Reclaiming the “Pro-Israel” Label
Many stances have been branded in unfavorable terms in order to limit the support that they can attract. The newest victim of this trend is support for Israel, which we are lead to believe entails support for territorial occupation and right wing policies. Being pro-Israel is supposedly antithetical to liberal values and only palatable to the most hard-hearted neoconservatives.
No characterization could be further from the truth. “Pro-Israel” encompasses a few simple and powerful ideas. It is the support of the right of the State of Israel and all of its citizens to live in peace and security. It is the belief that the state of Israel is a fundamentally positive entity in the world. It means supporting Israeli democracy, science, and achievement as well as a constant campaign to protect Israel from the scourge of terrorism. None of these things are antithetical to the best of liberal values. Supporting Israel can and should be a liberal cause. It certainly is for me.
We are told that being pro-Israel is the same thing as being pro-settlements and pro-occupation. This is not the case. West Bank settlements are not just an outrageous infringement on the rights of Palestinians and an unnecessary wedge issue in peace negotiations but also bad for Israel. Israel spends huge sums to build, subsidize, and protect these settlements, which are of dubious value and questionable legality. This money would be better spent bettering the lives of all Israeli citizens inside of Israel. Instead, the Israeli government continues to throw it away on an enterprise that does nothing but sully Israel’s good name and international standing.
There is not the slightest contradiction between opposing settlements and supporting Israel. Many ardent supporters of Israel, including myself, are fervent proponents of a two-state solution, in which the sovereign states of Palestine and Israel coexist. Supporting the state of Israel in no way precludes support for a Palestinian state—the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own every bit as much as the Jewish people do. It offends my liberalism as well as my Zionism to see Palestinians languishing without the right to self-determination.
Many believe that those who are pro-Israel do not extend their support to the multiplicity of ethnic minorities that reside within Israel and are only concerned for its Jewish population. This contention is so false it’s insulting. The fact that Israel stands as a beacon of liberal democracy, diversity, and human rights in a region otherwise bereft of them is one of the central reasons for being pro-Israel. When I say that I support Israel, I mean the state of Israel and every single one of its citizens: Jewish, Muslim, or Druze, among others—it makes no difference. I believe it is an equally despicable breach of decency and law whether a rocket from Gaza hits a synagogue or a mosque.
Lastly, and perhaps most understandably, the belief exists that supporting the Israeli government and the state of Israel are one and the same. This association is understandable but foolish, similar to equating American patriotism with support for a particular American administration. The contention that supporting Israel is somehow exclusively a conservative position is very much analogous to the hurtful insinuation during the Bush Administration that only supporters of the president were supporters of America. I support Israel in spite of its current government, which I find rightist, imprudent, and shortsighted. A nation is far more than its government.
Support for Israel does not mean endorsing all of Israel’s actions. It is the belief that a nation that faces horrific violence and threats to its existence deserves support. It is a belief that the good that has come out of Israeli science and technology deserves to be preserved. It is the conviction that we ought to support free and democratic nations. I hope that support for Israel can one day be restored to its rightful place in the pantheon of liberal causes.