It’s not a hard question really. Pro means being in favor of something. But when it comes to Israel, the
traditional argument is that supporting Israel means supporting all of Israel’s official government policies or, in the absence of an official policy, whatever the majority of the Israeli public favors. It’s an argument that is off putting to many otherwise strong Jewish supporters of Israel.
But, in the interest of fairness — after all, AIPAC’s raison d’etre is to offer Israel 100% American coalition member-type support — it’s important to dispassionately consider the AIPAC arguments as well as possible alternate views. Let’s try to see if we can find a more natural common ground between the pro Israel “come hell or high water” camp and the pro Israel “but let’s see if we can help you avoid some of the hell and high water” side.
The 100%’ers arguments go something like this:
Israel has enough critics. The last thing Israel needs are American Jewish groups that pile on. How can Israel survive without the firm support of its natural Jewish base? Israel can’t show ANY weakness. Why do American Jews presume they know more than Israelis do? Americans can’t possibly know what it’s like to live with the daily terrorist threats, hostile neighboring states and its own sometimes hostile 20% Arab/Palestinian population.
There are 1.5 billion Muslims, and less than 6 million Israeli Jews. Imagine if Canada and Mexico were America’s enemies and occasionally missiles were lobbed in to Seattle and El Paso from terrorist enclaves on land America provided as a concession in an effort to make peace. Would America apologize for building barriers, cutting off electricity, and embargoing dual use supplies? Would America apologize for making travel a little more difficult for possible terrorists? Would America apologize for occasionally using drones or special forces to kill these terrorists? Would Americans be expected to prostrate themselves apologizing if civilians were accidentally killed or injured in the process? Of course not. So instead of these Jewish apologists attacking Israel’s decisions, instead of worrying about Palestinian civil rights, they should worry more about the civil right of Israelis to live in peace in a country that wants peace but can’t find willing partners to make peace with.
Whew. Tough argument. It has appeal. But some American Jews feel it is an argument that may be largely right on merit but incredibly irrelevant to Israel’s current predicament in what is now Israel’s 62nd year in her War of Independence. The alternative pro Israel side argues:
We support and love Israel just like we support and love America. But no one expects Americans to always support whatever our government does and goodness knows no Israeli is expected to support every action their government takes. So why is there an American Jewish exception?
Yes, we know that Israel already has many enemies, but we don’t follow the logic of comparing our disagreements borne out of love and our enemies’ criticism borne out of malice and hatred. We aren’t criticizing because we want Israel to fail. We are criticizing precisely because we want Israel to succeed. And if all Israel ever gets from the 100%’ers is a wink and a nod to every decision Israel makes then
will Israel ever consider changes she may need to make in order to thrive and survive as a democratic Jewish state? Will she ever make the changes she needs to make to finally reach a peace agreement?
The idea that we are disloyal or, as some despicably say, self-hating, if we aren’t 100%’ers has caused many of us to leave the pro Israel camp. Or worse, we just lose interest. If our only choice is to support everything Israel does and if we can’t feel free to disagree in order to help Israel improve, then what exactly are we being asked to support? A homeland for Jews? Which Jews? The ones like the Shas rabbi who said recently that he wanted all of the Palestinians to die? The ones that want to define me out of my Jewishness? The ones that implement discriminatory Palestinian housing and education policies?
Don’t we become more credible to the world and don’t we build more world support, when we are able to disagree with an Israeli policy or procedure while at the same time offering our strong support for Israel?
At a time when a very small percentage of American Jews directly or indirectly financially support Israel, at a time when, as Peter Beinart and others have pointed out, young American Jews are growing increasingly detached from Israel as they safely assimilate into American society, at a time when all Jews are further and further removed from Balfour, Peel, and the Holocaust, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to engage with rather than disengage from more Jewish support?
So what if Israel takes a bit of American “in house” Jewish criticism? Israel gets that every day with her own politicians and citizens and manages to muddle through. Wouldn’t allowing more nuanced backing in our support for Israel create a greater chance to move the disengaged and disinterested among American Jews closer or into the strong pro Israel camp? And isn’t increasing Jewish support ultimately the goal?
Perhaps it will take awhile for both pro Israel camps to reach an accomodation with each other. But one things seems clear: As Israel enters these new peace negotiations and as all sides bargain for maximum leverage it is important for American Jews to continue to remain pro Israel in a way that best allows them to express their strong support. There should be no preconditions either in the negotiations or in our acceptance of Jewish support for Israel.