Saturday, March 23rd | 16 Adar II 5779

March 1, 2016 6:56 am

Israel Activists Must Embrace Liberals, Not Shun Them

avatar by Leora Eisenberg

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A Students for Justice in Palestine sign plastered on the UCLA campus. Photo: Twitter.

A Students for Justice in Palestine sign plastered on the UCLA campus. Photo: Twitter.

A few days ago, a friend sent me a social justice video. It was completely unrelated to Israel and instead had to do with racism in America. Nothing in the video was particularly mind-boggling, and there was certainly nothing new. But my friend, when he sent it to me, did not describe its content, its style or its intention. He simply wrote that “something tells me this girl is not a Zionist.”

There was a rapid jump in logic from being an activist against racism to being an anti-Zionist. It seemed illogical, but I had to agree. Those unfamiliar with the language of “intersectionality” and social justice might not understand the point my friend made, but it made perfect sense. The assumption is that anyone who fights for progressive values is inherently anti-Israel.

Intersectionality is the new gripe among the pro-Israel community. Formally, it is the notion that various forms of oppression — misogyny, apartheid, racism — make up a larger system whose victims must join forces for their collective liberation. The anti-Israel movement has successfully begun to align itself with these causes.

In the meantime, the pro-Israel camp has either made a few meaningless efforts to appear “intersectional” (i.e. bring in a speaker who extols gay rights in Israel) or has rejected intersectionality completely. I don’t understand this desire to detach ourselves from a whole community of people that could invigorate our cause.

Many in the pro-Israel community have, at some point, lamented the new identity merger of “pro-Israel” and “right-wing.” We have also bemoaned our liberal students’ enchantment with the “liberalism and progressivism” of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that will condemn neither terror nor incitement. And who hasn’t looked at a social justice advocate and thought that s/he has probably been to an anti-Israel protest at some point?

This phenomenon, neither novel nor new, invites us to brush aside all the liberal, progressive supporters of Israel who aren’t already on our side. Deemed too radical and “noisy,” we insist that there is no way they can support us. Intersectionality, we say, is for those who can handle “the progressives.”

Students participate in progressive causes, and we assume that they want no part of our Zionist schemes. Thus, we (generally correctly) assume that they wouldn’t fit in well with our crowd, nor would we with theirs. We don’t reach out; they are free to attack us. Our radicalism for peace and tolerance doesn’t fit the social justice bill.

I urge pro-Israel organizations to give otherwise-radical students a chance to channel their energies into a cause that would do more good than boycotting SodaStream. Give them the social justice they want, need and crave. Let them do good in Israel’s name, loudly and proudly.

Students need to feel involved and invested in an ideology that makes them feel enlightened and edgy. In order to promote Israel’s image as a state of justice and tolerance, we must encourage students to pursue justice and tolerance as part of their work on Israel’s behalf.

Israel is not a social justice cause; it is social justice in the Middle East. However imperfect the state may be, Israel works hard to award equal rights to all of its citizens, regardless of religion, sexuality, or color. To see students turn against Israel in the name of a flawed conception of human rights is a grave mistake. In their rejection of Israel, they embrace radicalism that opposes all of their liberal values, and instead espouses that which they should despise.

Israel activism mustn’t turn away from liberal students and should instead seek to create an outlet for them. They want to be lauded and loved; we want to further our cause. They are passionate for social justice; we are the ones who work for social justice in a region where there is none. And if we open our doors to the students who would otherwise slam them shut, we can hope to see “intersectionality” work in our favor.

Radical chic must become radical-for-peace-chic or radical-for-justice-in-the-Middle-East-chic. And then, hopefully, we’ll be inclined to think that “something tells me this girl is a Zionist.”

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