Guest Columnist: What does 'pro-Israel' even mean?

Guest Columnist What do

November 5, 2009 10:08
3 minute read.

The term "pro-Israel" is used routinely to describe Americans sympathetic toward the State of Israel. Increasingly, however, one hears questions raised as to what this term really means. The "pro-Israel" community was never monolithic, but the number of critics of Israeli policy and the volume of their complaints have grown to the point where some people are confused about the definition. Does it mean support for the people of Israel and/or the government? Can someone be pro-Israel and criticize Israel? Historically, there have always been American Jews (and non-Jews) who believed they knew what was best for Israel and argued that their views, despite their divergence from the mainstream of the pro-Israel community or the policies of the government of Israel, were "pro-Israel." What may be called the "chutzpah lobby" treats Israelis like children who don't know what's good for them and substitutes its judgment to save Israel in spite of itself. As someone who has been involved in academic research on US-Israel relations as well as advocacy for Israel for more than 20 years, I do not see any confusion. HERE IS a set of criteria for distinguishing someone as 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 his judgment for Israeli voters'. 3. Emphasizes the good in Israel while acknowledging the faults, rather than emphasizing the faults and ignoring the positive aspects of the nation. 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 it is okay to publicly criticize Israel just because Jews in Israel censure their government. 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 US 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 a watering-down of 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. 9. Doesn't substitute wishful thinking for reality. Everyone wants peace, but objective conditions cannot be ignored (e.g., hoping Hamas will change won't make it so). 10. Does not join forces with Israel's enemies. Some organizations claiming to be pro-Israel find common cause with groups that have long records of hostility toward Israel and trying to undermine the US-Israel relationship. By doing so, they bring peace no closer and only weaken the political strength of the pro-Israel community. 11. Knows its audience and recognizes that as a Jew its words are magnified. Comments made before an audience that shares its feelings about Israel are likely to 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. Is pro-peace; however, being pro-peace does not necessarily make you pro-Israel as many groups and individuals who say they favor peace advocate positions that are damaging to Israel. In fact, those who believe Israel should disappear can claim that is a pro-peace position. Undoubtedly some people will take exception to this list, especially those who believe that the "establishment" which accepts these criteria does not represent the majority of American Jews. They are free of course to call themselves pro-Israel or anything else they want, but those who do not subscribe to these criteria are more likely to weaken the US-Israel relationship than to help it, and to become pawns of Israel's enemies. The writer is the author of over 20 books including 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust and Will Israel Survive?

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