Many of us friends of Israel have abandoned the left after being disenchanted by extremist left-wing stands against Israel, and we reluctantly supported right-wing parties. I now think that we erred in doing so, and it is time that we came back home.
The reason we support Israel is because we are left-wing, because Israel is a liberal democracy where LGBT rights and women’s rights are valued, the only country in the Middle East where all religious people are free to practice their faith without restrictions, and where every citizen is free to vote and run for office. As Alexandra Markus wrote in Israellycool, “I lean left. Quite left, in fact. That’s why I support Israel.”
Our presence in left-wing parties helps balance the discussion on the Israel / Arab conflict. It is important that we be part of the discussion rather than on the sidelines, even if sometimes being in a discussion that includes anti-Israel extremists is exasperating.
No party is perfect. Right-wing parties have their share of extremists too, including homophobes and anti-abortion fanatics. This is democracy. When we come across fanatical bigots within a social democratic party, we must remain calm and present our case accurately and compassionately. With some luck, they will be the ones feeling like outsiders, not us. In the end, this is much better for Israel and peace than running away to a party that does not represent our values and that supports Israel superficially or for the wrong reasons.
The case for going back home to the left is particularly compelling in Canada. Brian Appel (an active member of the NDP and former President of the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour NDP association) makes the case as follows: “As Jewish Canadian and progressive, I have fought anti-Israel bias in the NDP for years, but I was not successful until Jack Layton became leader and swept away much of the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias. Tom Mulcair finished the job after he succeeded Layton. Tom understands Israel and the Jewish community. His wife is a Sephardi descendant of Spanish Jews exiled in 1492, their children are Jewish, and his in-laws are Holocaust survivors. Unlike past leaders, Tom has never been afraid to stand up for Israel. The NDP continues its traditional support for a free and independent Palestine, but tempered with the recognition that Hamas is a terrorist group that does not want peace. Tom stands for a safe and secure Jewish homeland. I believe that progressive Jews and supporters of a balanced Middle East policy can find a home in the NDP.”
The NDP elected Tom Mulcair leader in 2012 through a general ballot by all members, despite knowing that Mulcair was pro-Israel. During the 2014 Gaza war, the NDP took a firm stand in support of Israel’s right to defend itself, which cost the party one member of parliament. The NDP is a friend of Israel, both at the leadership level and at the grassroots level.
The Israel / Palestine / Arab conflict is full of paradoxes:- Israel is tiny in comparison to the Arab world, but the Palestinians are far less powerful than Israel.- The Arab regimes prevented the creation of a Palestinian state, and they now oppress and exploit Palestinian refugees, but only Israel is widely expected to resolve the Palestinian problems.- Terrorists fire rockets indiscriminately at Israel but kill few civilians because of Israel’s sophisticated defense systems. The IDF attempts to avoid civilian casualties but still causes many because terrorists take no care in protecting civilians and in fact are eager to use the casualties for publicity.- The Palestinians have had an unenviable history for the last 67 years and should have a state of their own, but their leaders have made every mistake possible to prevent that from happening.- The West Bank (Judea and Samaria) was at a point in time Israeli territory, and many Jews were forcibly removed, but it is land identified now as Palestinian, and recognized as such by every government in the world except Israel.- Israeli Arabs have the most rights and the best quality of life of any Arabs in the Middle East, yet most of them do not feel truly Israeli.- The only Palestinian territory that Israel has totally evacuated (Gaza) is the territory where Palestinians have the least freedoms and the worst quality of life.- The UN facilitated the creation of Israel but is now Israel’s most powerful and unfair critic, producing dozens of anti-Israel resolutions yearly while ignoring much worse human rights offenders.- Most Israelis wish to live in peace and no longer be occupiers, but due to concerns for their own security, they elect governments who are comfortable with the status quo.- The IDF is the most ethical army in the world in the way it conducts its operations, and yet it imposes the wishes of the occupier state on an unwilling population.- Palestinians elected Hamas due to the corruption and ineffectiveness of Fatah, but Hamas is even more anti-Semitic than Fatah and even less willing to make peace.- Ongoing Inter-Arab conflicts result in far more casualties than the Israel/Arab conflict, yet Israel is much more widely condemned than any Arab regime or entity.- Many of those who claim to be pro-Israel are actually anti-Islam and therefore anti-Israel.- Many of those who claim to be pro-Palestinian are actually anti-Israel and actively work against the best interests of Palestinians.
And this is only scratching the surface. Many people deal with this complexity by taking simplistic stands that demonize one side while totally excusing the other. Many simple-minded people on the left choose to demonize Israel because the left tends to support the disadvantaged, while many simple-minded people on the right choose to demonize the Palestinians because the right tends to support the powerful. Neither is correct.
For us social democrats, dealing with complexity is in our DNA. We rejected communism because we believe in individual freedom, and we rejected unchecked capitalism because we believe in human rights and social justice. We chose to foster individual freedom and entrepreneurship while aiming for economic fairness and social equity.
The more meaningful contrast in the Israel/Arab conflict is not the contrast between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel activists. It is the contrast between those who choose simplistic finger-pointing and those who wisely accept the complexities and paradoxes in the conflict and choose to be at the same time pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.
We social democrats are in a better position than anyone to help Palestinians and Israelis work through the complexities and paradoxes of a 67-year-old conflict. As NDP leader Tom Mulcair wrote, “New Democrats — committed to social justice — understand that we must actively work for peace, not simply talk about it”. We must embrace our affiliation with the great movement for social democracy, and we must embrace the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.