I’m Jewish. (I feel I have to start all my comments on Israel by declaring my ethnicity, because so many Israel supporters conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. I am not a self-hater.)
The US actually allowed passage of a recent UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy. Not that our country actually supported the resolution. But, by abstaining (i.e., by refusing to express a view), rather than vetoing (as the US almost always does when the topic of Israel comes up), our country took a baby step towards bringing its Middle East policy in alignment with its stated values.
Oh, the uproar this caused. AIPAC and other Likud-aligned US organizations expressed their customary outrage with their customary breathless bluster. Then, a majority of Democratic House members (109-76), including new MD Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-8), voted to denounce the UN resolution, saying it was unfair to Israel. They joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans (233-4) to undermine President Obama’s gentle turn against rubber stamping everything Israel does. (This gentle turn comes only after Obama committed $38 billion of our tax dollars to underwriting Likud and illegal settlements for 10 years to come).
Two years ago, our Senator — Ben Cardin — joined only four other Democrats to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps Obama’s foremost foreign policy achievement. The other three “traitors” to the president were Robert Menendez (NJ), Joe Manchin (WV), and Chuck Schumer (NY). This graphic tells an interesting story:
Manchin is the outlier here: he is from a deep-red state and does not have a great record of party loyalty. The others, though, are rock-solid Dems who cast a rare vote against their party and president. And what do they have in common? Jewish identity (Schumer and Cardin) and reliance on Jewish support (those two, plus Menendez).
Is Israel being treated unfairly by the US and the world?
Certainly, there is a great deal of hostility to Israel from hypocritical anti-Semites whose behavior differs little from what they go after Israel for. Certainly, Israel has a right to paranoia, based on the Holocaust and the Arabs’ unremitting hostility and aggression.
But, even for those of us who believe Israel has a right to defend itself in a hostile world, there was never any justification for civilian occupation of foreign land or for Israel’s unjust treatment of its own Palestinian citizens. Since 1973, Israel’s aggressive de facto appropriation of other people’s land and sovereignty has turned it from victim to perpetrator. Even under brief periods of Labor Party rule (including right after the Oslo Peace Accords), Israel has never stopped expanding its settlements on the West Bank, stealing property that doesn’t belong to it.
Israel’s apologists in this country say (more or less), “Hey, no fair criticizing Israel, unless you rebuke in equal measure the knife-wielding Arabs who attack us.” A knife versus the most powerful military force in the region. Resident uprisings, sometimes violent, in the face of daily humiliation and nonstop brutality. At this point, it’s hard for me to see any distinction between the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Africans who had to battle Apartheid for decades, against all odds and the concerted power of South Africa, the US, and Britain. People with no recourse to justice and no hope of progress explode. Wouldn’t you?
Yeah, but what about all the other countries in the world that are oppressive, racist, and/or aggressive? Well, I certainly hate illiberal, bigoted regimes like Russia’s or Hungary’s, not to mention the numerous African states who are murdering and imprisoning their homosexual citizens. Obviously, Israel has no monopoly on outrageous behavior.
But there are three reasons why Israel deserves special opprobrium (at least from me):
1. Most of the other outrageous countries in the world are not fundamentally kept afloat by my tax dollars. The fact that I am paying for Israeli racism and oppression gives me a right – nay, a duty – to forcefully oppose its behavior and US support for it. (For what it’s worth, I’d love to see an end to US support for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well.)
2. I have special contempt for democracies whose people choose racism, oppression, or aggression. Israelis have been voting for right-wing governments for most of the country’s history. The last three elections have produced governments that are ever narrower, ever more nationalist, ever more fascist. I don’t blame the Saudi people the way I blame Israelis: Saudis have no input on their leaders, nor say in their policies.
I am hardly being unfair to Israel. I maintain a boycott list of countries where the citizens themselves are responsible for their countries’ policies, including Austria, Hungary, and Poland. If I weren’t an American, I would throw this country into that same category: a country where a functional majority chooses bigotry and imperialism.
3. The very fact of my Jewishness requires for me to take greater responsibility for the state supposedly founded in my name. I was raised without the Jewish religion. Rather, our religion at home was that of the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. I grew up understanding that — as a member of a historically oppressed people — I could not turn my back on oppression of others. My progressivism is rooted in my heritage. I would be betraying my parents if I were to support Israeli aggression or even only turn a blind eye to it.
How Jewish-American politicians contribute to anti-Semitism:
I get how Joe Manchin could side with the right-wing on the nuclear deal. I get how Jewish Americans who have long sided with neocon aggression or spent decades supporting authoritarian freaks in the name of anti-communism could find themselves on the “wrong” side on Israel. At least they’re being consistent with their values.
It’s another matter when the Cardins, Raskins, and Schumers of the US body politic vote against their party, their president, and their proclaimed values on only one issue: Israel. The more these politicians give Israel a hypocritical pass, the more they reinforce the idea in the rest of the world that there is no gap between Jewishness/Judaism and Likud. The more they destroy the very possibility (in the eyes of others) that Jews can be just, that Jews can be peaceful, that Jews can respect human rights and human dignity, the more hatred against Jews they engender.
And this leads us to the great self-defeating tragedy that Likud Jews are engaged in. Israel cannot survive as a democratic, Jewish state if it will not allow a two-state solution. Likud and the majority of Israeli voters who support it are dooming themselves either to a future of apartheid (I would say it has already arrived) or to being a minority in a new Palestine. The Israeli people are assuring a disastrous future for their homeland.
And hypocritical Jewish liberals in the US are undermining Jewish security and safety everywhere by demonstrating that they cannot be trusted on this topic. They sap their own power as progressives (making us progressives less likely to support them) and feed right into the thinking of anti-Semites who want to see Jews has a fifth column with a nefarious agenda.
Is the UN being unfair to Israel? Not this time, in any case. Am I being unfair to Israel? Excuse me, but no fucking way!
It is time for the US to join the rest of the civilized world (however much of that remains in this year of democracy-in-peril) in condemning Israel. (Abstention is not enough!) Further, we must stop underwriting that horrific regime and its racist people. It well past time for my elected representatives, no matter their ethnic or religious affiliation, to be true to their values and to earn my vote not only through a commitment to civil rights and civil liberties at home, but also abroad.
©2017 Keith Berner