What ‘Supporting Israel’ Means

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April 6, 2010
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Roberta P. Seid

For 2,000 years, Jews, as a persecuted minority, often survived only because far-flung Jewish communities remained interconnected and offered aid. Today, American Jews, the world’s second largest Jewish community, are questioning what it means to be supportive of the world’s largest Jewish community, Israel, where Jews are no longer a minority, but a sovereign nation.

The debate stems partially from disagreements about how Israel should address its grave challenges: a stalled peace process, persistent Arab rejectionism, and looming military threats from Iran and its proxies. Even more, the debate is fueled by an aggressive propaganda campaign that distorts human rights language and reality to portray Israel as so evil that it should not exist. This toxic narrative is called the “new antisemitism,” with the “Jewish state” and “Zionist” replacing “Jew” in a lethal variant of classical antisemitism. A somewhat sanitized version pervades leftist and even some liberal circles and campuses where supporting Israel appears to conflict with upholding social justice values, making some Jews uncomfortable to identify as pro-Israel. A new organization, J Street, has tried to redefine “pro-Israel,” but critics charge that J Street’s redefinition includes anti-Israel elements.

In this environment, what constitutes a pro-Israel approach for American Jews?

While American Jews across the political spectrum can vigorously debate Israeli policies, Natan Sharansky has identified three “Ds” that distinguish constructive criticism from the destructive criticism that has become the new antisemitism. The three “Ds” are: delegitimization, including denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; double standards, so that Israel is accused and judged by a standard expected of no other nation; and demonization through lies and half-truths that ignore or minimize Israel’s achievements and the context for Israel’s actions.

To be identified as pro-Israel, American Jews should support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to defend itself, even if this requires military measures. They should respect Israel’s democracy and the decisions of its elected government, despite disagreements with specific policies. Israelis’ blood, sweat, and tears, not those of Americans, build and protect the country, and it is their lives that are on the line. American Jews should not presume to know what is best for Israelis or to lobby the American government to coerce Israel into adopting policies that oppose the will of Israel’s well-informed and highly educated electorate. Israel’s supporters should not urge Israel to make premature concessions or ignore the wider context of radical Islamist movements that call for Israel’s destruction. Israelis alone will bear the consequences of their decisions, not Americans living safely thousands of miles away.

Pro-Israel Americans should expose and energetically fight the three “Ds” and their malicious “BDS” campaign against Israel of boycott, divestment, and sanctions. The campaign’s goal isn’t to help Palestinians. Its only goal is fomenting hatred against Israel. Pro-Israel Americans should puncture the three “Ds” as perverse caricatures, showing that Palestinians are not simply the innocent victims depicted, but actors in the complex realities of Palestinian society and politics that contribute to the current impasses and to Palestinian extremism.

To be pro-Israel is to know that the cause is just and to remain inspired by the story of the country’s founding. It is the epic of the beleaguered yet determined Jews who survived 2,000 years and reentered history as a sovereign nation in their homeland; it is the story of what has been accomplished in just 100 years — a liberal democratic state with a booming economy in a resource-poor land, a multicultural society brimming with creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and humanitarianism. And yet, the country is far from perfect. Like all sovereign nations, Israel must wield power to survive and prosper, taking actions that are often politically and morally messy and even unpopular. But like other nations, Israel is still evolving, and it strives to live up to the highest ethical standards in circumstances that would challenge far older, more established nations.

Those who claim that supporting Israel conflicts with social justice values have fallen prey to the moral inversion of the anti-Israel narrative and its unchecked spread. Support for Israel is support for social justice values. It is the toxic new antisemitism that, like its predecessors, endangers Jews and the human rights standards the modern world has so painstakingly developed.

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Roberta P. Seid, PhD, a historian, is education/ research director for StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization, and a former member of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, which has analyzed Palestinian and Israeli demography. She has taught European history and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and she currently teaches a course on Israel at the University of California, Irvine. Seid has authored or co-authored books and articles in these fields, including The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza (Begin-Sadat Center, 2006), which she co-authored with Bennett Zimmerman and Michael L. Wise.

9 Comments

  1. “critics charge that J Street’s redefinition includes anti-Israel elements”

    Do you have evidence to support this? Which “anti-Israel elements”?

    “To be identified as pro-Israel, American Jews should support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to defend itself, even if this requires military measures. They should respect Israel’s democracy and the decisions of its elected government, despite disagreements with specific policies. Israelis’ blood, sweat, and tears, not those of Americans, build and protect the country, and it is their lives that are on the line. American Jews should not presume to know what is best for Israelis…”

    Identified by whom? Why do I need to pass someone’s litmus test? Why should I respect the likes of Lieberman, Bibi, Yishai? There is also no mention that my country subsidizes the “military measures” alluded to here. In fairness can you add, “Israelis should not presume to know what is best for American Jews”?

    http://alexcacioppo.blogspot.com

    Posted by
    Alex
  2. Roberta,

    You’ve done nothing but spout the same old lines that didn’t work before and will not work now.

    There’s been an Arab Peace Initiative on the table since March 2003, and the Arab League just last month gave it yet one more chance; hardly “Arab rejectionism”.

    Israel has ignored it, even though it is clearly mentioned in the Road Map and favored by the Obama administration.

    There are 500,000 illegal colonists currently living outside of Israel’s internationally recognized borders, a huge Elephant in the room you left out.

    And most troubling of all but entirely predictable, according to Haaretz there is a new move afoot to “deport” thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank.

    With the war crimes and crimes against humanity pointed out by the exhaustive and thorough Goldstone Report to Israel paying the UN $10.5 million in restitution as a result of the War on Gaza, the “settlers” (they are illegal squatters and a violent lot at that), and now this new move for even more ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, I’m wondering just how you think these types of actions are Western values?

    Just how moral is it that Israel is keeping millions of Palestinians in ghettos and under siege?

    I support an Israel that follows the rule of law, not the current out of control rogue regime.

    Posted by
    Michael Hess
  3. Extremely well put. i might add that i don’t here Israelis advising Americans to make peace with Cuba. Neither do I hear Israelis – as such – advising the USA to change its citizenship laws to accommodate “illegal” Mexican residents and laborers. If you’re a Jew and oppose Israeli policy, than become and Israeli Citizen and participate. Otherwise, defer to the Jews living their who have no else to go. Don’t for get what the “civilized” Germans did to Jews until 1945 when Jews boarded those trains to be re-settled in the East. How about helping Palestinians to settle in our country – since neither Israel nor Palestine will be able to absorb all the victims of the “catastrophe” of Europe’s and America’s making in 1948-9. If in the last 100 years Jews were allowed to live peacefully outside Israel, perhaps Israel would not be what it is today. But it’s preposterous to impose conditions upon Israelis, many of whom are the descendants of victims who suffered at the hands of non-Jews, with whom they were not allowed to live in peace. Only Israelis should decide what the acceptable peace terms are – when they are being threatened by Hamas, Hezbolah, and Iran – the last of which forecasts to drive the Zionists (=Jews) off the face of the map. The theocracy of Iran will not use nuclear bombs to attack Israel? “Ladies and gentleman, this way to the showers” (that’s a reminder to my bleeding-heart Jews who haven’t learned their history, and what can happen again). I saw in Manhattan what 19 Muslim Arabs did to 3,000 innocent civilians through my window. The only response to that kind of violence is war. And as a Democrat, I’m thankful to the second President Bush for his response. Terrorists believe that they are brave, and we in the West are weak. I believe that Israelis understand that much better than soft (liberal) “do-goodnick” American Jews.

    Posted by
    Ludvikus
  4. It is well known that Ben-Ami has even had difficulty controlling the anti-israel, extremists that have joined jstreet..

    and regarding Alex’s post.. why should you respect the democratically elected leaders of israel? i would suggest that if you respect the will of the israeli people, you would also respect their decisions regardless if you agree.

    http://www.stopjstreet.org

    Posted by
    stopjstreet
  5. The problem here is that the US sends billions to Israel. That investment makes a lot of people feel they have a right to weigh in on what Israel does with the money, especially regarding their military operations and possible human rights abuses. To willfully ignore that reality is to make this entire article and its position completely irrelevant. And Israel is going to find that opposition to its policies will only continue to grow in the USA — where Jews must also bear the brunt of growing anti-semitism due to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Does anyone in Israel EVER consider that? Israel — you are giving your enemies a lot of ammunition these days. It’s not helping anyone.

    Posted by
    Victoria
  6. The problem here is that the US sends billions to Israel. That investment makes a lot of people feel they have a right to weigh in on what Israel does with the money, especially regarding their military operations and possible human rights abuses. To willfully ignore that reality is to make this entire article and its position completely irrelevant. And Israel is going to find that opposition to its policies will only continue to grow in the USA — where Jews must also bear the brunt of growing anti-semitism due to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Does anyone in Israel EVER consider that? Israel — you are giving your enemies a lot of ammunition these days. It’s not helping anyone.

    http://happyrain.org/

    Posted by
    Emily
  7. Do the same people who want a say in Israeli policy worry about Egyptian human rights abuses, or Palestinian human rights abuses? The U.S. sends billions to them, and cruelty is the name of those regimes. (There are no human rights abuses by Israel; that’s a manufacture of the anti-Zionist machine.) The U.S. receives plenty of strategic benefit from its alliance with Israel. On top of that, Israel makes exceptional contributions to the world in medicine, science, technology, and the arts. And all of that despite the constant warfare from its neighbors. Israel truly is a shining light.

    http://www.dailyalert.org

    Posted by
    Nes Gahas
  8. It’s pretty sick for Emily to blame Israel’s self-defense measures for inciting anti-Semitism of her in the U.S. Israelis face rockets and suicide bombs and snipers and vehicle rampages and annihilation, no less, from all its many enemies. Israel must protect itself, just as Jews everywhere on the planet must fight against the anti-Semites who crawl out of their caves at any pretext.

    http://www.dailyalert.org

    Posted by
    Nes Gahas
  9. I had a dream to begin my own organization, but I did not earn enough amount of cash to do this. Thank heaven my close colleague suggested to take the personal loans. Thus I received the secured loan and made real my desire.

    Posted by
    JohnsBrittney26
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