Allison Benedikt Makes Her Anti-Israel Case

Last evening I saw a tweet directed at me from John Cook, the husband of Allison Benedikt, whose Awl piece on her divorce from Israel. The tweet read as follows:

Hi Jeffrey,

Wow, you really hated my piece on The Awl. Don't get why such a personal, angry attack of a response, but... hey, it's your blog.

Just to clarify a few things and also to respond to some of the questions posed in your reaction post: I wrote the piece to record what I experienced, not to analyze it, and definitely not to talk policy or really even politics. It's a personal essay about growing up in a bubble, not questioning because you don't even realize there is anything to question, and then slowly coming into contact with a wider world, and range of opinions, until you must face that you've been fed--and accepted--an incomplete or even false narrative about an issue that is more than just an issue but also a huge part of your identity. If I come off as naive (or, as "faux-naive"), it's because I was trying to convey that I WAS naive. If I come off as conformist, well, there again, I was--and to think that's anything but the norm for a kid growing up is to not be honest about adolescence. Now, I gather you think I'm still conforming, because I'm apparently just parroting the opinions of my big bad husband, but that makes me think you didn't really read my essay carefully. I struggle, and am struggling in the essay, to figure out what I believe about being Jewish, about what Israel could and should be, about who I am--a set of amorphous ideas at best--and also to deal with the strong beliefs of and choices made by my family members. Am I influenced at different times in my life by different people? Of course! Aren't you? But to say I'm conforming, or lack curiosity, because my feelings evolve based on my life experiences--I don't get it. (Would a line like, "Then I read Benny Morris" have helped?)

To defend my husband, who needs no defending (though you are not alone in thinking he came off poorly in the piece, or is a jerk in real life): John was not accepted by my parents or my sister for being a non-Jew long before they ever heard his opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. They didn't want me to date him let alone marry him because he wasn't Jewish. (I know, you're shocked!) He handled a lot of that with grace, not to mention being a wonderful and active partner now in raising our boys as Jews--mostly if not entirely because of how important he knows it is to me. Coming up against John's opinions on Israel was, in a way, as shocking for me as it was for him to get close to a family whose members all believed what he did on pretty much every major political issue of the day, except for this weird thing about Israel. Good, strong liberals except for this one weird thing where, oh well, if being a real democracy means not being a Jewish state, then forget democracy.

As for your questions:

Is Benedikt curious about anything? Yes, lots of things. On this topic specifically, I would still believe everything my parents raised me to believe if I wasn't curious.

Is she curious about who bombed that disco? Not really, because I know who bombed the disco: Hamas (bombing the Dolphinarium)

Is she curious about why those Israeli soldiers are guarding a checkpoint? I mean, existentially? Yes! But otherwise: I know why there are soldiers guarding a checkpoint. I just don't know know why those boys from New Jersey are doing it instead of, say, going to Rutgers. (Or maybe I do know why, and I don't like it.)

Is she curious about why airline security officers might be interested in asking questions of passengers flying to Israel? I know this one too! Terrorism!

When her husband acts like a self-righteous shit toward her sister, does she get a spine? Mmmm, no, at the time I did not get a spine. As I think I wrote in my essay, I was trying to moderate and help everyone to get along and it was very awkward and filled with tension, but thanks for asking.

Does she wonder why her husband hates Israel with such ferocity? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes I hate it as much as he does. (Though "hate" is the wrong word. Feel rage toward?) Sometimes I think he can't "get it" because he has no ethnic identity. Other times I think his remove from the situation gives him clarity. Mostly, I think he is so angry, as I am (and I believe you too?), because if Israel is to claim itself a Western democracy, it should live up to certain ideals that it does not.

Does she ever try to answer for herself why Israel exists? Why it was founded or why it continues to exist? Actually, yes, on both counts. And I read about it too. None of this has led me anywhere but toward disillusionment.

Or is she happy to subcontract out her thinking about the most important questions facing Jews first to her camp counselors, and then to her husband? Happy to? No. Have I done this at times? Yes. But just on the way to figuring out what the hell I think for myself. I'm still not there, but I'm working on it! (Which is, coincidentally, what my essay is about.)

Does she ask herself whether she has a responsibility to make Israel a better, more humane, place? I don't believe that I have that specific responsibility, no. But I have thought about it. And I think that's a lot of the reason my sister is there, for which I give her credit (in my mind if not in my piece--because frankly her politics are her own to discuss). Of course, I do think we all have a responsibility to make the world better--but specifically Israel, because I am Jewish? No.

Does she question herself about the consequences of abandoning Israel? I wouldn't go so far as to say I've abandoned Israel (did you read the essay?), but if you mean have I thought about what it would mean for there to be no such thing as a Jewish state? I have thought about this plenty of course! Who that takes this stuff seriously hasn't? (I guess you don't think I take it seriously, but you're wrong.) I bet I land, uncomfortably, about where you land: If the decision comes down to brutal occupation forever to maintain the Jewishness of the state OR true democracy, which would mean no Jewish state, I would have to choose the latter--but there is nothing easy or wishful in me writing that, and I hope it never comes to that (though more and more it seems like it will).

Does she think about the sin of the wicked son in the Passover story, and how that sin might echo in her own life? This is not meant to be snide, but John and I lead a seder every year and I've taken to making my own Haggadah because I'm not comfortable with many of the traditional stories and blessings. The wicked child bit is something I've deleted. But anyway, to you, aren't I the one who doesn't know how to ask?