Progressives in Middle Eastern Exile?

You are a progressive, and you have been arrested and are being expelled from your country. You are brought to the airport, and given just one minute to decide upon your destination, your country of exile. There is a catch, however. You must choose from one of the following five Middle Eastern nations: Egypt (at least before the ongoing upheaval), Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel.

You have only this one minute to make up your mind.

Perhaps you are not only progressive, but also gay. Or a woman. Or both. Maybe you are an atheist. Or a liberal Christian. Or a Jewish progressive.

Your time is almost up.

What do you choose?

If you wanted to live in a democratic state with women's rights, where gays and lesbians can live openly and march in pride parades, where you have freedom of religious expression -- well there was only one good choice.

If you are a progressive who sees Israel as the greatest violator of human rights in the world, as a pariah state rightfully deserving to be far more frequently censured by the United Nations than any other state, as the one nation that should be the target of an international boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement -- did you, perhaps, still choose Israel as your home in exile?

Or, do you continue to believe that Israel is a worse criminal than the other four (singly or combined)? That the Palestinians are merely victims of an unprecedentedly brutal Israeli regime? That the lack of not only Israeli-Palestinian peace, but the lack of Middle Eastern peace, is a result solely of Israel's intransigence and criminality? That ideally, for there to be true justice, the obstacle named Israel must disappear?

If, however, you are a progressive who believes in the values of freedom of speech and religion and the press, in women's and gay and lesbian rights, then perhaps you might not wish Israel out of existence so quickly. Perhaps you would find it a more welcoming home in exile than your other options. An imperfect home, no doubt, but one where you would remain free to express your dissent.

It's true, of course, that the authorities in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran would all allow you to express criticism openly. Well, that is, if you limit your criticism to Israel and Jews. But should you wish to advance the causes of gay rights, or freedom of worship, or freedom of the press, or democratic reform, then your convictions might not be so welcome. (With the revolution in Egypt, we will have to wait and see what emerges, but I would not bet on the blossoming of a liberal democracy.)

Progressives ought to come to terms with this juxtaposition. They ought to question, within progressive circles, the almost unconsciously reflexive singling out of Israel for condemnation, the efforts to delegitimize its existence in a way not applied to any other nation in the world. When progressives -- and I count myself as a progressive -- can get to such a point, when we can analyze Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an international context, then we might be able to engage in constructive criticism instead of demonization. And then we can all take part in a serious conversation of what it will take to bring peace -- and full international recognition at the United Nations -- for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.