There are few Jewish leaders I respect more than John Ruskay — thus my extreme disappointment with his Opinion piece (“Combating Delegitimization Requires A Big Tent,” Feb. 18).
While I know that Ruskay loathes Israel’s delegitimizers/ demonizers as much as anyone, I fear that his words will provide them — and those who abet them — with new “cover.”
Ruskay correctly identifies “demonization” as a form of delegitimization, but he gives the demonizers a complete “pass” on their activities, as long as — in their hearts — they do not deny the Jewish people’s moral right to a democratic, Jewish state in Israel. That standard basically says that any anti-Israel activity is fine, as long as the actor recites (or thinks) the right words. It does nothing to “un-blur the line” (in the words of the Re’ut study that Ruskay cites) between legitimate criticism and delegitimization.
An international boycott is an act of demonization, irrespective of the boycotter’s subjective motives. It is no more a form of speech than punching someone is a form of saying, “I don’t like you.”
The act itself is suggestive of the punishment the world inflicted upon South Africa for the very apartheid that Ruskay himself recognizes as a demonizing analogy.
I do not understand Ruskay’s reluctance to condemn the act, even if he continues to love the actor. He may choose to keep the actor “in the tent,” but Jewish leaders must have the courage to call out evil when they see it. If we expand the tent as far as some would suggest, the tent become meaningless.
Ruskay is correct that education is part of the answer. But education is not enough — and, more importantly, sometimes (as politically incorrect as it might be to say) education includes teaching right and wrong. If Jewish leaders don’t tell Theodore Bikel and Tony Kushner and Frank Gehry that boycotting — for any reason — is “wrong” and “harmful to Israel,” we cannot blame them for their actions. We will have to blame our leaders. Their failure to speak clearly and strongly on this issue may prove to be one of the greatest leadership failures of this generation.