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Dear American Jews, if you love Israel - criticize it
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Cari ebrei americani, se amate Israele, allora criticatela!

Today, your representatives will open your great annual convention, the General Assembly. Between New Orleans' Marriott and Sheraton hotels, you will be sated with lectures and lecturers, panels and discussion groups. Some will be about you, and some will be about us Israelis. Once again, you will hear all the cliches - and Joe Biden, Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, too.

But this year, you will be meeting in the shadow of last week's midterm elections - many of you are surely rejoicing over the president's defeat - and on the eve of fateful decisions.

I read that your menu includes an Israeli breakfast, and also several discussions about the global delegitimization of Israel. Doubtless the speakers will tell you it's because of anti-Semitism.

Don't believe them. There is anti-Semitism in the world, but not to the extent they will tell you. Nor is there any "delegitimization of Israel." There is only delegitimization of Israel's policy of force and occupation.

That same "anti-Semitic" world knew how to embrace Israel when the latter chose the right path - during the Oslo era, for instance. What most of the world has become fed up with is only Israel's ongoing occupation and violent policy. And the responsibility (and blame ) for their existence lies with Israel, not the world. The world is hard on Israel, but it also grants it special rights that no other country enjoys.

If Israel is dear to you - and that is true of most of you - then be honest enough to criticize it as it deserves. Think about your personal friends. What would they value more: your blind, automatic support, or criticism born of love when it is warranted?

Your beloved Israel is addicted. It is addicted to occupation and aggression, and someone has to wean it from these addictions. Like any other junkie, it is incapable of helping itself. Thus the job falls to you.

Some of you know the truth. You want a strong Israel, but know that the settlements only weaken it. You dream about a larger Israel, but know that such an Israel cannot be a just one. You want to be proud of Israel, and you know that in recent years this has become almost impossible.

Think back to last year's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Even your American television stations broadcast atrocity pictures from Gaza. How did you feel then? How did you explain it to your friends? Self-defense? They didn't buy it. Hamas? That didn't justify death and destruction of such horrific proportions.

You live in a black-and-white country. But Israel is neither black nor white. It's not as terrible as it is often painted abroad, but neither is it as righteous as it will be presented to you. Above all, it is a country whose arrogant behavior is making it despised.

And you are paying the price. Nothing in recent years has increased hatred for Israel, and for Jews, more than Cast Lead did. One of your own generals has already said some harsh things about the price America is paying on account of the apple of your eye.

You, dear brothers and sisters, have enormous political power. Sometimes, I think it is too enormous: One day, it will blow up in your faces. But it is possible to use this power for something more than a despicable witch-hunt after every congressman who dares to criticize Israel.

You have the power to influence your government to change Israel's behavior. And a government that does so will not be a government hostile to Israel.

This is your opportunity to influence your humbled president, for whom most of you voted with a divided heart, to pressure Israel to change its ways. This is important to you, and important to us as well.

This president has already wasted two years in the region that most endangers the world's future. As American patriots and as Jews, even as Zionists, you must now encourage him to mobilize for this task.

The town is burning, Jews. Israeli democracy is being torn apart; soon, it will no longer be possible to talk about "the only democracy in the Middle East," as you so love to do. The occupation is also growing both more entrenched and more crushing; already, it is almost impossible to talk abut a two-state solution.

Therefore, as you sit over your Israeli breakfast, this time, for a change, demonstrate real concern for Israel: Criticize it as it deserves.

by Gideon Levy

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