07/21/2011 12:40 EDT | Updated 09/20/2011 05:12 EDT

Israel Is Pushing Me Away


I love Israel. But it's not always easy.

The Palestinian issue is one thing. Denial of their rights can always be manipulated by cries of security. But when the Israeli right targets its intolerance towards fellow Israelis, its quest for supremacy is taken to a whole new level. The Crucible against progressive Zionism that already exists in large tracts of the Diaspora has now arrived in Israel.

One of the standard-issue talking points in defence of Israel in the face of Arab tyranny has been that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the guarantor of rights for gays, women, African labourers and other second-class minorities in the Arab and Muslim world.

Israel's Knesset has just passed a Boycott Law. It is now a civil offence to organize or endorse a boycott of Israel, including the settlements. Even the normally staunchly "pro-Israel" Anti-Defamation League issued a statement in condemnation of the bill's passage.

Democratic values are not supposed to be fickle, subject to the whims of a majority. They are meant to withstand the test of time. It was Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court of Israel, who said that when fighting terror, a democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back, restricting the means so as to not subvert the values it fights for.

And we're not even talking about bombs on buses.

Now the actors who refuse to perform at a theatre in a West Bank settlement can be sued. So can the restaurant owner who won't buy his produce from land he considers occupied, as can the woman who urges her congregation not to follow the teachings of settler rabbis she considers racist.

This is an assault on freedom of thought and freedom of speech -- two values so crucial to the life and vitality of a democracy without which society ceases to function. When a Parliament feels it can just silence its critics in flagrant disregard of these values the foundation of democracy is weakened.

Democracy doesn't silence criticism; it welcomes it.

The Boycott Bill is not a moral victory for those who espouse Israel's cause; it is a setback. It is not a sign of strength over Israel's critics; it is a sign of weakness. Silence! We don't want to hear it anymore. Discussion over.

What are we becoming when we cannot tolerate criticism? I don't like the settlements. I don't like what they've done to the country I love. If given the choice between a product produced in Tel Aviv and one in Ariel, not only will I choose the one from Tel Aviv, but I'll encourage my friends to do the same. You want to sue me over this? This is a civil offence in Israel?

Two Jews, three views is over and done with. It's now 13 million Jews and one view.

We're better than this. We are the nation of Hillel and Shamai -- two scholars whose disagreements are legendary, and of a Talmud that has how many differing opinions on one page? So this time it hurts; I know it stings. I know because it doesn't just hurt those who've imposed this law. It hurts those of us on the other end just as much, if not more, that this is what it has become.

Do you think it's easy for me that I find aspects of Israeli government policy and Israeli society irreconcilable with my belief in liberalism and human rights? That I enjoy writing this?

This isn't easy for anyone. But silencing one side only gives the illusion that it has gotten easier. Democracy is a challenge, often frustrating.

I've heard people suggest that we do more than just boycott the Palestinians, and that we do more than boycott Jews who share some of my opinions. But I'm not suing them.

I really do love Israel. I love the solemnity of Jerusalem and the vibrancy of Tel Aviv. I love the mysticism of Safed and the beaches of Eilat. I love the food, the culture, the pride and how Israelis talk with their hands when they get animated. Most of all, I love the idea that is Israel and what it's given birth to, and that I feel at home there.

But I don't love the settlements or the occupation. And if I could boycott them I would. So sue me.