As an American liberal who loves Israel because I'm a liberal, I've been disturbed by the recent diminishing trend of American progressive support for the Jewish state in its decades-long conflict with its increasingly hostile neighbors.
A recent CNN/ORC poll concerning the Gaza conflict intensified my anxiety: While a plurality of self-identified liberals and Democrats support Israel's right of self-defense in taking military action against Hamas, Democrats were three times more likely than Republicans to believe that the Jewish State is "not justified" in its targeted bombing campaign.
The roots of liberal sympathy for the radical, fundamentalist, brutal Hamas regime are as complex as they are troubling. We liberals love the underdog, and a media that rewards conflict over context has helped promote the perverse notion that the tiny nation with the Star of David on its flag is really the Goliath in the popular Biblical metaphor. This problem was exacerbated in Campaign 2012 when my fellow progressives watched a coterie of unlikeable, right-wing GOP presidential hopefuls proclaim their uber-passionate support for the Jewish State and try to use it as a political wedge against our beloved progressive President.
But amidst the shouting and finger-pointing, the fundamental reason behind the decline of American progressive support for Israel relates to a profound misunderstanding of the facts on the ground. When confronted with an accurate accounting of the differences between the two sides in the conflict, a true liberal must be compelled to embrace the Zionist cause.
Here are but a few examples:
Israel Values Human Life; Hamas Does Not
There's no moral value more important to American liberals than the preciousness of human life, particularly the lives of those in our society who are most vulnerable: As Hubert Humphrey elegantly framed the liberal credo, "The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life -- the sick, the needy and the handicapped."
Israel's current intervention in Gaza is a living example of this principle. Understanding that any military action would provoke its international enemies, Israel simply could no longer tolerate the danger posed to its citizens -- Jews and Arabs -- by the many months of unprovoked bombing of civilian targets in Southern Israel by Hamas militants. Accordingly, Israel has engaged in a painstakingly-measured, precisely-targeted bombing campaign, using the most modern technology to carefully dismantle military targets and avoid civilian casualties. On Monday, for example, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) used pinpoint accuracy to destroy the second floor of a Gaza City office building, killing only the Islamic Jihad military leaders who had been responsible for training terrorists, planning attacks on Israeli civilians and manufacturing weapons.
— Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) November 19, 2012
Of course, there has been -- and will continue to be -- significant collateral damage; innocent Palestinians -- very, very regretfully -- have been killed in the bombing campaign. But their blood lies entirely in the hands of their Hamas leaders. As the picture above taken by CNN's Anderson Cooper dramatically illustrates, Hamas has embedded its offensive military weaponry within highly populated civilian areas, with the complete knowledge -- and indeed, desired intent -- of provoking the IDF to unintentionally kill innocent Palestinians. Hamas' use of human shields -- its deliberate placement of innocent civilians near combat targets to either deter Israel from attacking those targets or to provoke international sympathy for mounting civilian death tolls -- is an indisputable war crime, a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.
Furthermore, Hamas leaders have actually been daring Israel to launch a ground campaign that would necessarily lead to a significant increase in loss of life on both sides, especially among Palestinian civilians. Hamas' leader, Khaled Meshal, suggested Monday that the Israeli mobilization on the Gaza border was a bluff, and insisted that Hamas would not cease its bombing campaign unless Israel ended its military blockade -- a condition it knows the Israeli government will never accept because that would mean more offensive weapons could be brought into Gaza, dramatically exacerbating the military threat against Israeli civilians.
Israel Seeks Peace; Hamas Does Not
When it comes to American foreign policy, or relations among world nations, there's no liberal value more important than the search for peace.
Since declaring its independence more than six decades ago, Israel has desperately sought peace with its neighbors. Time after time, Israel has reached its hand out to peace, only to be met with shaken fists: From Arab declaration of war in 1948 upon their refusal to accept the United Nations' partition; to the Egyptian military provocations in 1967 that led to the Six Day War; to the Arab League's refusal after that war to accept the U.N.'s resolution of land for peace; to the 1973 three-front invasion of the Jewish State on its holiest day of Yom Kippur, to the present hostilities. Indeed, Israel has no incentive whatsoever to provoke war with its neighbors -- its citizens would like nothing better to live peacefully.
Some have argued this week -- including some well-meaning supporters of the Jewish State -- that if only Israel would sign a peace agreement to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank, such bombing campaigns would no longer be necessary. Like most American liberals -- indeed like a majority of Israeli citizens -- I too support a two-state solution that transform most of the West Bank into a Palestinian State. But among the wide variety of strong rationales for such an agreement to be reached through bi-lateral negotiation, stopping Hamas from bombing Israeli civilians is not one of them. As vividly outlined in its charter, Hamas is only interested in a one-state solution, with no Jewish State.
Indeed, the recent Hamas military campaigns have made many Israelis recalibrate the value of turning the West Bank over to a people that democratically elected Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And certainly, it has made many rethink the decision of Israel's Sharon Administration to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza in 2004-2005.
But most significantly, such calls ignore the most important factor for the failure of peace in the region -- Israel's inability to identify a willing partner for peace on the other side. Whether it was Yasir Arafat's 2000 rejection of the Bill Clinton negotiated peace settlement in 2000 that would have turned over 97% of the West Bank and control of East Jerusalem to Palestinian hands, or current Palestinian President Mohammad Abbas' 2008 refusal of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert's even more generous peace offer, Palestinian leaders have proven time and again that they are the remaining obstacle to peace. And remember: Arafat and Abbas represent the "moderate" wing of the Palestinian movement; Hamas fundamentally rejects Israel's very existence.
Israel Shares Our Liberal Values; Hamas Does Not
I have outlined in this space, and in my recently published book, The Liberal Case for Israel, that Israel models liberal values as well as -- or even better -- than any other nation today. Whether it is its remarkable progressive LGBT culture and legal regime, its feminist approach to the empowerment of women, its warm embrace of immigrant populations, its generous single-payer health care system, or its compassionate form of capitalism, Israel promotes the kind of liberal policies that folks like me that live in red states have been advocating unsuccessfully for years. Moreover, Israel's extraordinary protection of civil rights and civil liberties ensures that its Arab citizens not only have signficantly greater freedoms of speech, assembly and religion than in most Arab nations, but that they have the complete equal rights of their Jewish neighbors.
By contrast, the Hamas government is a brutal, repressive and regressive theocracy. The Hamas regime demeans, oppresses, jails, harasses, assaults, and tortures gays and lesbians. Women are second class citizens; there are no free speech protections, and government corruption runs rampant. American liberals -- particularly those of us from religious, ethnic or sexual orientation minorities -- would not simply vigorously object to Hamas policies being brought to our nation; we'd be wise never to step foot in Gaza territory.
The current Hamas campaign is ultimately a cynical, patronizing attempt to win the hearts and minds of American liberals: If they can provoke Israel to unintentionally kill enough innocent Palestinian civilians -- and effectively use the media to paint themselves as the heroic blood-stained victim -- then perhaps enough liberals will join in their efforts to wipe the Jewish State off the map.
My fellow liberals, I urge you not to fall for this. Israel is not perfect. Like in the U.S., these kinds terrorist attacks on the homeland sometimes will provoke official overreaction or create unintentional casualties. (Of course, every day is 9/11 in Israel.)
But in the end, the Zionist experiment has emerged -- quietly and vibrantly -- as a clear demonstration of the power of progressive values. Let's stand with those who continue to uphold our deepest principles, even in the face of the most belligerent anti-liberal provocations.