Earlier today a co-worker asked about how I felt about Bejamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections. I felt that in this instance, in a conversation with a non-Jewish American, brevity would be best, so I responded, “I think it’s good.” And it’s true…I do think that it’s a good thing. In spite of awaking to quite a few emails in my inbox from liberal organizations (Jewish and non-Jewish) expressing disappointment and hand-wringing across the board.
Ultimately, I think that they are all missing the point.
It’s not easy to be an American with a liberal political orientation, and a supporter of Israel (dare I say the word “Zionist“?) at the same time. The widespread stance among American liberals is that Israel is an imperialist, racist nation that has displaced the region’s indigenous people and has left them impoverished. There is truth in that statement to an extent. But it doesn’t tell the entire story. Additionally, you can apply the exact same statement to other countries, namely the United States of America whose history is chock full of crimes against humanity. However I don’t play the “who has committed the worst atrocities?” game. Instead I try to keep things simple. And the simple fact is that I am a Jew. I believe that Israel is the one place on this entire planet that we can call home; without the fear that the tides will turn and we will be outcast, massacred or assimilated (forcibly or passively). Therefore I want Israel to not only exist, but to thrive.
Benjamin Netanyahu is an interesting man who’s personal history gives him a unique perspective on things. While he was born in Israel, his family relocated to the United States when he was a child. He returned to Israel when he was 18 to serve in the IDF, and then came back to the United States to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees at MIT. If you look at his political record, he has sort of bounced around…at one point being supportive of a two-state solution to facilitate the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, to his current stance of not supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. However no one can claim that Netanyahu has lived in a bubble. That he completely fails to understand the position and the priorities of the United States.
Israel and the United States Are Two Different Countries
All people in the world have a tendency to be xenophobic; in that they have their native world view and that’s the perspective via which they see things. However Americans have taken this political, cultural and economic xenophobia to a new level. And I will admit, I am not exempt from it! I remember when I went to Jamaica in 1994, and I mentioned how cool I thought Bill Clinton was (I was just a teenager, mind you). My uncle got visibly upset, saying that he “…hated Clinton” and that he was a punk. Eventually he revealed why he didn’t like him…because of NAFTA. I just shrugged. I mean what could I say? Clinton was committed to making the United States prosperous, not Jamaica. However it was a big wake up call for me, and showed me that what is good for the United States, is not necessarily what is good for the rest of the world.
Somehow this entire concept is lost when it comes to Americans’ opinions on Israel. Somehow just because Israel is a democracy and a United States ally, it is expected that Israel follow the United States in lockstep fashion when it comes to political policy. And yes, the U.S. gives a ton of foreign aid to Israel. However, it’s not like the U.S. is doing this out of altruism or even social preference. It’s because it benefits them militarily, economically (as a function of keeping diaspora Jews and their lobbyists happy), and in regards to forming global alliances.
Let’s use an analogy here (since I love them so much). Israel is like the United States’ stepchild. The relationship initially began out of obligation. On the heels of WWII, the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’, right? Over time Israel and the United States have shared some moments of endearment…of shared respect and shared victories. But Israelis don’t have it twisted. They know that if push came to shove, the United States would shirk them at their own benefit. And President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy talks with Iran reminded them of that.
Culturally Israelis are initiators. If they perceive a threat…or even the hint of a threat, they are going to take action. They are a small nation surrounded by enemies and this type of behavior is deeply ingrained into their psyche. American liberals may see them as intolerant, too brash and too extreme. But consider the following quote that I pulled from this Wall Street Journal article here:
As for peace with the Palestinians, Israelis have seen Gaza become a launching pad for missile attacks on innocent civilians after Israel left. They have seen the Palestinian Authority reject reasonable land-for-peace offers and the terror group Hamas join the PA’s governing coalition. Israelis have shown they will take risks for peace—recall Oslo in 1993 and Ehud Barak’s sweeping concessions in 2000 that Yasser Arafat rejected—but they are not suicidal.
This has been Israel’s reality for almost all of the country’s existence. They have tried numerous times to have peace within their borders. Their methods have not always been the best, and obviously, they have failed so far. But they absolutely have tried. As an American, it’s easy to play armchair Prime Minister. To shake your head and wag your finger and Israel’s latest injustice against the Palestinians. However, you can also go out and get on a bus, walk in a marketplace, or bike across town without the very real threat of a suicide bomber detonating themselves next to you; or getting kidnapped by terrorist insurgents.
The Heart & Soul of Progressiveness, is Respect
While my words may ultimately fall on deaf ears, I urge my fellow liberals/progressives to allow Israel to run their own country. To do what they perceive to be the best for them. To function without being scrutinized by our disapproving eyes. Unlike the United States, Israel has more than two political parties with decent representation in the Knesset. So it’s not like more left-leaning parties, such as the Zionist Union party still have a voice. And while Netanyahu’s victory puts a snag on Israel’s relationship with the White House, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the majority of Americans support and/or sympathize with Israel, in spite of the current strained relationship between the two heads of state.
Healthy, well-adjusted children eventually grow up and leave the house. Isn’t it time that we let Israel do the same?