As a Jew, I admit to being uniquely invested in what’s occurring in Israel and Gaza – an investment sometimes cited to paint political discourse on Israel as niche. However, as an American citizen and a self-avowed progressive, I not only reject such notions, but hold that Israel is a core progressive issue which demands our broad attention.
There are many arguments made amongst progressives which seek to deflect discourse on Israel, and which echo arguments made across the political spectrum. Two of these arguments I’d like to counter below in an effort to show why Israel indeed stands as a principle progressive issue.
1) Why Single Out Israel?
One of the most consistent arguments I encounter for why Israel need not be discussed prominently is one I would categorize as a red herring. Here is how the argument goes: yes, horrible things are happening to the Palestinians, but there’s a lot of bad in the world. Try focusing on Syria or Russia or Sudan for once.
This sort of logic simply doesn’t hold any weight. Would I be unjustified in writing about water shutoffs in Detroit (as I’ve done) when land grabs in Africa are intensifying water scarcity crises for local communities? Of course I would.
It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to tackle an issue of importance without being presented with a myriad of other issues worthy of focus. But that’s the nature of taking any moral stand or championing any cause: it is done knowing selectivity is inherent, natural and unavoidable.
Mehdi Hasan, political director for The Huffington Post (UK), put it most articulately when he wrote regarding his publication’s current focus on Israel, Palestine and the intense suffering in Gaza:
On what grounds did we “single out” apartheid South Africa in the 1980s for condemnation and boycott? Weren’t there other, more dictatorial regimes in Africa at the time, those run by black Africans such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mobutu in Zaire? Did we dare excuse the crimes of white Afrikaners on this basis?
Taking a moral stand inevitably requires us to be selective, specific and, yes, even inconsistent.
So, why Israel? Why should what’s happening in Israel/Palestine be a progressive political issue in America? The answer is simple: America is inextricably linked with what’s going on in the region in ways that are incomparable anywhere else in the world.
The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion annually in funding, more than it gives any other nation, and much of that funding supports Israel’s military apparatus. The U.S. has even expanded that funding through 2018 despite the fact that Israel, against U.S. policy, has continued to expand its illegal settlements, making a U.S.-supported two-state solution impossible. America has also continuing this funding during Israel’s decades-old military occupation in the West Bank, which denies Palestinians basic human rights while subjecting them to military law, including indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on movement and violent, sometimes deadly suppression of political protest.
And now, during a tragic war of choice in Gaza many international observers view as violating international law, the White House has backed Israel’s efforts as hundreds of innocent civilians are being killed, often when their homes are targeted (an issue Jake Tapper raised pointedly with Israel’s ambassador).
As citizens, our tax dollars are funding what is occurring.
Now, to be clear: I don’t want funding cut to Israel. For example, as Hamas fires crude rockets (it cannot control) into Israel, the U.S.-provided Iron Dome is protecting civilians, my friends among them, and I’m grateful for that. However, I have many concerns about the way Israel is using its disproportionate military force – a force heavily-funded by America. Should we be invested in voicing concerns about how our tax dollars are being spent? As progressives? As Americans?
2) Let Them Kill Each Other – Regional Hate Is None of My Concern
This is an insidious, dehumanizing and wholly simplistic tact that some people take with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though in their defense, it’s a view most media in America perpetuate. I have no intention of engaging in a comprehensive, historical review in this space to counter it, though doing so would certainly be appropriate.
Rather, I’ll simply respond to this line of reasoning as follows: this “conflict” is not so much a prolonged war as it is a decades-long, asymmetrical oppression of one people (sadly, my people) over another.
Yes, religious hatred amongst minority groups on both sides exist. Yes, racism and anti-Semitism amongst minority groups on both sides exist. And yes, the continued conflict has worked over decades to imbue each society with mistrust for the other that is difficult to overcome.
However, this is a situation – just like every other geopolitical crisis – which has geopolitical solutions. Here is the kicker, though: no solutions will be advanced, nor will peace be attained, unless outside pressure is brought to bear upon both parties, for neither seem capable of extricating themselves from counterproductive policies on their own.
All the more reason for us to be involved and invested, as progressive Americans, in what is happening.
Yes, as a Jew, I am invested in Israel’s future in unique ways. I want it to thrive and survive, to achieve its democratic promise, however difficult that may be. And this investment is, in part, what motivates me to critique Israel: the damage it’s doing to the Palestinians is also destroying itself.
However, as a progressive American whose liberal Jewish values align with my U.S.-borne political ones, I find it imperative that we address Palestinian suffering, the denial of their human rights, and the suppression of their right to self-determination.
As Americans partially responsible for and heavily intertwined in the conflict, we have no other choice.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.
You really have a lot of chutzbah, more than many writers here. You purposly confuse Israel’s right to self defence with some obscure claim that Israel is violating international law. Israel is not intentionally directing it fire at civilians. It had been made clear from multiple souces that rockets are being hidden homes, mosques and schools This has been confirmed by the UN. Those rockets may be crude but they also have shrapnel that kills. No nation would put up with rockets directed at their citizens. When London was bombed in WW 2, German cities were turned into rubble. Israel is not doing that. They are directing thecdffortd at the source of the rocket fire and now cat smuggling tunnels. I am all force 2 state solution, but this is not the way to achieve it. Your narrative is tired and without merit.
You purposely confuse my writing as an argument against Israel’s right to self-defense. That takes chutzpah as well, for the record.
As an aside, it would be helpful if you could cite when, in the last 12 years (and 4 gaza incursions), these military operations in Gaza achieved their stated, self-defense goals (the creation of quiet along the border).
The answer, sadly, is never, save brief ceasefire periods both sides violate. This is a problem with a geopolitical solution, not a military one.
I am glad you concede that Israel’s reason for its military operations were to have “quiet” which implies that Hamas was NOT quiet.
I agree that a political solution is ideal but it is hard to imagine one in which Hamas continues to insist on destruction of Israel.
The best alternative I can see is Hamas unconditional surrender to Fatah. Failing that I guess there will be more Hamas blood.
This is your quote and without merit, I might add
“And now, during a tragic war of choice in Gaza many international observers view as violating international law, the White House has backed Israel’s efforts as hundreds of innocent civilians are being killed, often when their homes are targeted (an issue Jake Tapper raised pointedly with Israel’s ambassador).”
BTW, Jake Tapper pointedly exposed the fact that Hamas is using Gazans as human shields. Yu really know how to create myths
David, these periodic Gaza incursions do bring a period of quiet, you need to acknowledge that much. The problem is that there can be no military solution; that only comes with diplomacy — not with rockets, boycotts or campaigns to end Israel’s existence. I hope that one day you will understand that.
You did not mince words when you wrote ” violations of international law” The only solution is for Hsmsd to either disarm or be dislodged. Hamas essentially has the Gaza population under lockdown as iused the territory as a rocket luncher. The best the IDF can do is neutralize their military capacity. The rest is up to Gazans and I’m afrsid they would have to draw blood yo do do.
I am campaigning for all religious symbols being removed from all national flags -Against theocracies or even the appearance of one. The US needs to support Israel as a free and miraculous democracy – not a “Jewish State”
Will you be campaigning to have he islamic crescent removed from flags? What about e criss removed from the Danish and Norwegian flags? Or do Jewish stars disturb yo in particular?
David Harris-Gershon, the self perceived victim of unfair criticism, has not viewed UN confirmation the Hamas is hiding weapons in schools. Please protect the poor victim of an evil Zionist conspiracy.
I too resonate with progressive views on most social and political issues. Over the years it pains me to see settlements continue and how that reality has impeded the peace process. Being active in the Jewish community, local Federation and in a local teen exchange program with a town in Israel, I have developed deep emotional connections and attachments to Israel. Reading various viewpoints and perspectives on the Israeli/Palestian conflict, its history and even having the chance to see panel discussions with Palestinian and Israeli leaders moderated by Dennis Ross; I feel very conflicted at times as to whose narrative speaks to me and when.
My heart goes out to Israelis and Palestinians who have and do suffer from such a protracted conflict. I share my feelings, views and perspectives from a very humble place. The one thing I still eventually come back to and I don’t offer this as an excuse for any specific action or response; is the question of having a true partner in creating peace. Looking over the past few decades from Rabin to Netanyahu and from Arafat to Abbas and now the reality of the PA and Hamas together; it is hard to reconcile the perception that Palestininan leaders seem to have an underlying desire to see Israel cease to exist and urge to want to destroy Israel. Again, I am not offering excuses for certain actions; I am just sharing my personal perspective of when comparing the motivations of Israeli and Palestinian leaders I am deeply concerned that there has not and are not true partners for peace, especially as it relates to Palestinian leaders. It is hard for me not to suspect that Israel’s destruction is their utmost motivation. I hope and pray I am wrong.
I suggest you read the Hams charter
There is another aspect of this that no one talks about. I’m of an age where I remember the significant Jewish prejudice in the US years ago. The two state solution is surely dead. The South Africa problem will do nothing but get worse and worse. To the exent that the Netanyahu mentality is attributed to Jews in general, it’s bad for both Israel and international Jewry.