The next several articles will focus on what has become an increasingly important issue within the Jewish community: What does pro-Israel really mean?
For Atlanta Jewish Times publisher Andrew Adler, pro-Israel means calling for Israel’s Mossad to consider assassinating U.S. President Barack Obama. Thankfully, Adler’s addled response to Obama’s supposedly anti-Israel policies and actions was widely denounced within the Jewish community and resulted in a U.S. Secret Service investigation of Adler’s views. Hopefully that investigation will be more conclusive than the effort to define what it really means to be pro-Israel.
Is AIPAC’s pro-Israel definition different from ADL’s, AJC’s, J Street’s or Christians United For Israel’s? What about the Emergency Committee for Israel’s pro-Israel? Or Obama’s? Or Newt Gingrich and Sheldon Adelson’s, Gingrich’s Israel puppet-master?
What about the Israeli government’s pro-Israel definitions? Which one gets chosen depends to a large extent on whether you are part of the ruling Likud party coalition or a member of the opposition, led by the Kadima party.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s definition leaves little room for nuance: Israelis know what’s best for Israelis and the free pass to rigorously disagree stops at the border. He won’t recognize or engage with pro-Israel groups if he feels they offer too much dissent from his government’s policies.
Yet, Tzipi Livni, Kadima’s leader, welcomes dissent as valuable and representative of the diverse nature of the pro-Israel Jewish Diaspora. She has even argued that by allowing for disagreement, Israel actually encourages more of the Diaspora to remain interested in providing support. (Gideon Levy, an Israeli columnist, goes a step further: He says if you are really pro-Israel, if you really love Israel, then you “must criticize Israel as it deserves.”)
But do Israel’s Likud party leaders really understand how pro-Israel should be defined any better than they seem to understand what Israel is inexorably drifting into becoming—a democratic state that is making more and more undemocratic trade-offs and whose Jewish nature is in danger of regressing, as many American Jews and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fear, into a closer alignment with the fundamentalism of Iran’s mullahs than with the religiously diverse (and increasingly secular) nature of its Diaspora support base?
Too many Israeli leaders—often more nominal than real—prefer to avoid developing and announcing complex long-term strategies to address Israel’s internal and external problems because that would require both mobilizing the Israeli public to support them and taking some level of political risk. It is much more tempting and far less complicated to focus on tactics that may bring temporary relief from future problems but that, fundamentally, don’t begin to resolve the actual issues. One Israeli friend compared Israel’s predicament to someone that has a treatable skin cancer that was slowly spreading yet had doctors writing prescriptions for suntan lotion.
Netanyahu’s political team would vehemently disagree with this analogy. They’d offer another one: The Israeli house is on fire and the first step is to put it out. Why strategize to add sprinklers and fireproofing when arsonists are trying to destroy our house NOW?
Yet Israel can’t extinguish the fires by continuing to fight them with its own special gasoline formula. The fires simply grow larger and spread as old issues fester and the embers of new ones, birthed from the old ones, create new fires for future generations.
So is it pro-Israel to continue the traditionally sanctioned policy of whispering disagreement in private, a policy that has historically provided Israel with unquestioning pro-Israel organizational support for almost all of its actions and inactions? After all, there are enemies all around—within easy bombing and delegitimization distance!—of Israel. Over one billion Muslims live in countries largely hostile to Israel and those countries offer few of the democratic norms and human rights values Israel embodies, so whyever give comfort to Israel’s enemies by adding any criticism to theirs? Israel needs its friends to be friendly.
That returns us to the pro-Israel question again. Do Israel’s pro-Israel friends need to follow some type of “Robert’s Rules of Order” (Bibi edition) in order to enter the pro-Israel club?
Carlo Strenger, a prominent Israeli academician and book author, doesn’t think so. According to Strenger, “Israel is tearing apart the Jewish people.” Writing in Haaretz, Israel’s version of the New York Times, he makes several points: Israel’s illiberal government distances “85% of world Jewry,” who recognize Israel’s difficult “neighborhood” challenges and the Iranian threat, but don’t understand how any of this “is connected with Israel’s settlement policy, the dispossession of Palestinian property in Jerusalem, and the utterly racist talk about the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem.”
He further contends that Israel has never had a government “so oblivious of its relation to world Jewry,” (in) “passing laws that increase the Orthodox establishment’s stranglehold on religious affairs and personal life.” And Strenger laments, “I feel it can’t be true that the country that was supposed not only to be the homeland of the Jews, but a moral beacon, is descending into such darkness…I feel if I were simply in a bad dream; (but) that when I wake up, Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state committed to the core values of liberalism (will once again be) the reality.”
If these thoughts were expressed by an American Jew, and not an accomplished Israeli, the traditional pro-Israel lobby would consider them to be unfair, unbalanced, and certainly not pro-Israel.
But Strenger’s views seem quintessentially pro-Israel. He loves his country and fears for its future. He sees Israel’s drift and fears for its soul. He sees what Israel is becoming and fears that Israel risks losing its core Jewish support.
Israel, a country that has never lived without war or terror, may have leaders and a citizenry that are now more comfortable living with a known evil than with an unknown peace. In some ways, that’s understandable. When it comes time to pass around the hummus with people you have fought with your entire existence, it’s hard to share.
But what may be understandable doesn’t necessarily make for good policy. Without preparation for peace, how can peace succeed? Far too few Israeli and Palestinian leaders are actually laying the educational, social and political foundation that will be necessary to help a peace process to succeed.
That’s why it’s important for the pro-Israel definition to take on a broader meaning. The new definition would include advocating for Israel to strategize on the steps it can take now to help the prospects for a sustainable peace with the Palestinians and to begin realistically addressing Israel’s social, political, religious and economic contradictions. If that advocacy is balanced with support and praise for Israel’s many successes and encouragement for further progress, then pro-Israel really will begin to mean something.
(The next two articles will explore the pro-Israel issues in much more detail. Consider this to be your appetizer.)