John Podhoretz applauds Shmuel Rosner’s condemnation of Israel’s “fair-weather fans”:

These “fair weather friends,” as Rosner dubs them, hold Israel to a standard to which they do not hold other countries—and then claim they do so out of commonality and brotherhood. Light unto the nations and all that. But of course the act of separating yourself from your brethren by being their harshest critics is almost the polar opposite of true familial behavior…

The strange thing about these reactions is that they equate friendship and support with uncritical endorsement of bad behavior. To expect better behavior from a government with which one has greater sympathy is somehow “disingenuous,” as Podhoretz says, but it actually makes much less sense to hold reviled governments to a higher standard of conduct. Demanding better behavior from a government takes for granted that one thinks that such behavior is remotely possible, and that acknowledges that the government and the people it represents can be better than they currently are. Most American critics of Israeli government behavior must believe at some level that a change in that behavior for the better is still possible, or else they wouldn’t bother trying to appeal to Israelis in terms of their own traditions and values.

I have often cited the Russian proverb that Solzhenitsyn used, “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.” The meaning of this proverb can be misunderstood, since it can be misinterpreted to mean that one should constantly be quarreling with one’s own friends, but it is fairly clear to anyone paying attention. Indulging a friend in his worst, most self-destructive behavior by endorsing whatever he says and does and making excuses for him contributes to the friend’s ruin and can have the same effect as seeking his downfall, and rebuking him when he goes awry helps to protect him against his own bad judgment. The main mistake that Rosner and Podhoretz make, unsurprisingly, is that they consider otherwise sympathetic critics to be “fair-weather” friends when these are potentially some of the best friends that Israelis have precisely because they don’t simply back whatever the Israeli government happens to do. Considering the stifling of dissent inside Israel that has been taking place lately, that would seem to be all the more valuable. But then one would have to understand the value of dissent against reckless and hawkish policies to appreciate that, and naturally Podhoretz doesn’t.

The odd thing about these complaints is that there is less sympathy for Israel around the world now than at almost any time that I can remember in the last twenty years. One would think that “pro-Israel” hawkish Americans and Israelis would be more appreciative of the sympathizers that Israel does have, including the critical ones, but instead the latter are treated dismissively and berated for having the temerity to express their concern. As this rate, there will continue to be fewer sympathizers as it becomes clear that friendly criticism is just falling on deaf ears.