Gandhi’s entry and the subsequent firestorm that followed afterwards also indicate a muddled state of affairs that exists in America regarding criticism of the Zionist state of Israel in public discourse. The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for mainstream public figures to criticize the Israeli government without the fear of losing their jobs, their reputations or both.
Earlier this year, Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Indian peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, did something that we as American citizens have grown up being taught to do freely: he expressed his opinion. Mr. Gandhi, who was at the time serving as president of the board at the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, which is affiliated with University of Rochester, was one of many contributors to an online blog titled “On Faith,” which is maintained by The Washington Post and Newsweek.
In an entry titled “Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence,” Gandhi articulated his view that modern Jewish and Israeli identity has become too closely intertwined with violence. He writes, “It seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews.” After making this point, Gandhi goes on to admonish the Israeli state for its attitude of building weapons and bombs to ensure its own survival, instead of the alternate method of reaching out to its neighbors in peace. Describing a trip to Tel Aviv in 2004 during which he spoke to Members of the Israeli parliament, he writes, “I asked [them], you believe that you can create a snake pit – with many deadly snakes in it – and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere?” Gandhi ended his post firmly pronouncing, “Apparently, in the modern world…you don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
Gandhi’s comments sparked a firestorm. A visit to the Washington Post website where this blog entry is posted reveals that it received over 437 comments. Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, went on record to say that it was “shameful that a peace institute would be headed up by a bigot.” And less than a few weeks after making his comments, Gandhi’s grandson resigned as president of the board at the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, an institute which he had actually helped found. In his resignation, Gandhi said that his comments were meant “to generate a healthy discussion on the proliferation of violence.” Instead, Gandhi went on to say, “Unintentionally, my words have resulted in pain, anger, confusion and embarrassment. I deeply regret these consequences.”
To be fair, Gandhi should have been more cautious in his choice of words, especially on such a sensitive topic. By claiming that “the Jews” are the biggest players in the Culture of Violence, Gandhi simply opened the door to calls of bigotry and anti-Semitism. To rebuke the entire Jewish people for the violent atrocities perpetrated by the Zionist state of Israeli is excessive; there are many non-Israeli Jews who vocally condemn Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the essence of Gandhi’s message is one that must be heeded, and Gandhi should be applauded for his audacity in saying what many believe to be true but few have the courage to state so openly – that is, that the Israeli state has been the biggest player in the culture of violence that has engulfed the Middle East and is threatening to draw in world superpowers. Even in his resignation and withdrawal from the Institute, in an action that followers of Imam Hussain and Bibi Zainab (peace be upon them) can recognize as one that can emanate only from a supporter of truth and justice, Gandhi stood firmly behind his criticism of “the use of violence by recent Israeli governments.”
Gandhi’s entry and the subsequent firestorm that followed afterwards also indicate a muddled state of affairs that exists in America regarding criticism of the Zionist state of Israel in public discourse. The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for mainstream public figures to criticize the Israeli government without the fear of losing their jobs, their reputations or both. As evidence of this, one need only examine the current presidential race, where John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama have not had the guts to rightfully condemn the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza that Israeli is sustaining.
Gandhi should be championed for his valor in openly criticizing where criticism is due. The Israeli government is by no means sacred. It does not represent any one ethnic group, nor is it the sole-representative of any religious group. Even within the state of Israel, there are many left-wing groups that criticize the Israeli government openly for its unjust military actions against its neighbors. The American public cannot be intimidated into thinking that criticism of Israel is in any way the same thing as anti-Semitism. Such thinking is incorrect and stifles debate on one of the most important issues of our day, which is the political situation in the Middle East. It may take a few more courageous people like Mr. Gandhi who, without fear of losing their jobs or reputations, can openly stand up against the injustices of the Israeli government. With persistence, we will soon have honest public discourse about the Israeli government’s policies in the Middle East, one that is not hindered by name-calling and does not raise a fire-storm at the slightest hint of criticism.