What defines "pro-Israel"?

With the fall elections approaching, the Israel lobby is cranking up its machinery. In my state this means picking a candidate in the Sestak-Toomey Senate race and declaring one of them “Pro-Israel” and the other “Anti-Israel”. Our neocon friend William Kristol and some Christian evangelicals have formed a group called Emergency Committee for Israel. Kristol describes it as the “pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community”, whatever the hell that means. The group has labeled Sestak as anti-Israel. It’s irrelevant, of course, that Sestak, a retired admiral, teamed extensively with Israeli military forces during his career and has always supported Israel’s defense needs. So how did Sestak earn the anti-Israel label? He signed a J Street letter to Obama opposing the Gaza blockade.

Most Americans support Israel and consider radical Islam a major threat, so an anti-Israel candidate won’t win a Senate race. With that in mind, an anti-Israel candidate won’t even bother running for Senate. But you can still have two pro-Israel candidates who have differing views on our foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel. Considering that there is great debate on which policy is in Israel’s best interest, it would seem difficult to label the candidates as pro-Israel or anti-Israel. But this debate only takes place on the left because the politics of the right are much simpler.

One of the things that makes the political right fairly successful is that they simplify every issue down to binary mode. There is only right or wrong, friend or enemy, moral or immoral, just say “no.” Simple. There are no gray areas with the right. Who can forget President Bush’s famous, “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy”. Having two candidates that support Israel, but having one that disagrees with the Israeli government’s policy, doesn’t fit into the neat and simple logic of the right. So the right uses the following formula: if you agree with the Israeli government, you are pro-Israel. And therefore, by simple logic, if you aren’t pro-Israel you must be anti-Israel. For the right, being a friend of Israel means agreeing with its policies. It has nothing to do with caring about Israel’s well being, safety, or future. AIPAC therefore considers itself to be a great friend of Israel because it supports each position that the Israeli government holds. And Right wingers consider J Street to be anti-Israel because it holds that some of the Israeli government’s policies are harmful to Israel. The right wing attitude is easy because it’s simple, neat, and requires no thinking. It’s also not Jewish.

My dear friend Ike Sax, may he rest in peace, always told me to not be bashful about telling my friend that he is doing something wrong. He said, “what kind of person would let his friend do something in error and not correct him”? In fact the Torah says that even if you see your enemy going the wrong way you should tell him. How much more then you should tell your friend when he is going the wrong way. The perfect example in American culture is the saying, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”. No, I’m not saying that the Israeli government are a bunch of drunk drivers. But myopia is a common condition that affects us all, and when you are standing in the forest you do only see the trees.

Some will say that my argument is not applicable to the pro-Israel question. They would instead argue that Israel is a democracy and we should respect the will of the Israeli people. I suppose I might be inclined to accept this if I had no stake in the matter. But as I Zionist I am committed to ensuring that there will be a State of Israel in the future. I am not a dispassionate outsider. I am reminded of the familiar Talmudic story of a group of people in a small wooden boat. One person is picking at the floorboards beneath his seat with a knife. “What are you doing!”, a fellow passenger yells. The first passenger replies, “What concern is it to you? I’m only picking under my own seat”. ¬†Well, the way I see it, Israelis are my brothers and we are all in the same boat. And I will not be bashful about telling them to stop poking holes in the bottom of the boat. That makes me a friend of Israel, not an enemy.

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