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December 15, 2013 12:02 pm

“ŽIsrael Has the Right to Exist – Now the Left Must Defend It

avatar by Allan Goldstein

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Tel Aviv's LGBT pride parade on June 7, 2013. Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv.

“ŽSupporters of Israel have erected a strong wall around the threatened state. But it’s a political Maginot Line, with a frightening gap in the fortifications. The left wing is wide open and undefended.

“ŽWhen 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.

“ŽIsrael 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.

“ŽThat 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.

“ŽThe 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.

“ŽLet’s see how liberal Israel really is.

“ŽUniversal health care? Check.

“ŽGay 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.)

“ŽEnvironmental 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.

“ŽTo 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.

“ŽBut 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.

“ŽThe 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.

“ŽHow, 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.

“ŽYet many do. Large parts of the left are anti-Israel. The question is what do we do about it?

“ŽSome 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.

“ŽI 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?

“ŽI 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.

“ŽFor 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.

“ŽBut 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.

“ŽI’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.

“ŽPro-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.

“ŽAnd 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.

“ŽBut 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.

“ŽAll 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.

“ŽAs 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.

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  • GB

    I hate to interrupt the echo chamber of self-congratulations but there is a different perspective about this. I don’t have time for an extensive rebuttal but this article is full of misstatements and fabrications. For instance, when you say:
    “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.”

    The slights of discrimination are not subtle! Throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank I have seen graffiti saying in Hebrew: “Death to Arabs.” If you are not Jewish, there is less of everything: less education funding, less infrastructure such as power, water, etc, and because you are excluded from serving in the military, you can’t access all sorts of privileges that come with being a veteran. And we are talking about Israeli citizens, not Palestinians! If you are Muslim or Christian, you cannot live in one of the scores of settlements that the govt subsidizes with cash incentives! These are Israeli communities for Jews only. These slights are not regrettable, they are intolerable in a civilized society. And US tax money goes to help support and sustain this discrimination.

    When you claim: “Large parts of the left are anti-Israel.”
    Which parts and who and how does he know? This is a specious claim that is a common refrain. Am I anti-Israel because I criticize its policies of discrimination and violations of international law? No more than I am an unpatriotic American because I criticize American policies. I am a proud liberal and I believe that my liberalism has been informed by my knowledge and appreciation of the prophetic tradition of Judaism and I find great inspiration from many Jews such as Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Jeff Halper. Making such a claim, because Israel is a “Jewish” nation, implies that to be anti-Israel is to also be anti-Semitic. This is a dangerous and inflammatory conflation.

    And you go on to belittle those Jews that also criticize Israel, or as you refer to them as self-loathing Jews: “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.”

    This is a pathetic description of the courageous Jews that I know who stand up to criticize Israel. I had the pleasure of working with many of them in 2012. I have never met a more impressive group of smart, articulate and passionate young adults in my life. It was an honor in every way to get to know them and share their passion for justice.

    If the left has abandoned the fight, it is because they have been disarmed again and again by Israel and its policies and actions. Israel is its own worst enemy and those of us who criticize it, are attempting to save it from self-destruction. That’s what I tell Jews who are on the fence about criticizing Israel, if they care about Israel, they need to get on with raising the alarm that they are their own worst enemy.

    • you know kahanistic brothers of mine those leftists always defend and be defend rights of muslims and christians to this holy jewish land because those leftists are not jews and they are erev rav whose together with our international jewry left two thousand years ago egypt and forced us jews built golden calf or buddhistic bull how i call it and those leftists never changed for those two thousand years from thet golden calf because those leftists all the time force us jews to the same kind of sins what were to us before two thousand years ago.

  • Amir

    It is not entirely surprising. The larger world Left has never cared about Jews, not Jews who are Jewish and proud. The Left has always preferred Jews who assimilate and abandon Judaism. Labour Zionism did great things for Israel, and it did so because it stood proudly at the forefront of Zionism. There are still Leftists in the world to align with, but it is often the Right who are more forward looking. The Left in Labour often prefers to deal with the Left in Western countries, who are going bankrupt, rather than pursue closer ties with socialist countries like India or China. Even in Africa, Israel’s strong ties to Ethiopia and South Sudan could be greater, as could Israel’s more local ties to Kurdish liberation groups. It is best for the Israeli left to remember that Israel is in Asia, the continent where the future lies (India, China, Russia) and develop ties accordingly.

  • BH in Iowa

    What was once the party of Bobby Kennedy is now the party of Sirhan Sirhan.

  • jonathan wornick

    I hope every israel bashing liberal in the SF Bay Area and beyond read this and take heart, ESPECIALLY those who use the term pink washing. agh!!!!!

  • I have many close Jewish friends who are life long Democrats and liberals. Unfortunately, the facts show that the political left has been corrupted and now finds itself firmly in the camp of staunch anti-Israel forces, financed and supported in large measure by hostile Arab and Islamist organizations and individuals. At this moment when the Jewish State is in existential peril from nuclear and political extinction it is incumbent that all Jews put aside their long held liberal political ideology and vote for the survival of Israel. If that means voting Republican for an election or two then they need to decide right now: What is more urgent, the survival of Israel and its six million Jewish lives or gay marriage, free contraception, and government mandated health care? Let the Democratic party feel the pain of its association with the blatantly anti-Israel far left forces. Just maybe after a few election cycles of below normal Jewish votes and donations the Democratic Party will come to its senses. Any liberal Jew not willing to support Israel at this moment of darkness is not fit to be called a Jew. They are in effect helping commit Fratricide by proxy.

    • BTW…If you doubt the nexus between the far left and anti-Semitism you should read the recent scholastic book by Robert Wistrich, ‘From Ambivalence to Betrayal’, the history of how from its inception during the Industrial Revolution the leftist, socialist, and Communist movements incorporated an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agenda that exists to this day. Sadly, history is filled with numerous ex-Jews,like Karl Marx for example, who helped through word and deed kill thousands, millions, of Jews.

  • E Pluribus Wombat

    Liberals hate Israel for two reasons: 1) all their friends do and 2) it’s full of Jews.

    Sorry if the painfully obvious is too blunt for people to accept but there it is.

  • It is the left INSIDE Israel that is the real problem here Not only do Israel’s leftists fail to counter the outside world’s anti-Israel narrative, they actually play a major role now in forming that narrative. Just look, for example at the way Haaretz reported yesterday’s killing of the IDF soldier:

  • Joel

    We have been playing with another hand behind our backs. We are just plain too nice It is time we started pointing out the very un-liberal behavior of our adversaries. There is no need to be gentlemanly in this battle.

  • Ilbert Phillips

    I do not find this “right-left” dichotomy useful. Both the right and left in this country support the Constitution. Many on the right support gay partnerships, but not gay marriage. Both the left and right support freedom of religion, they just disagree on whether there is really a doctrine of the “separation of church and state.” But note the types of arguments and how they are fought. You put Christ in a piss jar (call it art) and that does not lead to mass murderous demonstrations. That Artist is not in hiding. None of the non-Jews on the right or left openly express a policy of throwing the Jews out of the United States. The best the left can do is claim Fox news is not news and the right claims that CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, NPR and the New York Times (among others) is a propaganda tool of the left. The anti-Israel arguments belong on a parallel plane. They are not rational and are not based upon facts. History is always ignored and the proposed policies are based upon the assumption that Israel should take risks no normal state would take, such as indefensible borders. The Arabs make it clear that no Jews will be allowed to live in the new Arab Palestine, but that Arabs must not only be given the maximum freedoms in Israel, which they currently have, but the Arabs who left Israel during the 1947 war must be allowed to return to Israel, this includes their descendants. I have learned over my life, that when people hold irrational positions, deep down they are bigots (even if they are Jews) regardless of where they end up on the right-left continuum and regardless of how much education they have. Often education tends to make them more articulate, which they confuse with wisdom. What I really find interesting is how perplexed the author appears to be over the fact that many on the right strongly support Israel.

  • Andrea

    Thank you, thank you! I’m an American liberal, in fact a social justice advocate who is constantly baffled and frustrated by fellow liberals who have somehow been snookered into damning a progressive democratic society in favor of murdering, woman- and gay-hating terrorists.

    The Western media are largely to blame (and I’m a NY Times subscriber) which I don’t understand. After giving it a great deal of thought, I can’t help but realize that at its very core is anti-Semitism though I know that many anti-Israel people don’t realize that at all. I am horrified by the comments on this site by the ignorant anti-Obama, Fox News watchers. Jews are smarter and better than that. At least we used to be.

    Is Israel perfect? NO. Who is? Certainly not the US with our egregious human rights and civil rights violations.

    We have to keep up the fight to inform people as Algemeiner does about what is really happening in Israel!

  • I am delighted to read that my compatriots are liberal. I am a liberal, and unapologetic believer in Israel, its right not only to exist, but defend itself and look after its own interests. Every time I see the right wing win another battle against the forces of progression, every time I read of laws disenfranchising people because they are on the ‘wrong’ side, every time I read hate speech, I am saddened by the retrogressive increase in humanity.

    However, as with you, I am disgusted with the anti-Semitic left. In my opinion, sometime since the 1980s, true liberalism has been marginalized, and supplanted by the insideous movement of politically-coerced censorship. By fighting free thinking, this calcified ‘philosophy’ has taken the mantle of liberalism without the humanity. Most of the left are made up of pseudo-progressive based reactionaries. At times I feel very alone indeed. I am glad to read that there are others like me still not afraid to tell the truth.

  • Arthur Cohn

    The problem is that many of the people who now dominate what is now called Liberalism or Progressevism were former Communists. They all come out of the New Left. They used to hate real Liberals, but now have stolen the title,while twisting the philosophy so to support Arab and Moslem terrorism.

  • `Bob J

    Who exactly is included in this problematical Left?
    Is J St a danger to Israel? How about the New Israel Fund? Both of them consider themselves pro Israel, but they proclaim that they know what is in Israel’s interests better than the people of Israel, who have earned with their blood the right to set their own policies. And they actively work to implement their ideas which are often against the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. This Jewish Left does not apply their standards nor any standards to the enemies of Israel nor hold the enemies nor themselves accountable for their perverse actions and vicious verbal attacks against Israel.
    The misguided New York Jewish left leaning Community tries to bring many of Israel’s enemies into the “big tent” with the JCRC inviting them to march in the Israel Day’s parade without conditions.

  • David B. Klein

    I’m very slightly liberal, or in the eyes of some, center right, and I would happily trade all the far-right loons who support Israel for a smaller bunch of more moderate, rational friends. Nor am I very hopeful that such a thing can come to pass.

    • Ron

      Mr. Klein. What, may I ask, is “very slightly liberal?” Is that like being “very slightly pregnant?” It also seems a rather muddy, if not a counter-productive and bifurcated philosophical point, that you are also a self-proclaimed center right ideologue. Sounds somewhat schizophrenic. And exactly what is a far-right loon? If that’s the extent of your description about people with conservative values then it might do you well to either think about not making general and vacuous accusations toward people with whom you disagree, or take on a bit of studying a bit more history and not attach what you deem as facts that, upon closer inspection, simply reflect baseless posits.

  • Wallace Edward Brand, JD Harvard, 1954

    The best way to help unite the pro-israel and the anti-israel is to publicize the facts so that the liberals do not rely of the pay-war facts of the Soviet Union and the Arabs. For some reason the State of Israel has never fully made the case that it does not break International Law when it occupies Judea and Samria because the occupation is not a belligerent occupation — it did not displace a legitimate sovereign. See: 4th Hague Convention 1907 Article 43.. Israel’s Military Occupation is no more illegal than my occupation of my house since 1964. I own it. The Jewish Peoople have owned the Political Rights to Palestine from the River to the Sea since 1920k when the Principal War Powers recognized Jewish ownership but pout the rights in trust until the Jews 1. attained a population majority and 2. were capable of exercising sovereignty. (This occurred in 1950 without acclaim. Nor has it made the case that the Jewish presence in Palestine is not a nakba, a catastrophe, but has been a blessing for the Arab who were there and who immigrated there when the Jews drained the swamps and got rid of malaria, and improved the economy so that Arabs could have a much better life in Palestine than in the surrounding Muslim states.
    See; Brand, “Roots of Israel’s Sovereignty and Boundaries in International Law: In Defense d the Levy Report and Karsh, “Israeli Arabs: Deprived or Radicalized”, Economics of Settlement; George Gilder, The Israel Test.
    Much of the split in Jewish unity is the result of the deliberate action of the Soviet Union that has been trying to dominate the Middle East as the first step toward hegemony in Western Europe according to the late Egugen Rostow. Viet Name was able to win its war with the US using the same tactics. Israel is Viet Name Redux.
    It was the VietNamese Generals that counseled Yasir Arafaat to drop his slogan of annihilation of the Jews and instead claim he was liberating the Palestinians, a people invented by the Soviet dezinformatsia.
    When Netanyahu approves the Levy Report and asserts Jewish sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the question of statehood for the invented Palestinian People becomes an internal matter of the sovereign Jewish tate of Israel and the UN requires that other states stay out of it. ” Every State shall refrain from any action aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of any other State or country.” Declaration On Principles Of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations And Co-Operation Among States In Accordance With The Charter Of The United Nations. (1970)
    Nor does international law support unilateral secession from a sovereign state such as the Jewish State. Whether or not the Government of Israel asserts jurisdiction over Judea and Samaria, the Jewish People meed to two tacit standards for sovereignty in Judeal and Samaria. When they are annexed, the territory still has a Jewish majority of 66%, down from 80% even if all the Aarabs there were to swear fealty to the Jewish state to obtain citizenship. And the Jewish People have had unified control over Judea and Samaria since 1967. The OSLO agreement has been broken by the Arabs and a material breech of it releases the Jewish People’s agreement to it..

  • Ron

    Perhaps, Mr. Goldstein, you should be presenting this message to Jewish American liberal “progressives” who have willingly supported financially and with their votes the most anti-Israel president in U.S. history. Twice. “Liberalism” has become the Left’s new religion, one which encourages the defamation of Israel and Jews, and which has taken its place next to every enemy of Israel past and present. Jewish liberals in the U.S. are no longer the people you might think they are, Mr. Goldstein. They’re an assortment of anti-religious and oftentimes ignorant lot of societal mendicants and lunkheads who blame Israel for every ill in the Middle East, and are in complete lockstep with every vile regime on the globe. The left, Mr. Goldstein, is very, very right.

  • A perfect set of arguments in the proper direction. Too many of Israel’s defenders come from the conservative right, but most of Israel’s enemies are from the left, especially the far left, and it’s time more time and money was put into addressing this issue. I have advanced several of the same arguments in my blog ‘A Liberal Defence of Israel’. If you liked this, do look at some of my entries too.

  • Julian Clovelly

    My impression is that on the Left people have thrown their hands in the air because Israel is just not prepared to respond to the Left’s concerns, indeed it is felt that it is allied to some of the worst in Western ultra Conservatism.

    The Left is generally anti fundamentalist – whatever the religion concerned. Sympathy for Islamic movements has come from opposition to the more Fundamentalist aspects of Jewish society. The Islamic movements sometimes come to be seen as “revolutionary” movements. Israel has lost the progressive propaganda war. What are the causes? How could this happen to the Middle East’s only viable democracy?

    Orthodox Traditionalist Jewry is perceived as Fundamentalist, extremist, and I am sorry that this wlll be upsetting for many readers, it is perceived as authoritarian and racist by the Left, which despises exclusivity of any kind. The combination of Orthodox superstition (as the Left see it) and settlement imperialism(as the left again sees it) is a propaganda disaster too. Fundamentalism must not be seen to dominant modern Parliamentary Democracy. Do that and you lose the Left entirely

    To the Left, Israel needs to be far more secular. It needs to escape the myths of its origins and present itself as normal threatened people. So long as being Jewish is about genetic inheritance – a very questionable claim – it will always be endangered.

    Face the truth, most Leftists from a Christian background had to face the truth themselves – that there was no “Atonement”, that wine and water are wine and water, that miracles are myths, that Christmas is a pretty fairy story.

    Stop looking for an imaginary Davidic Kingdom, a genuine Exodus. Set an example to the world of the ability to walk away from a mythical past.

    Israel is a beacon of Democracy and social progressiveness. Don’t let clinging to archaic tradition take away the support you deserve. Remove the ancient religious racist barriers, and embrace the future sharing that which is best – and there is so much of it – in your culture. Much of what constituted the Left’s ideals came from the humanity found in Judaism and Christianity ,and now more is contributed from other traditions. What most hurts the Left is when a person or a nation turns its back on the very ideas of humanity and equality it derived from the best in a plethora of cultures – including theirs.

  • E benAbuya

    I knew I wasn’t alone. It is telling, is it not, that you must write an unsigned editorial and I must encourage you from behind a pseudonym?
    As you enter this fray you will discover, as I have, that the “Palestinian Narrative” has passed into ‘a priori’ certainty among the majority of our progressive kindred. This renders them impervious to logical or evidentiary argument. You must make your argument to the emotions and shine a bright relentless light on the sheer insanity of campaigning against invasive government and unaccountable multi-nationals at home while climbing into bed with military dictators, both flavors of inimical theocrats, kleptocrats, and just plain thugs.
    One must hope that eventually the cognitive dissonance will kick in.
    It’s going to be a long climb

    • This is not new. Labour Zionism originated when Jewish socialists in Czarist Russia realized that those whom they regarded as their closest allies – the Russian workers’ movement – was not interested in them, and in some cases hostile to them. That movement energy came in part from its ability to hold on to both sides of the equation, avoid simplifications and patent medicines, and above all innovate, finding doors in the trap. But the first step was then, as it is today, to realize that a trap is where we are. The people with whom we agree ideologically hate us with visceral hate. Nothing will change that. The solution won’t come from them. Only from us.

    • A couple of things I want to say to E Ben and my commenters in general.

      First, thank you so much. I have been writing for a ton of blogs, nearly since blogs began. And I have never had such thoughtful, serious, interesting comments, all free of the ad hominem sickness that plagues the web.

      All read, all taken on board, all sincerely appreciated!

      Now, E Ben, I understand your trepidation, but I assure you, this is MY name, not a pseudonym. I have no special courage, mostly I try to ignore hateful responses, and Al Qaeda hasn’t shown up at my doorstep just yet.

      But if I get to feeling threatened, I may change my politics, join the Tea Party and buy an AK 47.