What does being pro-Israel really mean?

The J Street slogan “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” is not an oxymoron. Or as Sanders recently said, there is no contradiction between being “pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.”

IRONICALLY, ALTERNATIVES to a two-state solution don’t necessarily provide any sort of protection from the violence against Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IRONICALLY, ALTERNATIVES to a two-state solution don’t necessarily provide any sort of protection from the violence against Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the AIPAC conference convened and the battle for the Democratic Party candidate for president heats up, the term “pro-Israel” has been in the news. But what exactly does being “pro-Israel” mean? Does it mean supporting all of the positions of the Israeli government, or does it mean supporting the right of the State of Israel to exist and prosper in peace and security, not necessarily the same thing.
There is even a group called Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI Pac) claiming to be “The Voice of Pro-Israel Democrats,” which declares that it “will help ensure that the Democratic Party remains pro-Israel by electing Democrats who support a strong US-Israel relationship.”
One of its methods for promoting “pro-Israel” positions is to air attack ads against Bernie Sanders, who happens to be the only Democratic candidate for president who actually lived in Israel, and who declares that “Israel has – and I say this as somebody who lived in Israel as a kid, proudly Jewish – Israel has the right to exist, not only to exist but to exist in peace and security.”
Apparently DMFI’s problem does not lie with that statement, but rather with the addition of “What US foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian as well.”
It’s important to recall then-senator Barack Obama’s statement to the Cleveland Jewish community leaders when he was running for president in 2008: “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress.”
He made a few other comments in Cleveland.
“I will... carry with me an unshakable commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between the United States and Israel. The US-Israel relationship is rooted in shared interests, shared values, shared history and in deep friendship among our people.... I pledge to make every effort to help Israel achieve... peace. I will strengthen Israel’s security and strengthen Palestinian partners who support that vision and personally work for two states that can live side by side in peace and security with Israel’s status as a Jewish state ensured so that Israelis and Palestinians can pursue their dreams.... Israel’s security is sacrosanct, is non-negotiable. That’s point number one. Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable over time. So we’re going to have to make a shift from the current deadlock that we’re in.”
AFTER BECOMING president, Obama signed a memorandum of understanding that gave Israel a $38 billion aid package to help ensure security, the largest ever; an MoU which is premised on the idea that the status quo is unsustainable, and that it is vitally important “to make a shift from the current deadlock” and move toward a two-state solution.
That is what he tried to do when he empowered then-secretary of state John Kerry to try to facilitate progress in negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, though perhaps he could have provided greater presidential backing to the effort.
So what did President Donald Trump do with his “Peace to Prosperity” vision, formulated with the aid of Netanyahu and his aides, particularly Israeli ambassador to the US, former Republican operative Ron Dermer, and with American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a known supporter of the settlements; a purported peace plan formulated without any input from the other party to the conflict the Palestinians?
As former vice president Joe Biden said, “A peace plan requires two sides to come together. This is a political stunt that could spark unilateral moves to annex territory and set back peace even more. I’ve spent a lifetime working to advance the security and survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel. This is not the way.”
Perhaps the two special presidential envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who devoted over two years to preparations for the unveiling of the plan, genuinely believe that it is a contribution to a possible peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. When Netanyahu tried to immediately put annexation of the Jordan Valley on the Israeli government agenda, Kushner quickly put a break on the idea.
After all, given that the Palestinian leadership has officially accepted the idea that they would only get 22% of Mandatory Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, while Israel would get 78% of the area, can anyone believe that they would agree to give up another 30% of the West Bank?
All of Democratic candidates, including Bernie Sanders, despite what Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said at AIPAC, agree that Israel has a right to security, and that the United States has an obligation to defend that right. However, they also add, each in their own way, that the achievement of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be an essential component in ensuring Israel’s security.
The J Street slogan “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” is not an oxymoron. Or as Sanders recently said, there is no contradiction between being “pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.” It’s the very essence of what being pro-Israel should mean. After all, achieving peace, with security, is an existential Israeli need.
How did John Lennon put it? “Give Peace a Chance.” Seeking a negotiated peace, with security, based upon a viable two-state solution, a solution which is still possible, is what it means to be truly “pro-Israel.”
The writer is co-editor of Palestine-Israel Journal and a former chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel, the Israeli branch of the Democratic Party.