What Does it Mean to be Pro-Israel?

I’m not Jewish, and I’ve only briefly visited Israel. That was back in 2000.

I was a sailor onboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and we had a several day port call in Tel Aviv. My friend, Shak (short for Elijah Shekinah), had convinced me by then that we should do more than simply drink ourselves into a coma at every port and actually see what the world had to offer.

When you go abroad with the Navy, there are plenty of excellent and informative tours that are made available when you make port; in Turkey we rode camels, went rock diving, and white water rafting, and in Israel we opted for a variation of the holy land tour that was designed seemingly for the not quite so devout.

Israel, if you haven’t been, is absolutely stunning, Jerusalem will drop your jaw. It’s massive, and home to some of the holiest places for three of the world’s major religions. Whilst there I saw the Church of the Sepulchre and watched as women with head scarves anoint themselves at the stone where Jesus Christ was prepared for his burial, and I saw the Wailing Wall, where Hasidic Jews chanted quietly in prayer and crammed folded up messages in between the aged bricks of that holy landmark.

I even saw the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest places in the Muslim faith. But that I saw only from afar, our tour guide’s reluctance to take us for a closer look somehow emphasizing the tenuous and strained relationship between the Muslims and the Jews.

As I said, I went on an abbreviated holy land tour; we only hit the hight points, taking an extra day to see some of Israel’s less theologically important sites as well. My chief at the time, Bob, was devout though, and he was in it for the real deal holy land tour. Tragically for him, though he bought into the real deal tour, he came away with not half as much as I did.

As we pulled out of dock from Israel, our ship heading south and to the east, making our way into the Persian Gulf, we were in the office when Chief Bob explained to us what happened.

With a glum look on his face, he explained that he didn’t come back with any pictures, and didn’t even get to visit any of the places he was truly hoping to see on that trip. He said they were all on the bus, talking eagerly over the places they were going to visit, when the tour guide got on the microphone and asked the group, “So, how many of you have seen the Israelis and the Palestinians fighting on television?”

They all raised their hands. Keeping his cool, the tour guide gave that smile that tour guides give, and said, “Yes, if you look off to the right, you will see Israelis and Palestinians fighting not too far away from here.”

They turned the bus around, and canceled the tour.

The debate about Israel here in America is an impossible one. You are not allowed to adopt anything but a violently pro-Israel stance or else you run the risk of being labeled anti-semitic. And when I mean violent, I mean violent. Our support for Israel comes with a heavy price, one that includes the cost of refusing any credibility to the Palestinians whatsoever.

The big problem is that this cost also includes the cost of lives, and the chance for peace.

As Ezra Klein aptly notes, it is this unrelentingly violent pro-Israel culture in our politics that has tied the hands of politicians. Barack Obama, the man who has said he would sit and talk with just about anyone, can’t even hint that he would be able to address Hamas directly, even at a time when Hamas is hinting at the beginnings of a peaceful solution.

Political purists would call him a phony, accuse him of playing politics as usual, or whatever it is that those who can’t differentiate between political expediency and political necessity say. But the fact of the matter is, this is no sign of political weakness on Obama’s part, it is simply the only course of action he has before him if he wanted any prayer of being elected to any office ever again.

And I think this is the point that Ezra is trying to get at. Even if he wanted to, and I’m not saying he does or doesn’t, Obama can’t say he would talk to Hamas, our political culture would have him tarred, feathered, burned at the stake, and then drawn and quartered.

But for all this pro-Israel bluster, what is forgotten is that lives are at stake. No, not at stake, lives are being lost. For as long as we allow this particularly venomous aspect of our culture to persist, we can never hope to assist in giving Israel perhaps the greatest gift we could ever hope to offer; lasting peace where they do not live every day with the threat of Palestinian aggression.

This, too, is my desire for the Palestinians. For as much of the maligning that they may deserve, for all the terrorism that Hamas has perpetrated, one must never forget that these are a people without a land that they can call their own, without a flag that they can pledge allegiance to, without the freedom to govern themselves without being under the foot of Israel.

My point is not to take sides, but to insist that as long as we take sides the way we have been is doing neither Israel nor Palestinians as much good as we are capable of.

They both have grievances that are true, and must be addressed, but these are two peoples with families who would like to live decent lives without the threat of terror or oppression. They want to work and feed and raise their children within their rich cultures and pass along their ancient traditions. When we talk about Israel and Palestine (or the lack thereof), while many only see aggression, I see the families that suffer.

My intent is to insist that someone can be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine at the same time, that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. But this is a concept that goes against a loud and raucous cultural tide, one that must be fought if we are to ever see true stability in the Middle East.

Ezra informs us of a movement that I sincerely hope will help change that cultural tide. It’s called J-Street. If they provide even a glimmer of hope for changing our culture, they can count on my support, and I hope the same can be said of you.

More from Memeorandum: The New Republic, The Washington Independent, American Spectator, Matthew Yglesias and Attackerman

(edited by DrGail)

4 Responses to “What Does it Mean to be Pro-Israel?”

  1. Chief says:

    As there will be no “military” solution for the U.S. in Iraq, much as there was not a military solution for France in Algeria, there will not be a military solution for Israel in the Middle East.
    Negotiation is not weakness. Stubborn refusal to negotiate means you have nothing to offer.
    I am not Jewish, but I adamantly support the right of Israel to exist.

  2. mosquito says:

    You have a much better chance of being able to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine if you lived in Israel and not the U.S. A small minority of extremist is currently in control of the Israeli gov. (sound familiar?) But the majority of the Israeli people want a peaceful solution and less of a hard nosed military stance.
    It’s difficult to discuss this issue in the U.S. The Israeli lobby goes after journalists who show any sympathy towards Palestine. It’s so easy to be labeled anti-Semitic unless you are willing to go along with the extremist minority. I have Jewish friends who are labeled anti-Semitic for heavens sake. Amy Goodman at democracynow.org covers the middle east fairly, her grandfather was a rabi, and she’s been labeled anti-semitic…..
    I agree with you….in the current climate no candidate can even approach this can of worms and expect to be elected.

    buzz…buzz…

  3. DONALD LAFACE says:

    I don’t particularily care for Israell and it’s Apartheid ways that they blatantly get away with,they used to try and make everyone feel guilty for how the Nazis killed under a nuts direct order 6-7 million Jews ,but let’s all forget about the 25+ million Russians that the Nazis erradicated,or the millions of others .Yet Israell has today become those Nazis,you wish to call me anti-semetic,knock yourself out,first look up the word semetic,it’s a stolen word like the word Gay!..Granted not all Israellis dislike the Palestinean who’s land was stolen peoples divided,thrown into refugee camps these are the Israellis native to the lands the ones who lived side by side with the arab,all across the lands,not the ones from europe,!!We helped create our own demons and now we’re made to pay for that!,by the way! my now x-partner and most of those at our retired Advertising business happened to be Jews,for most of our adult lives we worked and enjoyed life together,they too disliked the Israelli,and many have Israelli relatives they didn’t care for because of their fucking arrogance,I’m an Athiest! and dislike all religions as they,among others are the creators of hate and turmoil,…The uncivilized conqueor other’s lands…and we call ourselves civilized,nope! we’re still in the caves still worship unseen beings! ………sorry! call me anti-semite? catholic christian,……Carter recently went to talk w/ the leaders of Hamas,there’s where the news was ,he was critisized!!!

  4. Cee says:

    I adamantly support the right of Israel to exist

    Chief,

    I’ll support their right to exist when they establish some permanent borders.
    Stealing land and making enemies doesn’t give them any rights that anyone needs to abide by.
    Harsh? You bet. ‘m at the end of my tolerance.
    The other day someone from a road crew leaned a piece of heavy equipment against one of my immature pine trees. I had a fit.
    Imagine that YOU are the following citizens?
    Imagine how these farmers feel who see their source of income destroyed!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/15/israelandthepalestinians/print

    “How would you feel when you’ve spent 20 years finishing your life’s project?” said Suleiman, 38, a teacher. He began moving his furniture out after the letter, from the civil administration of Judea and Samaria, the defence ministry department responsible for the Israeli-occupied West Bank, came on January 31. Now there are just a couple of plastic chairs in his front room and in the hallway the carpets are rolled up and ready to be moved. Clothes are piled on the floor and the shelves are empty, save for a stack of documents charting the story of the impending demolition. His brother, Husam, has already left the ground floor flat but the new washing machine and fridge stand still wrapped in plastic. Suleiman, his wife and two children wait for the bulldozers.

    “Everything I did in my life was for what’s now inside this house and now it’s going to be destroyed,” said Suleiman. “It’s very hard for me to find somewhere else to live.”

    The Israeli government defends the continued settlement construction particularly in the major settlements which it calls “population centres”, saying it will not build new settlements or expropriate more land. “In the population centres and in Jerusalem the reality on the ground will not be the same in the future as it is today,” Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said last month. “There will be more additional building as part of the reality of life and this is something that was explained …”

    Not all the cases of demolition involve homes. In January, Israeli forces uprooted 3,200 trees, destroyed water cisterns and stone terraces in fields near Beit Ula, close to Hebron, in the southern West Bank. Again this was in area C. The civil administration said the demolition was an “enforcement activity” carried out after legal warnings.

    But in this case the target was a €64,000 (£51,000) project from the European commission which began two years ago to provide a livelihood for the villagers, several of whom also put their own money into the planting.

    “It was a tragedy for us,” said Sami al-Adam, 46, a farmer who had put in 45,000 shekels. “They’re tearing me out by my roots. They want to destroy Palestinian farmers psychologically and economically.”

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