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Israel, Sans Rhetoric

I’m in the midst of the strange experience of having my hopes renewed by The Economist. (Despite our occasionally divergent political ideas—and the fact that I don’t know anything about economics—I covet the magazine’s haughty, intelligent, smartass-in-the-back-of-the-classroom-cracking-comments tone.) This week’s special report focuses on Israel, and if you’re discouraged by the whole matsav, you should really, really take the time to read it.

Why? Because it pretty much fulfills Herzl’s “a nation among the nations” dream, treating Israel’s problems like the problems of any other country. This is unbelievably refreshing, especially if you’re burnt to a crisp on the kind of lunacy provoked by the Ms. Magazine/AJC “scandal.” Here, rhetoric is sidelined and the focus is on such pieces of data as Israel’s “Gini coefficient,” a measure of income inequality, which is currently oneof the highest in the world. (A phenomenon whose effects on the ground were well-explored, by New Voices magazine, which doesn’t get enough credit for their efforts to address Israel honestly from the perspective of young, progressive Jews.) Israel’s famous capacity for small start-ups is hindered by their early sell-offs, which means the capital generated by the final company goes somewhere else. Although the military situation has led to a thriving technologies sector, the global trend towards biotech and alternative energies may leave Israel behind. The Economist, perhaps somewhat obviously, rates Israel’s economic vulnerabilities more vital than its security concerns.

There’s plenty of social and political discussion in these fourteen pages, as well. It would seem that there’s lots to be said about Israel’s
problems from a place of dispassionate observation, and even if I could never pen such work, damn, was it nice to read them. Feeling more
critical of Israel these days, I still have no real interest in engaging with the “Israeli apartheid” crew. Call it intellectual laziness—I’m just
done, and if I’m done, how must this feel for people who’ve been having this conversation for the last 60 years or so?

Would I have loved to see more in there about women, especially in the section about social relations between haredim and secular Jews? Surely, but that’s not The Economist’s beat (although I was very pleased to see a quote from Ruth Calderon, recent Lilith author). But even though The Economist couldn’t care less about feminism, the aforementioned debacle highlighted the continuing use of this supposed “the Left hates Israel” conundrum to sideline those of us who, yup, are progressive, Jewish, in favor of the Jewish state, and critical thinkers. Straight up facts and figures give us cover and a way to have the conversation without the migraine.

If anything, this was a wake-up call that if we can talk about Israel without devolving into rhetoric, there’s lots that can be said. And
reactionaries like myself, whose response to fierce infighting about Israel is to turn up my headphones and turn the page, can get educated on
our own terms.

–Mel Weiss