The new need – and conditions – for defending Israel today
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE PRO ISRAEL TODAY?
A Moment Symposium
David K. Shipler
It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree. Where people part company is over how best to achieve those goals: Territorial compromise or an unyielding hold on every inch of land? A shared Jerusalem or undiluted Israeli sovereignty? A measured military response to terrorism or punishing air strikes against civilian areas?
There was once a quaint notion that land could be traded for peace. Israel tried it in 2005 by withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza, and Hamas answered with rocket attacks. Nevertheless, 70 percent of Israelis, in a recent poll by Hebrew University, still favor a Palestinian state.
That suggests Israelis might want to see most of the West Bank become Palestine one day, if they can get a reliable peace in exchange. If so, then Israel might do well to keep open the possibility of withdrawing instead of slamming doors in its face by continuing to build Jewish settlements there.
For decades, Israel has been narrowing its options by expanding settlements. By my reckoning, therefore, being pro-Israel means favoring policies that maximize Israel’s flexibility and keep open various exits from the current stalemate. It is not pro-Israel for its leaders to lock the country into the conflict and to impose irreversible decisions on future generations.
David K. Shipler, former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. His latest book is The Rights of the People: How Our Search For Safety Invades Our Liberties. He writes online at The Shipler Report.
Jews are a nation bonded by a common history and a common historical narrative. If we forget that narrative, gone is our Jewishness. Throughout our history, the driving engine of survival has been the hope for returning to sovereignty in the birthplace of our history—Eretz Israel. The State of Israel is the culmination of this dream, and also the crucible in which Jewish heritage attains its full expression and comes to life through the resuscitating touch of normalcy.
What binds American Jews together today? Most of us are secular; the religious bond is gone. Few of us speak Hebrew; the language bond is gone. What remains is the historical narrative of 80 generations and Israel, the realization of that dream and the spiritual and cultural light that radiates to the rest of the world. If we abandon Israel, we abandon our future. If Israel is gone, Jewish life will be gone in one or two generations. Those who do not see Israel as the central piece of Jewish life are not pro-Israel, and I doubt they are pro-Jewish.
Judea Pearl is professor of computer science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
Being pro-Israel does not mean you have to support any particular Israeli government or its policies. You can oppose all of the policies of the Netanyahu government and still be pro-Israel. But I would list a number of things that you must also be.
First, you must understand why Israel is important. Israel is unique in human history, whatever its faults may be. And if you’re Jewish, you must understand that, no matter where you’re living, Israel is your country. You can be critical of its policies, but you must understand that they are the policies of a government chosen democratically by your own people. Second, being pro-Israel means having an empathic understanding of Israel’s problems. This means not blindly superimposing liberal American standards of what’s right and wrong without asking whether they fit the Israeli situation. Third, you have to understand that the threat to Israel’s existence is real. Hundreds of millions of people, most of them Arabs and Muslims, would gladly see Israel destroyed. Whatever mistakes Israel makes, has made, and will make, it’s always facing the danger of annihilation. Fourth, you cannot be pro-Israel today without understanding that Israel has become the focus of a worldwide revival of anti-Semitic agitation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been viciously exploited for anti-Semitic purposes. When you criticize Israel, you have to be careful not to do it in terms that may be usurped by forces that hate not only Israel, but all Jews—which includes you, Israel’s Jewish critic. American Jews have to ask themselves whether it’s helpful in any given situation to join the majority of world opinion against Israel. Suppose your criticisms lead to harmfully isolating Israel even further. You can’t be pro-Israel unless you seriously reflect on what taking responsibility for running such a risk means.
Hillel Halkin is a translator, political commentator and author of the bestseller Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic.
Enter most synagogues or Jewish institutions today and announce that you don’t believe in God, Torah or mitzvot, and people will shrug their shoulders and welcome you. But dare suggest that there’s something wrong with Israel and you’ll be treated as a dangerous enemy. The reason? Most Jews have made Israel their substitute for the God who didn’t show up to save us during the Holocaust, and have adopted what I call “settler Judaism,” a version of our tradition that emphasizes power and domination. In Israel this is the dominant pathology: the fear of being a freier, a fool who trusts others.
Most Jews and Israelis are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and are so wounded by past oppression that they can’t act rationally to preserve Israel or to protect the Jewish people from the hatred against us generated by Israel’s oppressive and human-rights-denying policies toward Palestinians. They are stuck in self-destructive denial, insisting that anyone who points to Israel’s human rights violations must be a self-hating Jew or an anti-Semite. Our people are unaware of how much Israel’s policies are generating a new kind of hatred toward us that is not based on old religious superstitions but on our willingness to support repressive, mean-spirited and hurtful policies against the Palestinian people. Our children will reap the anger that these policies are generating once the inevitable decline of American power makes Israel more vulnerable and Jews around the world open targets.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine and author of 11 books, most recently, Embracing Israel/Palestine.
Being pro-Israel means supporting a strong, robust Israel; supporting a strong alliance between Israel and the United States; not undercutting Israel; and not pretending that there is no contradiction between being pro-Israel and being pro-Palestinian. However, the American Jewish community is falling apart at the seams, and its leaders are so frightened that they keep reducing the meaning of pro-Israel to the lowest common denominator in a doomed attempt to keep people inside the community. Instead of drawing red lines, they erase them and render the whole concept of community, shared values, goals and ideas null and void. They are loath to call anyone out for their anti-Jewish or anti-Israel behavior, like the Democratic Party, which is increasingly permeated by anti-Israel forces. So rather than call J Street an anti-Israel lobby, they call it “controversial.”
There is room for some disagreement in the pro-Israel camp, but it depends on what the disagreement is. If you disagree about the presence of threats to Israel, then you are not supportive of Israel. This is what J Street routinely does regarding Iran and the Palestinians, and this is what the neocons and the neoliberals did when they supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. These positions cannot be construed as pro-Israel, but rather as anti-Israel and insensitive to Israel’s reasonable concerns.
Caroline Glick is the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and senior fellow for Middle East Affairs at the Center for Security Policy.
Being pro-Israel means supporting peace and stability for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and upholding principles that will ensure that peace and stability over the long term. That means supporting the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and equal rights in Israel-Palestine.
I have two thoughts on the two-state solution: First, that it’s not going to happen in any way that approximates a just and stable resolution to the situation. The Palestinian state, if created, will be so shorn of substantive sovereignty that it won’t satisfy the purposes for which a state exists. Second, the two-state solution is undesirable in principle because the two populations are inextricably intermingled: 20 percent of Israel’s population is Palestinian-Arab, and there are about 600,000 Jews living in what would presumably become the Palestinian state. I don’t think it’s possible to have ethno-national states that fully respect the rights of its minorities—that formula doesn’t work. Two ethno-nationalist states would leave minority populations on both sides of the border who would not enjoy equal rights. That is a formula for perpetual strife.
There was a time in the past when being Palestinian did not imply ethnicity of any kind—there were Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs who were Christians, Muslims and Druze. But the ethno-national principle has flattened these diverse identities into two exclusive ones—Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian Arab—and I think the region is worse off because of it. A state should not be an end in itself. What I’m advocating would take a major shift in thinking, both for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. It would require thinking deeply about what’s important: Do I need to have a flag with my own people’s symbol on it to the exclusion of others? Do I need to have laws in place that guarantee special rights for some and negate those of others? Or is the state a vehicle, a means to an end rather than an end in itself? We need to return to a condition in which ethnicity does not bestow privilege for some at the expense of others, and is merely one facet of our complex and evolving identities.
George Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College of the Law and former legal consultant to the Palestinian Authority.
For me being pro-Israel means helping Israel live out the words of its declaration of independence, which promises a Jewish state that will provide complete social and political equality, irrespective of race, religion and sex. I think that one could argue about how to interpret those documents, but American Jewish leaders too often equate being pro-Israel with supporting the policies of the Israeli government. If we think about how we approach being pro-America, we’re more likely to think in terms of helping America achieve the vision that’s set out in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, rather than just helping the government achieve its policies. Israel doesn’t have a constitution, but it does have a declaration of independence, so that should be our North Star in terms of our support. We want Israel to live up to its own principles.
Peter Beinart is a senior political writer at The Daily Beast. His latest book is The Icarus Syndrome: How American Triumph produces American Tragedy.
I live in Israel. When you live here, you are making a statement. You have the option to live elsewhere, but you chose instead to live in Israel. But the Israel I want to see is more humane, more open, less religious and—to put it frankly—less Arab. I want less input from the ultra-Orthodox and from the Arab minorities. The ultra-Orthodox are milking the state for all it’s worth without contributing to the collective, not serving in the army and, in most cases, not contributing to the economy (many don’t work and don’t pay taxes). Israeli-Arab society, which is 90 to 95 percent Muslim, is intolerant and treats women as inferior; honor killings are something of a norm; and, in general, the Arab minority—to listen to its leaders—rejects the idea of Jewish statehood. Both are intolerant and, if they had their way, would push Israel away from open, democratic, Western values.
Benny Morris is professor of history at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His most recent book is One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict.
American Jews—both conservatives and liberals—tend to use Israel for their own purposes. They see it as a place where all of the ambiguities and moral relativism of living in a complex society like the United States can be cast aside and ideological purity reigns. The right sees Israel as its poster child and junior partner in the war on Islamic terror; religious conservatives—Jews and non-Jews—see Israel as their Super-Promised Land, a place of absolute righteousness. American Jewish organizations too often see it as a vulnerable little cousin that requires absolute loyalty—and as a justification for their own existence. But the left has its own illusions. It wants a Light unto the Nations, a beacon of economic equality, social justice and human rights, and is greatly disturbed when Israel acts like any another country. Each side uses Israel as a weapon to bash the other, but each is inevitably disappointed because Israel refuses to fulfill its fantasies.
To be pro-Israel is to recognize that Israel is a vibrant, flawed, increasingly bourgeois and pluralistic society, morally ambiguous and awash in enormous contradictions. It is worthy of our sympathy and our criticism—the two are not mutually exclusive but in fact are intertwined. Most of all, it is worthy of being seen for what it is, not for what we Americans need it to be.
Glenn Frankel, former Jerusalem bureau chief for The Washington Post, is director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, Austin.
There is a difference between being pro-Israel 30 or 40 years ago and now because of the significant reduction in support for Israel around the world, and the country’s demonization by groups that promote lies against Israel, such as calling it a Nazi or apartheid state. For me, being pro-Israel means getting the truth out by being more active, calling radio shows, writing newspapers, lobbying Congress and even lobbying our rabbis. The goal of the Arab state is the destruction of Israel, not only the establishment of a Palestinian state. We should make clear to our Jewish leaders the importance of speaking out about hatred and violence against Jews and Israel in Arab schools, media and speeches.
Being pro-Israel does not necessarily mean agreeing with the Israeli government. I believe we have a right to speak out about whether we agree or disagree and why. For example, I thought exchanging 1,000 terrorists for Gilad Shalit was a terrible mistake. So you can be pro-Israel and hold different views about these issues. There are many pro-Israel people who think that establishing a Palestinian state is the answer. I fervently believe they are completely wrong, but they are still pro-Israel.
Morton Klein has served as president of The Zionist Organization of America since 1993.
The 21st-century mainstream Zionist definition of what it means to be pro-Israel—which is not my definition—is to deny the existence of Palestinians as a people and their right to statehood, freedom and equality, to portray Arabs as bloodthirsty terrorists who seek no more than to murder Jews, and to denounce as an anti-Semite anyone who suggests any legitimacy to the Palestinian narrative or right to statehood.
I would counter that to be pro-Israel is to ensure the viability and security of the Jewish state, which necessitates that we actively pursue the establishment of a viable and secure Palestinian state and the healing of the Jewish-Arab rift. Under the present circumstances, the growth of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and the gains of the international Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement are likely to culminate in an internationally-imposed binational solution that effectively ends Jewish sovereignty and that rapidly devolves into bloodshed.
If one views Zionism as a struggle for Jewish autonomy and self-determination and wishes to keep Jews from submitting to the tyranny of a non-Jewish ethnic majority, it is absolutely imperative to achieve an amicable and just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts.
Daniel Sieradski is the founder of The Self Agency, Ltd., director of Jew It Yourself: The Every Day Guide to Do-It-Yourself Jewish Living and a co-organizer of Occupy Judaism.
Being pro-Israel means working to secure the future of Israel as a democratic national home for the Jewish people by achieving a two-state solution in which Israel lives side by side with a Palestinian state in peace and security. It also means a commitment to the Jewish people’s right to a national home and that state’s right to defend itself.
To be pro-Israel, one doesn’t have to agree with every policy of the government of Israel. I believe one can be deeply pro-Israel while arguing vehemently from either the left or the right that the policy of any particular government is mistaken. Some think we should constrict the tent to those who follow whatever the current government’s path is. But that’s not broad enough to maintain support for Israel within the Jewish community and the American public or to reflect the diversity of views held in our community.
Another thing that affects the term “pro-Israel” is the implication that there must also be an “anti-.” Being pro-Israel shouldn’t be set up in a way that implies choice—so that if you’re pro-Israel you’re also anti-Palestinian. The only winning strategy for Israel, to my mind, is in a win-win resolution that results in two states and in both peoples achieving their goals.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of J Street and author of A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation.
John J. Mearsheimer
Israel’s supporters think about what it means to be pro-Israel in two fundamentally different ways. The dominant view is that Israeli policy should almost never be criticized. Instead, it should be vigorously defended at every turn. Moreover, it is imperative to push the U.S. government to maintain a “special relationship” with Israel, in which Washington gives Israel huge amounts of economic and military aid as well as extensive diplomatic backing. Most importantly, this support should be given unconditionally. In other words, Israel should get aid and protection even when it does things that U.S. leaders—or even pro-Israel supporters—oppose, such as building settlements in the occupied territories.
The other view, which I share, maintains that one can criticize Israeli policies and think that America’s special relationship with Israel is bad for both countries, yet still be pro-Israel. After all, Israel is a normal country, and its leaders sometimes pursue smart policies and sometimes pursue ill-advised ones. In this regard, it is no different than the United States. Just look at what has happened in Iraq over the past eight years. Given that basic fact of life, Israel’s supporters and U.S. leaders ought to be free to criticize and pressure Israel publicly when it pursues misguided policies, and to support Israel when it pursues smart ones. Today, U.S. leaders have to proclaim unequivocal support for Israel even when it adopts wrongheaded policies that are bad for both countries. It is hard to see how this situation makes good sense for either Israel or the United States.
John Mearsheimer is professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.
Being pro-Israel today is more complicated than in the past. In the name of human rights, many so-called pro-Israel organizations have challenged some of the fundamental precepts of Zionism and have accused Israel and the Israeli government of betraying its democracy and freedom. Those criticisms are exaggerated and tend to dilute the support that Israel has in the Jewish community. Some critics fall in love with their own ideas and don’t realize the harm they do by attacking things they don’t agree with. Those who bemoan Israel’s loss of democracy are exercising Israel’s freedoms to speak out and are examples of the strength of Israel’s democracy. What I worry about is that the criticisms are mistaken in their impact and that Israel might lose support from the community at a time it needs it the most.
Kenneth J. Bialkin is a partner at Skadden Arps, and chairman and president of the American-Israel Friendship League.
It has to do with the three Ws: wealth, wisdom and work. To be a pro-Israel diaspora Jew, you must find a balance between them. Some wise Americans are willing to put their wisdom aside and allow Israelis to dictate their priorities, but I think one of the best gifts American Jews have to give Israel is their intelligence and high tolerance for ambiguity. Israelis can really use some impulse control from their friends. American Jews are friends to Israel, and being a friend does not mean being an obedient executor of whatever Israelis want. Israel is strong enough to handle many voices. We come from a culture of arguments; the Talmud is one long argument. We express our Judaism with this argument. The worst thing I see in some American Jews is apathy to what’s happening in the only sovereign Jewish state on the planet. And I think that apathy is deadly.
Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Religious Action Center and chair of Women of the Wall.
In the past, the fight for the state of Israel mainly took place on the battlefield, but today, the battle is taking place in universities, the media and nongovernmental organizations. It’s a cultural war.
There were three major attempts to destroy the State of Israel. The first was from the War of Independence until the Yom Kippur war, in which the Arabs tried to physically eliminate the State of Israel. When they realized they could not beat the IDF, they changed tactics. If they couldn’t beat the Israeli soldier on the battlefield, they would kill Israel’s spirit through terrorism, by murdering mothers in the market, or killing children in school. This lasted from the 1970s until the second intifada.
When they found out that they couldn’t beat us even by murdering 100 people in a month, the third attempt has been delegitimization. They have accused Israel of war crimes and of being an apartheid state, with the idea that the international community would assist in destroying Israel if it perceived it as similar to South Africa. In the past, anti-Semitism was directed against Jews as a people, now anti-Semitism is directed against the State of Israel. NGOs participate in this effort by creating a bad image of Israel, and part of this strategy is using Jewish and Israeli NGOs. Today we are also facing a new phase of auto-anti-Semitism, consisting of Jews who hate themselves and who are helping to create the delegitimization. So to be pro-Israel today is to fight the cultural forces that are attacking Israel’s right to defend itself and the Jewish people’s right to have its own homeland and its own state.
Ronen Shoval is the chairman and founder of the Im Tirtzu movement and author of Im Tirtzu—A Manifesto for a Renewed Zionism.
Aziz Abu Sarah
I think of being pro-Israel as supporting a country to be free from fear and occupation, and not having to live in a place that is always engaged in struggle and conflict, but to instead support a place that will have freedom, equality, democracy and social justice for all. Being pro-Israel also means protecting the humanity of the people there and knowing that if you have continued conflict, people will lose their sensitivity to what it means to be a human. So being pro-Israel doesn’t mean supporting continued conflict, but supporting finding a solution so Israel doesn’t have to engage in war, conflict and hatred with its neighbors, and can live with the Palestinians in peace. Being pro-Israel goes along with being pro-Palestinian because both are connected. If Palestinians don’t have freedom and security, neither will Israelis. When American Jews come to the region they should not just meet with Israelis and Jews; they should also try to learn the Palestinian narrative and find a way to bring the two narratives together, to bring the two sides together. Instead of supporting one side or the other, you could become a bridge of peace between the two sides.
Aziz Abu Sarah is a columnist with Al Quds newspaper and +972 and is the co-executive director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.
The first qualification for being pro-Israel is not being fooled by any of the analyses of the “Arab lobby.” They say that there’s a tremendous stirring in the Arab world that will result in democratic consequences, but there is no evidence of that. I’m not against the Arab Spring—I just think it is now Arab Winter. They also say that there would be peace if Israel gave up more territory to the Palestinians. I don’t think that’s true either.
The Arab world, especially at this point, offers no encouragement for Israel to take risks for peace. One can disagree on individual aspects of Israeli policy, but I don’t think one can reasonably expect the Arab countries and the Palestinians to be either responsive to fresh initiatives, or trustworthy on the old ones.
The other qualification for being pro-Israel is to not get hysterical about every internal happening in Israel. Israel is a vital, lively, functioning civil society, even though it has anti-democratic elements in its parliament and cabinet. But we supported the [Free] French during the Second World War when de Gaulle was a real pain in the ass.
I don’t want to say that there are political genes, but typologically, the Jews who are anti-Israel were also pro-Stalin and pro-Castro. I think this is actually a sickness that goes from generation to generation. There are no great left-wing causes that people can associate with anymore, but you can always go home to Mama and complain, and I think that’s what anti-Israel Jews are doing.
Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.
To be pro-Israel is to support policies and contribute one’s money, time and energies to political and cultural developments that enable Israel to be a place where Jews are free to live according to Jewish and democratic values without abrogating those same rights for any other people.
Israel was founded in a state of crisis and has been in a state of crisis ever since. The result has been to deny equal rights first to its Arab minority, then, far more egregiously, to those people it has occupied since 1967, and most recently to Jews themselves through a host of anti-democratic laws either recently passed or about to be. We “lovers of Zion” should have helped Israel rid itself of these unhealthy albatrosses. Instead, under the “pro-Israel” mantle, traditional American Jewish organizations, as well as conservative Christian ones, focus exclusively on external threats and have encouraged these destructive tendencies, helping empower those who would make them permanent. And they’ve done so, necessarily, at the expense of Israel’s democracy and its standing in the world as a nation that lives according to its values. Those of us who believe in the values of the founding and necessity of the state, need to resist the urge to be yes-men and -women and face up to the bad habits created by Israel’s long-term state of emergency. These habits are now the greatest threat to Israel, greater than Hamas or Hezbollah or any other external enemy. If recent unfortunate trends continue, Israel may not have much of a democracy left to defend, nor much of connection to secular diaspora Jewry to help fight for it.
Eric Alterman is a professor of English at Brooklyn College and columnist at The Nation. His most recent book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
I don’t like what the expression “pro-Israel” implies. If you are “pro” something it means you are “anti” something or someone else. I am “anti” terrorism and war, but I’m not anti-anyone. I want to see mutual respect and peace in the region for all. The best policy is to be educated and engaged. Israel is complicated. There is very little black and white¬—it is a sea of grey. On one hand Israel is a wonderful democracy with the best women’s rights, minority rights and freedoms in the region. On the other hand, however, some citizens’s ideas conflict with those of others. So where do you draw the line? For example, some ultra-Orthodox individuals want the “freedom” to separate buses by gender. Other secular citizens (who are the majority in Israel, but not in certain neighborhoods) want the “freedom” not to be told where to sit on a bus. The law is clear—no segregating buses. But how do they enforce the law? The conflicts over what freedom means are very loud, open and messy in Israel. It’s run by human beings—and people make mistakes. We need to know the facts and be there for Israel because Israel is a part of our family. That’s not just because we are Jews, but also because we are Americans. Israel is a country that shares America’s values and interests. It faces constant threats from those who want to destroy and demonize her. We’re not on the front lines—Israelis are. But we need to have their backs.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is founder and president of The Israel Project
I define being pro-Israel as believing that the Jewish state should exist in what is now Israel, that it should be Jewish and democratic and that it has actual enemies in the region. But after that you get into places where someone could say, “I’m being pro-Israel” and someone else might say, “You’re working against Israel’s best interests.” I think people who disproportionately blame Israel for its situation are generally not pro-Israel. Depending on the tenor of their criticism, people who would like a single state are not pro-Israel, though exceptions can probably be made, and I don’t mean to suggest they’re bad people!
The evolution in American Jewish awareness of the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to a state and to the land has increased over the past quarter century, even in the past five years. Being pro-Israel now includes a left-wing view and has perhaps closed off some of the most extreme right-wing visions of what Israel is. Annexing the West Bank and creating a truly untenable situation is counterproductive to Israeli interests and is vindictive as opposed to strategic. That’s not really pro-Israel. But such views are less spoken of than even five years ago, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s made the pro-Israel tent bigger. What I’m realizing in talking with you is that to not be pro-Israel is clearly a “bad thing.” You’re not “supposed” to not be pro-Israel. It’s an insult to call someone anti-Israel. I’m uneasy about that.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer for Tablet.
Being pro-Israel means using every means at your disposal to fight for the Israel that’s envisioned in its Declaration of the Foundation of the State of Israel, in which the state guarantees freedom of religion and conscience and complete equality regardless of religion, race or sex. It means acknowledging the painful histories of all of Israel’s citizens, including the 75 percent who are Jewish and have histories of genocide and expulsion, and the 20 percent who are Palestinian citizens of Israel and who experienced the Nakba (the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when Israel was created) as a catastrophe.
For diaspora Jews, being pro-Israel means holding Israel up to the same standards that we have for the democracies in which we live—especially the United States. The things we fight for as an ethnic and religious minority—freedom of religion, separation of church and state, equal treatment under the law—cannot be suspended just because we are the majority in Israel.
For decades we have been told by many Jewish leaders that to be pro-Israel or pro-Jewish means defending or enabling Israel’s occupation of another people—which has now gone on for almost 45 years—the demolishing of homes, the taking of land, and the institutionalization of discrimination. And we’ve been told that it is “good for the Jews” to marginalize anybody who questions those things.
If that’s love for Israel, then we’ve been loving Israel to death. We have growing political and religious extremism. Extremist settlers aren’t just attacking Palestinians, they’re attacking Israeli soldiers; and the Knesset isn’t just targeting Arab Israelis, they’re targeting Jews involved with human rights groups. And the seemingly endless expansion of settlements and occupation has all but made a two-state solution impossible. Burying our heads in the sand and pretending these things haven’t been going on for years is the worst thing we can do if we care about Israel. As minorities in the United States, we know what a healthy democracy looks like, and we’ve always been at the forefront of those battles for ourselves and others. We need to fight for the same in Israel, and that in my mind is the only way to be pro-Israel.
Cecilie Surasky is deputy director of Jewish Voices for Peace and editor of the blog Muzzlewatch.
I can only speak as an American Jew and a lifelong Zionist. Israel is the land where more than five million Jews are at home. The values of our people are tempered on the anvil of democratic self-governance, where Hebrew is the language of daily life, where the calendar is inflected by Judaism and where the streets bear the names of the heroes of Jewish history. Anyone who cares about the future of the Jewish people can only cherish such a land and its people.
Friends of Israel first and foremost engage with Israel, its people and its institutions. They visit. They encourage their children to visit. They seek an informed understanding about the country’s history, achievements, challenges, threats and opportunities.
Second, recognizing the hostility that confronts Israel, it is incumbent that friends dispel falsehoods and distortions and promote a fair understanding of its values and the harsh realities it faces. Effective advocacy requires credibility and consistency, scrupulous respect for the truth and a due regard for whatever is legitimate in the positions advanced by others, however disagreeable. In the long run (and we are in this for the long run) shouting down adversaries or attempting to silence them only suggests that we lack confidence in our position. And while there are plenty of anti-Semites in the world, calling anyone who disagrees with us an anti-Semite is both unjustifiable and ineffective.
Third, because Israel is the hub and heart of a worldwide diaspora, friends of Israel must do what they can to enhance the vitality of Jewish life throughout that diaspora.
Finally, true friends of Israel will speak to Jerusalem not only comfortingly but also candidly. We do Israelis no favor by misleading them. As one warns another not to touch a hot stove, we must call out to Israelis when they seem to misunderstand the temper of America, when they seem to sell short their own democratic institutions or when they pursue policies that will needlessly alienate fellow Jews. American Jews would do well to be modest and circumspect in telling the people of another country how to conduct their affairs, but there are moments when those who cherish Israel cannot fail to speak their concerns.
Robert Rifkind is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Advancement of Human Rights.
The simple wisdom of this question is that there is more than one way to be pro-Israel. There is more than one way to love Israel, just as there is more than one way to be Jewish. Time and again I hear from right-wing, American Jews that Israel is the one thing in the diaspora around which they can all unite. And I say, let’s unite, rather than let’s unite behind my politics and not yours.
Israel is a diverse society. Israel is a collage, a fiery collection of arguments. You have the whole range in the United States, too, just as we have in Israel. All the way from people who say “right or wrong, it’s Israel we have to stick behind” to people at the other extreme who say, “Israel was born in sin and shouldn’t be there.” And there is everything between those two extremes.
I think anyone who really worries about the future of Israel should be supporting the two-state solution. Even if we have a two-state solution and peace, we will still have to deal with some very real issues, such as poverty, alienation and multiculturalism. It’s not that I predict some ideal vision in the end of the road. I don’t want the end of the road; I would like Israel to remain intellectually and philosophically divided for the rest of eternity. I think being divided—as long as the divisions are not violent—is a blessing. It’s a gold mine of culture and creativity.
We have to realize that Israel is the homeland of all its citizens, at the same time it is the homeland of the Jewish people. The state is not a holy object—the state is not a fetish—the state is a vehicle. And this vehicle ought to belong to all its passengers without any discrimination. A very common sentimentalist mistake—common among peace-loving progressive people in America, for example—is to assume that first we have to cure hatred and become friends and then we can make peace. Throughout history it has worked the other way around. First peace is made between enemies with clenched teeth and even with bad intentions. Then eventually sometimes an emotional healing occurs. This may take generations.
Amos Oz is a renowned novelist and journalist and author of the recently published Scenes from a Village.
Interviews By Daphna Berman, Sarah Breger, Nadine Epstein, Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, Sala Levin and Amy E. Schwartz