A Moment Magazine Symposium,
David K. Shipler
It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree. Where people part company is over how best to achieve those goals: Territorial compromise or an unyielding hold on every inch of land? A shared Jerusalem or undiluted Israeli sovereignty? A measured military response to terrorism or punishing air strikes against civilian areas?
There was once a quaint notion that land could be traded for peace. Israel tried it in 2005 by withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza, and Hamas answered with rocket attacks. Nevertheless, 70 percent of Israelis, in a recent poll by Hebrew University, still favor a Palestinian state.
That suggests Israelis might want to see most of the West Bank become Palestine one day, if they can get a reliable peace in exchange. If so, then Israel might do well to keep open the possibility of withdrawing instead of slamming doors in its face by continuing to build Jewish settlements there.
For decades, Israel has been narrowing its options by expanding settlements. By my reckoning, therefore, being pro-Israel means favoring policies that maximize Israel’s flexibility and keep open various exits from the current stalemate. It is not pro-Israel for its leaders to lock the country into the conflict and to impose irreversible decisions on future generations.
David K. Shipler, former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. His latest book is The Rights of the People: How Our Search For Safety Invades Our Liberties. He writes online at The Shipler Report.
Jews are a nation bonded by a common history and a common historical narrative. If we forget that narrative, gone is our Jewishness. Throughout our history, the driving engine of survival has been the hope for returning to sovereignty in the birthplace of our history—Eretz Israel. The State of Israel is the culmination of this dream, and also the crucible in which Jewish heritage attains its full expression and comes to life through the resuscitating touch of normalcy.
What binds American Jews together today? Most of us are secular; the religious bond is gone. Few of us speak Hebrew; the language bond is gone. What remains is the historical narrative of 80 generations and Israel, the realization of that dream and the spiritual and cultural light that radiates to the rest of the world. If we abandon Israel, we abandon our future. If Israel is gone, Jewish life will be gone in one or two generations. Those who do not see Israel as the central piece of Jewish life are not pro-Israel, and I doubt they are pro-Jewish.
Judea Pearl is professor of computer science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
Being pro-Israel does not mean you have to support any particular Israeli government or its policies. You can oppose all of the policies of the Netanyahu government and still be pro-Israel. But I would list a number of things that you must also be.
First, you must understand why Israel is important. Israel is unique in human history, whatever its faults may be. And if you’re Jewish, you must understand that, no matter where you’re living, Israel is your country. You can be critical of its policies, but you must understand that they are the policies of a government chosen democratically by your own people. Second, being pro-Israel means having an empathic understanding of Israel’s problems. This means not blindly superimposing liberal American standards of what’s right and wrong without asking whether they fit the Israeli situation. Third, you have to understand that the threat to Israel’s existence is real. Hundreds of millions of people, most of them Arabs and Muslims, would gladly see Israel destroyed. Whatever mistakes Israel makes, has made, and will make, it’s always facing the danger of annihilation. Fourth, you cannot be pro-Israel today without understanding that Israel has become the focus of a worldwide revival of anti-Semitic agitation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been viciously exploited for anti-Semitic purposes. When you criticize Israel, you have to be careful not to do it in terms that may be usurped by forces that hate not only Israel, but all Jews—which includes you, Israel’s Jewish critic. American Jews have to ask themselves whether it’s helpful in any given situation to join the majority of world opinion against Israel. Suppose your criticisms lead to harmfully isolating Israel even further. You can’t be pro-Israel unless you seriously reflect on what taking responsibility for running such a risk means.
Hillel Halkin is a translator, political commentator and author of the bestseller Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic.
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