Lets get concrete. Many Jews, especially those that do not live in Israel and do not perceive Israel's existence as a critically important requirement for the continued survival of the Jews hold Israel to a substantially higher moral standard than they would hold other nations to. Other nations around the world have essentially followed the lead on this, and hold Jews to a similarly high standard than they hold other nations. Ideas like "proportionate response," "land for peace" and the casual way in which many Jews dismiss Israel's delegitimization and question Israel's right to exist because of its perceived interference with Arab desires for expansion are almost unparalleled among other nations.
But before we criticize others for imposing impossibly high moral standards on us, we need to look ourselves in the mirror. At Israel in the Gardens, I spoke to a J Street representative. He stated that he was an Israeli citizen and that he was very troubled by Israel's unwillingness to make peace with its Arab neighbors because "he wanted to live in an Israel that resembles Athens, not Sparta." His implication was that Israel's unwillingness to cede land to the Arabs made Israel an undesirable place to live because military planning and culture played too central a role in Israeli life. He felt that Israel needed to "be the better man" and seize the initiative. He had big visions for Israel that focused most of all on finding a way to move Israel away from a "military culture" that, in his view, Israel had imposed on itself by not giving enough up to the Arabs.
I had no response to his comment in the moment, because I so surprised by what he said. The idea that Israel, a country that in 60 years has made innumerable contributions to the arts and sciences, is too spartan was shocking. But what was more shocking was the subtext of his point: that Israel is the nation that must give things up, that Israel's behavior in the "occupied territories" is so appalling and unacceptable that Israel must do essentially whatever it takes to ease the Palestinians' problems even if that ends up hurting Jewish interests.
This man from J Street is not alone in his thinking. A prevailing notion in the Middle East is that the Palestinians are essentially the objects of Israeli action. Israel is the actor, the Arabs are the re-actors. This idea has manifested itself in several failed Israeli policies (that the Israelis were pressured into): the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. These policies fed into a notion that Israel must act, and then the Arabs will react in a favorable way. Of course, that is not how things happened after either of those withdrawals. More broadly, the land for peace notion and the two state solution are both based on the same notion: that Israel needs to be the first actor to bring change and resolution to the conflict.
Of course, most other countries are not put in such a position, at least not with any great success. No other nation is subjected to more criticism for doing less harm than Israel. Turkey, one of Israel's newest detractors, remains steadfast in its refusal to even acknowledge its role in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and continues to brutally put down the Kurdish nationalist movement. Sri Lanka decimated the fighting forces and nationalist dreams of its Tamil minority, while killing approximately 25,000 Tamil military and civilians as it wrapped up its campaign against the LTTE in 2009. China has controlled Tibet for over 60 years and continues its attempts to destroy Tibetan culture. While all of these nations continue their unfortunate and often terrible behavior, none of those countries has had its very existence considered a sin to be expunged from the records of history. Jews are the only people whose goals of a national home are considered racist and improper.
The problem is, we have allowed ourselves to be questioned this way and we have allowed ourselves to be brought to trial by the very same nations who have committed far worse sins than we. When the British government criticizes us, we ought to remind them that it was their government that was given the mandate to provide the Jews a home but refused to allow Jews fleeing the Holocaust entrance into Israel. We should say this not to prove that we are better than them or that they owe us something, but that they have no right to cast judgments on us. Ze'ev Jabotinsky believed in this point himself. He felt that the Jews' goal should be to become simply a people among all others, a people who had the same rights as any others: to have enemies, to act in their own self interest and to be for themselves.
I want nothing else for Israel and I want nothing more for the Jews. We have a unique history that we must celebrate and remember, but in a world of flawed and self-interested actors, we demand too much altruism from ourselves. After 30 years of working through the international "peace process," the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka simply got fed up with dealing with the Tamil insurgency. I am not saying that their solution was correct, what I am saying is that 99% of nations would have eventually reached the same conclusion and most everyone would have forgotten about what happened in a few years (as we basically have with Sri Lanka or Western Sahara). There are far too many within our own tribe who would demand that we never take the Sri Lanka option and never put our interests so far ahead of the interests of our enemies as to pursue a course as conclusive as .
At this point, we have allowed the world to put us on such a moral pedestal that it can demand that we feed and give energy to those who would seek to destroy our country. We have allowed the world to demand that we give away land for empty promises of peace and we have allowed the world to cast moral judgment upon us. When everyone else sees Jews hold Israel to the highest moral standard, it can safely do the same without being accused of antisemitism. We do not need to become lower than other nations, as countries like Sudan, North Korea and Burma behave in ways that no country should seek to emulate. What we need to become is a nation like all others, which will only happen we demand of ourselves nothing more than we demand of others.