When a tiny nation faces mortal peril—and Israel always faces mortal peril—it needs a solid, impregnable defense, from the right to the left. Today, the right wing looks strong. But the left flank is bristling with enemies, and its few liberal defenders are overwhelmed, virtually disarmed.
Israel is fighting for its right to exist with one hand tied behind its back. The left hand.
Conservatives strongly support Israel. We have won that battle. Only on the extreme right wing, the lunatic fringe of fascists and skinheads, do we find Israel haters and Jew bashers on that side.
But it’s a different story on the left. One needn’t travel far from the center of conventional liberal opinion to find anti-Israel sentiment—even virulent anti-Israel sentiment—on the left.
Among otherwise sensible liberals, the question of an entire nation’s existence is an acceptable subject of polite conversation.
That state of affairs would be shocking if we weren’t so used to it. But, as a liberal, I will never get used to it, because it is a perversion of everything liberalism stands for.
The natural home of the left is with Israel, not its enemies. Because Israel, as a real, live country, embodies everything the left purports to believe in.
Let’s see how liberal Israel really is.
Universal health care? Check.
Gay rights? Most in the region, by far – including gay adoption and civil unions, (no gay marriage, yet, but it’s the only country in the area to recognize same sex unions.)
Environmental policy? The most enlightened in the neighborhood and getting better.
Social welfare system? So comprehensive it drives conservative Israelis crazy. Works far better than the American version.
In all of the Middle East there is only one state that enshrines freedom of conscience and religious choice in its laws, and strives mightily to practice those ideals within its borders. That state is Israel. The other nations in the Middle East trample on the rights of their religious and ethnic minorities with murderous glee.
To be a Muslim in Israel may be somewhat uncomfortable: you may feel the sting of disapproval, the slights of subtle discrimination, you may not feel that you fully belong, all of which is regrettable.
But to be a Jew in an Arab or Persian state—well, actually there aren’t enough Jews left in those lands to generalize. It’s hard to discriminate against a minority when you’ve chased nearly all of them out, and massacred the rest.
The choice for liberals worldwide is stark. They can either support a country that validates their values better than their home countries, or they can support woman-enslaving, gay-hating, democracy-fearing, America-phobic, anti-Jewish theocracies, thugocracies, and failed states that torture their own publics with endless civil wars and sectarian demagoguery.
How, in G-d’s name, have we lost that argument? It shouldn’t even be close. You can’t be a passionate promoter of woman’s equality, an indefatigable defender of gay rights, a champion of social welfare, environmental justice, and religious tolerance at home and abandon those beliefs at the water’s edge and still call yourself a progressive.
Yet many do. Large parts of the left are anti-Israel. The question is what do we do about it?
Some on the right say give liberalism up. According to them, anti-Israel sentiment is just more evidence of how wrong-headed liberal philosophy is: If you want to support Israel you must become a conservative.
I reject that dangerous idea, and so should even the staunchest conservative. Israel needs all the friends it can get. Shouldn’t we, at the very least, reinsure ourselves by having a loud, clear voice unapologetically advocating for Israel on the left?
I know this isn’t a forlorn hope because I am one. I’m an unshakable defender of Israel and progressive political values, both at the same time. There is no contradiction in those positions; they are mutually reinforcing. Many of my fellow liberals feel the same way.
For some of us, it is impossible to shackle ourselves—against all Jewish tradition of learning, of tolerance, of acceptance, of, dare I say it, social justice—to the right – a right that shares none of our liberality in mores or attitudes, a right that has made common cause with some of the most intolerant, reactionary, even racist groups in American society in a cynical attempt to make a majority out of a motley assortment of haters.
But my argument isn’t with the right. I am not asking conservatives to deny their conservatism to better serve the interests of Israel and the Jewish people. Doing that would be advocating phoniness, and phoniness is not in need of a recruiter. It is the least-threatened, most overpopulated religious affiliation in the known universe.
I’m just saying we need to engage the liberal/leftist half of humanity with all the energy and passion we can muster. Right now our enemies hold that field by default. Liberal supporters of Israel—and don’t kid yourself, we are legion—are mostly scared into silence by the perverted peer pressure of a high-decibel minority, full of rage and wrath as only those possessed by an irrational, unsupportable, political fetish can be.
Pro-Israel liberals, when they do find the courage to come out of the closet, are timid in their support, even apologetic. That condition reaches its nadir with Jewish liberals, the so-called self-loathing Jew. They don’t loathe themselves for being Jewish; they loathe themselves for not having the guts to stand up against the aggressive, bellicose fragment of the Israelophobic left that dominates the conversation, and them. And they allow the most outrageous lies and defamations that infest the liberal press and blogs to pass unchecked, not because they believe them, but because they don’t have the strength to fight back.
And who can blame them? They don’t have the weapons. They are disarmed because all the pro-Israel arguments with which they are familiar are the intellectual property of the right.
But a better case for Israel can be made from the left than from the right. The deepest values of liberalism and the cornerstones of liberal philosophy achieve their ascendancy in one place in the Middle East, one place in all of Asia: Israel.
All the left needs is the political, philosophical, and moral firepower to fight, and win, that existential argument. But the only place a liberal can find those weapons is on the left.
As a Jew and a liberal, it is my duty to help build that arsenal. And the purpose of this progressive essay in a conservative newspaper is to remind you that we are in this together. To defend against its host of enemies, Israel needs all of us, standing shoulder-to-shoulder. You on the right, us on the left.