When is it legitimate
criticism of Israel?
Photo by Kristoffe r Gillette
When is it anti-Semitism?
Richard Lobenthal: Ground rules.
ymie Cutler wants the facts. `Tm an
engineer and I believe in facts," he
says. "If I've done something wrong,
I want to know about it."
When critics of Israel do some-
thing wrong, like misrepresent the
facts, Mr. Cutler wants them to
know about it, too.
He speaks fervently at meetings and often sends
letters to newspapers. The director of the Michigan
Committee for a Safe Israel, he writes a newsletter
filled with fire ("Abba Eban and Yitzhak Rabin are
wrong, terribly wrong" in supporting the peace treaty.)
and exclamation points ("Jews do not have to risk sui-
cide to achieve peace!") and "Amens" (Let Israel keep
the territories and the Palestinians settle in their real
homeland, Jordan, he says. "That will be an honest,
blessed peace — a humane and just end of the conflict.
Once the facts are in order, though, Hymie Cutler
wants to talk.
"I was the one who started the De-
troit Zionist Federation forums," he
says. "I would go to the leaders of the
Labor Zionists and ask them to come
speak. I would pick the most contro-
versial subject of the month and have.
a forum on it."
Not a few are skeptical. Over a cup
of coffee in Royal Oak, Ron Aronson
shakes his head in that, "Oh, I know
all about him" way when Mr. Cutler's
name is mentioned.
A member of New Jewish Agenda, Professor Aron-
son has a very different set of facts when it comes to
Like Mr. Cutler's newsletter, Professor Aronson's
conversation is dotted with invectives ("Israel is the
only country where you're issued an ID card show-
ing your religion. As an American, I find that incred-
ible.") and exclamation points ("I'11 tell you what gives
fuel to the anti-Semites: the way Israel suppresses and
dominates the Palestinians under its rule!").
As little as 25 years ago, it was hard to find a single
critic of Israel. Who — gentile or Jew — wanted to
chastise a fledgling state struggling for its very exis-
tence? Who wanted to castigate a small democratic
country surrounded by tyrannical foes whose land,
armies, populations were hundreds of times larger?
Today, the word is not can you criticize Israel, but
how far can you go?
Ron Aronson is among those who believe criticism
— his own is often harsh and uncompromising — is
essential. He has been a member of New Jewish
Agenda, a left-wing Jewish group that years ago called
for dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organiza-
tion, "as long as it goes back."
Since Israel's establishment, "efforts have been made
by people in the Jewish community to suppress criti-
cism of Israel by labeling that criticism anti-
Semitic," he says.
"There is hostility to Israel out there, but by-and-
large the criticism is not based on anti-Semitism,"
he says. "Most of it is motivated by a sincere concern
for Jewish values and Israel's security."
Moti Nissani agrees. A colleague of Professor Aron-
son's in the interdisciplinary studies department at
Wayne State University, Professor Nissani left Israel
20 years ago.
He had been called to reserve duty and stationed in
Gaza. He couldn't help but wonder, as he considered
the Palestinians he saw each day, "How would I feel
if I were in their shoes?"
He watched an Israel "drunk with power" from its
victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was an Israel
that refused to make peace though the time was ripe,
Professor Nissani says. With the option of continuing
to serve in the army, or going to jail, or running away,
Moti Nissani left for the United States.
Today, he says he strives for balance when speak-
ing about Israel, and demands it when speaking to
"When I talk to Palestinians, I say, 'Yes, Deir Yassin
(an Arab village raided by the Irgun) was terrible, but
I seem to remember there were Arab massacres of