As an American Jew, I do not bear the day-to-day security challenges that accompany Israeli life. I did not grow up in the shadow of the Intifada nor did I have to leave home at 18 to serve in the army. I do not pay taxes nor do I vote in Israeli elections. For these reasons, speaking on behalf of Israel has always seemed hypocritical to me.
To some, this perspective was not as clear. Israel has always been considered the eternal homeland of the Jews. Under the Law of Return “Every Jew has a right to come to this country (Israel) as an Oleh (a new immigrant).” Many believe that because Israel is their real home - and under this law they can return at any time - they therefore have a right to speak on its behalf.
However, three recent events have pushed me to reconsider my previous position. Last week, I attended a J Street event entitled, Who Speaks for Me? Israel and America in the 21st Century. During this conversation, J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami argued that because Israel is a state that represents all Jews - regardless of whether or not they reside in Israel - Diaspora Jews have a right to express their opinions.
This alone would not have swayed my perception. It was a conversation I had directly after that which most influenced me. A Muslim colleague - who had been present at the event - was quick to point out that, as an American Jew, I am associated with the actions that Israel undertakes. Within the international community, there is only a small distinction between an American Jew and an Israeli. I am also directly affected by the actions that Israel initiates.
In the aftermath of the flotilla incident, this point proved true. A Christian colleague of mine, who has always been a strong supporter of Israel, felt it his duty to announce to me that he was no longer able to support the Jewish State. In his eyes, I represent this state as much as an Israeli. This explains his eagerness in sharing his opinion with me.
Still, I am aware of the other side of this argument. I feel a certain level of anger, and discomfort, when Israel performs acts I abhor. However, these actions do not have a strong repercussion on my day-to-day life. I was not called up for reserves during the 2008 Gaza War. My home was not removed from Sinai, the West Bank or Gaza. No matter where the international community puts Diaspora Jews, I have certain privileges which Israelis’ lack. I do not have to get visas when traveling to Europe. There is no academic boycott on the universities I attended (minus my stint in Israel, of course).
The second part of this question sneaks up on the first. Do I have the right to judge or criticize actions which Israel initiates? Can I do so outside the Jewish community? Of all the points raised so far, the first question has the clearest conclusion. Whether or not one thinks they have a right to speak for Israel, chances are they have become a spokesperson.