Friday, April 25, 2014

Defining 'Pro-Israel' Is Not Rocket Science

Mitchell G. Bard
For the last several years the Jewish community has wasted thousands of hours in a sterile debate regarding the "big tent," and the criteria for deciding who should be inside or outside. It's time to throw away the tent analogy and lay out the requirements for recognizing a person or organization as pro-Israel in the American context.
Today, there are groups who hold the contradictory positions that their criticism of Israel helps the Jewish state, that presenting a cacophony of voices to U.S. policymakers rather than a unified position strengthens U.S.-Israel relations and that American Jews -- who do not serve in the IDF or have to live with the consequences of their prescriptions -- know what's best for Israel and need to save Israel from itself. This last position is particularly disturbing because it is both paternalistic and anti-Democratic. Those who want the U.S. to impose their preferred policies on Israel assume that Israelis are too stupid or immature to know what's best for their country. They also believe that Israel's democratically elected leaders are clueless as to Israel's interests and the fact that they represent the wishes of Israeli voters is irrelevant.

I have published this list of criteria for distinguishing who is pro-Israel before, but it remains as relevant today, perhaps more so, given debates about Hillel's guidelines and the consideration of J Street for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Maimonides had his 13 attributes of God; these are my 13 attributes for someone who is pro-Israel:
1. Believes the Jewish people are a nation entitled to self-determination in their homeland, which is Israel.
2. Respects Israeli democracy and does not substitute their judgment for Israeli voters'.
3. Emphasizes the good in Israel while acknowledging the faults, rather than emphasizing the faults and ignoring Israel's virtues.
4. Criticizes Israel within the family. Israel may be the only country whose prime minister regularly meets with citizens from other countries to hear their views. The easiest way for a Jew to get attention -- the man-bites-dog story -- is to be the Jew who publicly castigates Israel. Israel's best interests should trump personal ego.
5. Rejects the idea that Israeli criticism justifies American Jewish criticism of Israel. America is not Israel; Israelis have a common narrative and shared experiences. Americans, even American Jews, do not have the same level of knowledge or experience with regard to Israel, so criticism is interpreted differently. Criticism is also not justified by Israeli encouragement, as they do not understand the American context and typically only bless critics who agree with them (leftist Israelis are happy to encourage American Jews to speak out against rightist governments, but are furious with criticism of leftist governments and vice versa).
6. Respects Israeli military judgments. Israelis are not infallible, but armchair American generals typically have no qualifications for challenging Israeli military experts (even U.S. military generals can be wrong, as proved by George Marshall's prediction that the Jews would be routed in 1948).
7. Believes in trying to act by consensus. Sometimes this leads to watering-down positions, but unity is one of the principal advantages the Israeli lobby has over the Arab lobby.
8. Knows the history and facts about the contentious issues, including the Palestinian narrative, to be well-informed enough to understand and discuss these matters.
9. Doesn't substitute wishful thinking for reality. Everyone wants peace, but objective conditions cannot be ignored.
10. Does not join forces with Israel's enemies (e.g., by advocating boycotts of Israel).
11. Understands different audiences require different approaches. Comments made before an audience that has similar attitudes and knowledge about Israel will be understood one way, while the same remarks may be misconstrued by an audience that has mixed or anti-Israel feelings.
12. Supports Israeli government efforts to make peace even when the risks seem high from the comfort of America.
13. Advocates peace; however, being pro-peace is not synonymous with pro-Israel. Many groups and individuals say they favor peace but espouse positions that are damaging to Israel.
Any individual or group that accepts these 13 criteria should be welcomed as part of the pro-Israel community. This does not mean all others should be shunned. On the contrary, pro-Israel groups and individuals must engage the well-intentioned, but often ill-informed, who may become part of the fold once they have a better grasp of the issues. This is especially true for young Jews who often love Israel but are troubled by its flaws and frustrated by the frequent unwillingness of pro-Israel groups to discuss them. Forums need to be provided for students to express these views, with knowledgeable moderators to facilitate the discussion and separate myths from facts and opinion from certainty.
Not everyone will accept these 13 attributes for being pro-Israel. Some are ill-intentioned and determined to pursue their personal agendas and to gain attention by being the Jew biting the dog. By adopting these criteria, however, it will be possible to distinguish between those who claim to be pro-Israel and those who truly are lovers of Zion.
Mitchell G. Bard is the author of 23 books including After Anatevka: Tevya in Palestine, The Arab Lobby and the forthcoming Death to the Infidels.

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