident & citizen in a  country where race, ethnicity or religion no longer legally constitute factors determining whether one can immigrate & become, & then be, an equal citizen, in a country that is progressing more and more (if not always rapidly or consistently) towards equal civil rights for all, irrespective not only of race, ethnicity & religion, but also of gender & sexual orientation.  I think “progressing” is the right word: Australia has come a long way since, say, 1933 (see, for example, Jewish Immigration After WW2 & History of the Jews in Australia) & especially since the scrapping of the White Australia Policy – & there’s still a long way to go, & there are people saying so, and ongoing public discussion of critical issues (see, on the issue of asylum seekers for example, Malcolm Fraser’s article in the SMH of 130304, and a 120817 opinion piece by Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia). 

I’m still technically a dual citizen, but I’ve only kept my Israeli passport for the few brief visits I may make there, you get out of the airport quicker.

So: my mixed feelings may not be quite the same as those of many other Jews who have mixed feelings, & I suspect that some of what I feel stems from those emotions in me that drew me to socialism in my youth, but I imagine that in essence many Jews are torn between conflicting feelings of love & antipathy, pride & shame, hope & fear for & about much that is done in Israel/Palestine, by or to Israelis, by or to Palestinians, & for & about much that is connected to what I’m calling the  whole complex Israel/Palestine nexus.

I love & care about much about Israel — people, places, landscapes, atmospheres, smells, tastes… I feel for the many Jewish Israelis who live there not because they chose the Zionist idea but because they were born there, & Israel is the only homeland they have. Many of them may even not be Zionists in their thinking, though all have been conditioned to some degree by the state’s education system & by the general consensus. & many may accept Zionism, but cannot think of its xenophobic implications or consequences. I do not want harm to happen to any of them, I feel they are in a tragic bind.

But I also have feelings about what the State of Israel does, & how that affects both the perpetrators & the victims, & I have feelings for & about the Palestinians, for people I don’t know who were born in pre-Israel Palestine or after the Naqba, to become either not-quite-equal citizens of the “sovereign democratic Jewish state” or denizens of refugee camps outside it, most of them under Israeli occupation since 1967, & who also have no other homeland, whose situation cannot be  humanely disregarded even though the resistance of their militants to the occupation resorts to acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians.

& I have problems not only with the occupation, but also with the contradictions inherent in the notion of a “sovereign democratic Jewish state”, with the Zionist representation of Israel as “the state of the Jewish people”, with the widespread practice of the general media of referring to Israel as “the Jewish state” – & also, I think, with the idea that there can be a viable & lasting “two-state solution”.

I hope to take these matters up further in later posts, but will welcome comments  at this stage too.

8 thoughts on “My Mixed Feelings About Israel/Palestine

  1. Hi Richard,
    I sympathise with your dilemma. Ironically I keep coming back to the Germans who opposed Nazism, like Marlena Deitrich, who had family and friends in Germany but couldn’t abide the regime and opposed it in the way that you have done. In her case she took up arms against Germany as did other German anti-Nazis. Political exile seems to involve ambiguity about the nation or state of origin; but states cross the line where, despite origins, attachments and imaginings, moral people cannot go. It is a difficult time for Jews who imagine a J. past and future that is both particular and universal.


    • Hi Martin. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I don’t see myself taking up arms against Israel. I too think these are difficult times for Jews who feel, & yes, let’s say imagine, some sort of not-easily-definable & perhaps-somehow-meaningful connection with Jews past, present & future. Perhaps I’m naive to think things might be made a bit easier if (for starters) it could be made more obvious to Jews, to Jewish Israelis, and to the world in general, that the elected government of Israel represents only the citizens of the State of Israel, not the millions of Jews in the world who don’t vote in those elections, & therefore has no legitimate right to speak in the name of “the Jewish people”, or (in a forthcoming bill — the chutzpah of it!), to call their country “the State of the Jewish People”. But the dilemma goes deeper — & this is already matter for my next post/s…


    • Thanks for this response Lenny, & for your question, which now gives me a focus for my next post, & I’ll try to answer it there. & I’m leaving the IAJV link you suggested here so readers can check out the site.


  2. Contradictions and dilemmas: identity/identities, singular and plural, was it not ever so? You eloquently and lucidly outline issues that many of us grapple with, try to rationalise, even attempt to make sense of. I await your next post. Positively. peter w


  3. Hey Richard and Hi Nitza

    It has been over 49 years since Rosh Pina but the beat goes on. I travel to Israel mainly to see family most years and the contradictions are stark. Did you read My Promised Land by Shavit ( from memory ) a retelling of Israeli history with some of the Zionist myths exploded? No easy answers though and I think comparisons to Nazi Germany fatuous and easy – I spoke with some Palestinians working in Jerusalem and though not representative at all, these two brothers were appalled at the corruption of their side so if you asked them where they wanted to live …. Btw I alerted Bernard Rechter in Melbourne and Howard Adelman in Queens, CanDa of your site.


    • Thanks Bob for your comment. I’m slowly starting to revive this blog & glad to see you’re receiving it. I haven’t read Ari Shavit’s book yet but hope to get to it soon (I’m doing many things more slowly these days). I agree with you totally that comparisons with Nazi Germany are fatuous – when people who object indignantly about injustices are drawn into such rhetoric i think they actually discredit whatever may be true in their statements… & thanks for alerting Bernie, I have warm & fond memories of him; but i can’t remember ever meeting Howard Adelman…


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