Israel continues to be the demon poster-child of the Left. The prime example of a repressive regime and abuser of human rights. On the Left, people became outraged and agitated over Israel more than over any other cause. Israel's supposed villainy will bring out protestors on cold, rainy days in a way no other issue can. Many of these people are earnest, but perhaps misled.
In most ways, my own politics tend to be Liberal-Left: I support single-payer, universal healthcare, I opposed the war in Iraq and the Bush-Cheney "imperial presidency," I even voted twice for Ralph Nader. However, like French philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy, I differ on Israel and reject the demonization of Israel, whether at the United Nations, in the world media, or among American and European Leftists.
If my fellow Leftists or even Liberals think that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement will help bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as peace to the Middle East and harmony to the community of nations, they are sadly mistaken. There is a difference between criticism and demonization, and the campaign against Israel is of the latter type. Criticism, and there is much of it within Israel's own healthy democracy, can result in positive change. But the focused attempt to demonize Israel, not undertaken against any other nation, is aimed at delegitimizing Israel and undermining its very existence, as if the problems of the world were the fault of the Israelis -- the fault of the Jews -- and if they would only go away, all would be better.
Not only is this a sorry illusion, but this concerted assault on Israel itself betrays the principles of the Left.
Here, then, are 8 reasons Leftists should be Pro-Israel (or, at least, Pro-Peace rather than Anti-Israel):
1. Human Rights. The Left fights for human rights in the world. Even if one thinks Israel or its soldiers guilty of human rights violations (and I am not willing at the outset to grant this point), there is no international or historical comparison that could reasonably rank Israel among the worst criminals of the world or of history. Whether we look at the scale of the conflict, the numbers of lives lost, or the treatment of the press or of dissidents, there are far too many examples of bloodshed and persecution dwarfing anything done by Israel against the Palestinians over the last four decades since the Six Day War, when Israel was attacked by its neighbors. Even Arab treatment of Palestinians, such as in Jordan's Black September massacre, caused thousands of deaths, possibly more in 10 days than in four decades of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And how can we compare Israel to Mugabe's Zimbabwe, or the Chinese crackdown on Tibet and Tianneman? Or the disappearances and death squads of Latin America Square or the killing fields of Pol Pot? Let alone the genocide pursued by Hitler or Stalin's murderous reign? Let us be clear: genocide is the attempt to exterminate an entire people and culture; this is not what has happened to the Palestinians, and it is not the goal of Israeli policy. By contrast, the explicit aim of Hamas is to eliminate Israel. So, if we support human rights and oppose persecution, ought we not first to focus our efforts on the places where we find the worst situations? Can anyone rationally claim that among these places, let alone the most horrendous of all, is a small nation on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea?
2. Internationalism. Leftists tend to support internationalism. One would think that the United Nations would be the world body most dedicated to furthering this aim. But how is it that Israel, this small nation, has become such a central concern? From 2003-2010, there have been more than 900 human rights actions against Israel at the U.N.; the next closest is Sudan at just under 400. Israel is the only member of the U.N. to be excluded from any of the five regional groups. And should not all on the Left oppose the absurdity of the so-called Human Rights Council, whose members include such paragons of humanitarianism as China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Kyrgyzstan? How can Leftists stand silent when the Turkish Prime Minister denounces Israel for human rights crimes while then promising that the Kurds will "drown in their own blood," in a conflict with human rights abuses on both sides and tens of thousands individuals killed? If Gaza is not the ideal place to live, if the Gazans are suffering, nevertheless the photos in the New York Times and elsewhere and the testimony of reporters clearly demonstrate that Gazans are not starving, their store shelves are not empty, whether for food or consumer goods; as difficult as the situation may be, it is simply not the pinnacle of human rights disasters, and Israel is thus not deserving of international condemnation above all other nations in the world.
3. Peace. Leftists want peace. In the Middle East and elsewhere. The polls make clear that, overwhelmingly, Israelis desire peace with their neighbors; the difficult sacrifices, including the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza make this evident. Israelis are prepared for a secure, two-state solution, to live side-by-side in peace. Meanwhile, the stated goal of its enemies is to end its existence. A simple thought-experiment should make the matter starkly clear: If tomorrow Hamas and other Palestinian groups unilaterally put down their weapons, what would follow? Peace. If Israelis unilaterally put down their weapons, what would follow? Millions of dead or exiled Jews. Anyone on the Left who does not recognize this is living in denial. Leftists should support peace and not live in denial.
4. Anti-Authoritarianism. Leftists oppose authoritarianism and dictatorship and instead support popular, democratic rule. Israel maintains a vibrant, parliamentary democracy, with a broad range of views represented, much more so than in the United States, for example. Indeed, Arabs parties and Communists have long had representatives voted into the Israeli Knesset. Can we imagine such representation, as well as the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in Israel's Arab neighbors? In the Gaza ruled by Hamas? In Egypt or Syria or Saudi Arabia? By opposing Israel and supporting groups like Hamas, the Left is not supporting a liberation struggle but rather the effort to replace the Middle East's only democracy with yet another repressive dictatorship. Do Leftists really desire such an outcome? How can the one major effort to boycott, divest, and sanction be aimed at a democratic nation like this? As Bernard Henri-Levy has written at the Huffington Post of the "Confusion of an era when we combat democracies as though they were dictatorships or fascist States. This maelstrom of hatred and madness is about Israel. But it also concerns, as we should be well aware, some of the most precious things established in the movement of ideas in the last thirty years, especially on the left, and these are thus imperiled."
5. Human Dignity and Equality. The Left fights for the values of dignity and equality. Are these traits exemplified more by Israel or its neighbors? Look at how much Israelis value the life of a single soldier, in the willingness to trade hundreds of prisoners for one soldier, and even to trade prisoners to recover their dead for proper burial. Look at the rules of engagement of the Israeli Defense Forces, at how the IDF calls and leaflets civilians to warn them; does any other military do such a thing? In terms of equality and human rights, compare the state of women's and gay and lesbian rights in Israel with that in the rest of the Middle East. And in terms of human dignity, do people on the Left think so little of Palestinian dignity that they are willing to claim Palestinians have "no choice" but to turn themselves into homicidal-suicidal bombers to kill Israeli children? Can we not expect more of people? Treating Palestinians like helpless victims does less than recognize their human dignity.
6. Anti-Discrimination. Leftists oppose sexism, racism, and any similar sort of discrimination. And so, Leftists do or ought to oppose anti-Semitism in the same way. And yet, Leftists too often give a pass to anti-Semitism masked as anti-Zionism or anti-Israel sentiment. The playwright David Mamet has written in the Huffington Post as follows: "Yet most of the Western Press, European and American, pictures Israel as, somehow the aggressor, and the Israelis as somehow inhuman, and delighting in blood." As Mamet has elaborated in his book The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews, this is nothing less than a reworking of the old Blood Libel against the Jews--except this time, instead of being accused of using non-Jewish blood to bake matzah, the Jews are accused of spilling blood for no reason other than gratuitous pleasure. Leftists ought to be vigilant in distinguishing between constructive criticism of Israel and dehumanizing caricatures of Jews.
7. Self-Defense. Only the most uncompromising pacifists oppose the right to self-defense, and certainly most Leftists uphold this right. At least when Palestinians are doing the defending. Why are Israelis exempt from this right? How many Leftists would sit idly by while rockets rained down on their towns and families, with their children traumatized? And if we said, oh, but people are only killed occasionally, would that minimize your commitment to protect your family? Only Jews are expected to lay down their weapons and offer their throats. How dare the Jews have the chutzpah to fight back?!
8. Progress. We want movement on Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Yet, demonizing Israel, singling it out, as is done at the UN and on college campuses will do little to advance peace. We all know, have all known for decades the basic outlines of a peace settlement. The Israelis have been prepared for this and have prepared their citizens. The Left should be pressuring Palestinians to accept peace and to stop teaching their children that Jews are monsters after their blood. This sort of pressure might bring some progress.
It was long ago time for Leftists to tear down the poster that features Israel as the demon-child of human rights abuse and repression. It is time for Leftists to become outraged not over Israel, but over the distortions and demonization of Israel on college campuses and at the United Nations and throughout the media and politics. It is time for Leftists to reject the treatment of Israel as a pariah, or Jews as bloodthirsty murderers, and time instead to welcome Israel into the community of nations as a full member, subject to the same criticism and praise as any other nation.