“You’re not Jewish? Why are you pro-Israel, then?”
“How can you be a Zionist when Palestinians are suffering?”
“There’s no such thing as a ‘progressive’ Israel Alliance.”
As a supporter of Israel at my small liberal arts college, I have heard all of the preceding statements—and more—from my progressive classmates. The not-so-subtle implication behind them is that anyone who supports the Middle East’s only thriving democracy is validating the vast human rights abuses which the Israeli government has supposedly inflicted upon the Palestinian people simply because of a shared ethnic or religious history.
Like most Zionists, I neither support every action of the Israeli government nor embrace the fanaticism of its most ardent defenders. I dislike Israel’s current right-wing government, in which religious radicals hold disproportionate political power. I support a freeze on the construction of new settlements, which unnecessarily inflame tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. I support using the word “occupation” to describe the status quo in the West Bank, but I believe this occupation is necessary to contain the terrorist organizations which have a monopoly on political power in Palestinian communities.
Despite my quibbles with the Israeli government, I wholeheartedly support Israel’s right to exist as a democratic Jewish state. Yet somehow, this support alone is enough to undermine all of my progressive credentials in the eyes of a disappointing number of my classmates.
These sentiments would be troubling enough if they were confined to college campuses, but they are indicative of a broader anti-Zionist trend on the left. Mainstream left-wing political parties have begun to enshrine anti-Israel language in their platforms. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently appointed three anti-Israel activists to the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee: Cornel West, Keith Ellison, and James Zogby. Dr. West, a prominent liberal academic, has said that support for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank should be a “litmus test for progressives.” Mr. Ellison, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota, retweeted a photo that referred to the occupation as “apartheid,” drawing upon an age-old false equivalency which trivializes the struggles of black South Africans. Arab Israeli citizens live in Israel proper, receive public education, and have formed several political parties; black South Africans could not have dreamt of such freedoms under apartheid. And James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute and perhaps the most repulsive of Mr. Sanders’s appointees, compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people to the Holocaust.
The anti-Zionism of the left is even worse in Europe, which—being comprised of several liberal democracies—should stand with the only thriving democracy in the Middle East. Europe’s historically atrocious treatment of Jews also might inspire some measure of support from the region’s politicians. But in many European countries, including the United Kingdom, mainstream left-wing political parties regularly spout inflammatory anti-Zionist rhetoric. One member of the British Parliament for the Labour Party, Naseem Shah, advocated forcible relocation of all Israeli citizens in a post on her personal Facebook page. And in defense of Ms. Shah’s repulsive behavior, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said that “a real anti-Semite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel” and contended, bizarrely, that Hitler was a Zionist.
Contrary to what many of my college classmates imply, support for the only liberal democracy in the Middle East is motivated by reasons much grander than a shared ethnic background. (For the record, I’m not even Jewish.) This spring, I attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference, the largest gathering of the pro-Israel community in Washington D.C. This community includes large groups of non-Jews; at the conference, I witnessed workshops on African-American and evangelical support for Israel. Pro-Israel activists hail from every race, religion, and sexual and political orientation. Support for the Middle East’s only liberal democracy is not solely the province of conservative ethnic Jews. In reality, it is far-reaching and bipartisan.
Anyone who believes in democracy and has hope for the future of the Middle East should support Israel. As a nexus of democracy, liberty, and cultural exchange, Israel is evidence that a government by the people and for the people can exist even in the Middle East, where oppressive theocracies and regimes are all-too-common. And crucially, its economic dominance may nudge other countries in the Middle East to adopt freer economic and political systems to compete. Though Israel is a religious democracy, it is not a theocracy, and it has enshrined freedom of religion within its Declaration of Independence. All progressives and progressive parties, especially the Democratic Party here in the U.S., should support America’s most important—and most progressive—Middle Eastern ally.