What does it mean to be pro-Israel? A response to MJ Rosenberg

The following essay was written by our friend Zach, at Huffington Post Monitor.  

In this post I hope to have a different kind of conversation, as we write a response to MJ Rosenberg’s latest piece on the Huffington Post, which will serve as a kind of follow up to our setting the record straight about his political views. Rosenberg set down his opinions on the subject of AIPAC, Iran, Israel and the occupation, and for once this conversation was free of insults like “Israel firster.”

This is an important topic so I wanted to try to discuss it without insults or the mud slinging that happens too often when bloggers cross words. With that in mind, let’s get into it. This article will take on three sections: What Pro-Israel Means, Perceptions About Jews, and What Anti-Israel Means.

Part 1: What Pro-Israel Means.

In sum, Rosenberg repeats his point, that Jews who don’t hold his political views are thereal anti-Israel people because they let Israel pursue policies that make peace impossible. And therefore that people like him who criticize Israel mercilessly are really pro-Israel.:

“It is precisely because I want Israel to exist in peace and security that I oppose the occupation (and, just as much, the insane idea of bombing Iran which could ultimately lead to the destruction of the entire Israeli state).”

I don’t think that it is such a controversial idea that simply being against certain Israeli policies doesn’t mean someone isn’t pro-Israel, and I think that you’ll find most American and Israeli Jews have a lot to criticize about Israel’s government no matter who is in power. “Peace now” and “end the occupation” has been the mantra of the Israeli left for some time, so Rosenberg is hardly alone in making these claims.

Where we disagree, though, is that in my humble opinion Rosenberg and others like him don’t give much thought to the other side of the story. The occupation is most assuredly not a good thing, but opponents to the occupation don’t seem to acknowledge that those Israeli soldiers are there for a reason. If the occupation ends, and buses start blowing up in Jerusalem again, can anyone honestly say that ending the occupation was a “pro-Israel” move? If letting Iran gain nuclear weapons leads to Israel’s nuclear annihilation, will Rosenberg hold fast to his guns that he was still being “pro-Israel” when he lobbied against bombing Iran? This is not to endorse either of those policies per se, it is merely to point out that being anti-occupation isn’t clearly or inarguable pro-Israel. 

Of course, some of this is opinion about the consequences of making these decisions. The Left holds fast to their belief that Palestinian terrorism is caused only by the occupation, and to end the occupation would end the terror. This thesis was literally blown to pieces by the Second Intifada, but somehow it manages to stick around, possibly because there is no alternative that fits leftist politics.

Which is why in the end groups like AIPAC and most stereotypical “pro-Israel” organizations take the attitude of “what Israel wants, we want.” This infuriates Rosenberg because he thinks Israel is going down the wrong path and AIPAC is gladly helping them along. As someone from the outside looking in, I don’t know who to side with: AIPAC who marches in lockstep with Israel’s government, or Rosenberg who marches in lockstep with leftist ideology. Both of them advocate policies that I might consider not in Israel’s best interests, and both of them would be happy to insult me if I don’t play their game. In the end, like most American Jews, I’ll just have to hold the opinions that I have and not be afraid to express them. And if that makes me a “hippie” or a “Israel firster,” that will have to be the way it goes. The alternative in my mind is far worse.

Part 2: Perceptions of Jews

Also contained in Rosenberg’s article is why he goes on Arab television and criticizes Israel…up to a point. Why is this?

“I do that because doing so helps to defuse the negative image many Arabs and some pro-Palestinian people here have about Jews.Thanks to the pervasive influence of AIPAC and its satellites, they believe that virtually all Jews support the occupation, oppose Palestinian rights and even the rights of Muslims in the United States. By the same token, they believe that Jews who do support the Palestinian cause are either anti-Zionist, anti-Israel, or defectors from the Jewish people.”

I find this paragraph to be informative on many different levels. I disagree with it partially on a factual level and partially on an ideological level.

You see, growing up I was always told that if someone is racist, or bigoted, or xenophobic, it’s that person’s fault. In other words, if you hold a prejudice about black people, it is yourjob to go and learn about them and educate yourself. It is not the responsibility of blacks to send out spokespeople to talk about the way black people think. If some number of white Americans still think blacks are all criminals, it is not the fault of black people for not educating them well enough nor is it the fault of black people if they experience racism. So in this situation, if Arabs believe bigoted things about Jews, it’s not the fault of the Jews to educate them otherwise. And I certainly wouldn’t elect MJ Rosenberg for the position of head educator either. Arabs have just as much access to information as anyone else, they don’t have an excuse to believe bigoted things. 

I also think that Rosenberg has stumbled into something without realizing what he’s getting into. The whole question of Arab perceptions about Jews is bigger than “occupation,” but he doesn’t seem to realize it. Anti-Semitic myths are still very prevalent in the Arab world. It doesn’t matter that an Arab watching television grows to realize that not all Jews support the occupation if most Arabs still think that Jews bake matzah with the blood of Muslim children. No words from Rosenberg can possibly hope to overcome centuries of myths passed along and held by millions of people all across the Middle East, especially when Rosenberg only very rarely speaks out against those myths. If anything, Rosenberg reinforces those bigoted beliefs because anti-Semites will read Rosenberg and say to themselves, “It must be true that the occupation exists purely to torture Palestinian babies if even Jews are speaking out against Israel.”

This also returns to the problem of what is pro-Israel. Rosenberg gripes that Arabs think that Jews “oppose Palestinian rights,” but let’s not forget that in the minds of many Arabs, “Palestinian rights” includes flooding Israel with refugees and making Jews a minority in their own country, to say nothing of murdering Jews in their homes. Do Americans Jews oppose that? Certainly! Does Rosenberg? I would hope so. If so, that makes him just another American Jew opposed to “inalienable Palestinian rights.” This is merely one small part of a disconnect that has made this conflict so intractable: Palestinian supporters believe one thing, actual Palestinians believe another.

And finally, something I find a little annoying about this selection was his immediate pointing of the finger at “AIPAC and its satellites.” AIPAC has a lot to be criticized for, but it’s ridiculous that Rosenberg believes that they are any worse than Arab media, from Hamas preachers to Valley of the Wolves. Maybe Arabs here in America will shake their fist at AIPAC, but we only need to take a look at the words of Palestinian leaders to get the picture. This AIPAC-blame was just another political cheap shot, made even worse by its obvious origin in leftism: Arabs can’t possibly be responsible for their own opinions, it must be because of foolish Jews! I am not so willing to let the collective Arab world off the hook. Maybe we can put that down as another agree to disagree moment.

Part 3: What Anti-Israel Means

Rosenberg goes out on a limb slightly here. He declares that none of the following is “anti-Israel:”

“[It is a] fact that Israel continuously violates the fundamental human rights of the Palestinians of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Nor over the fact that war crimes were committed during the 2009 war in Gaza, regardless of what Justice Goldstone says in his next Op-ed. Nor that the policy that inflicts “collective punishment” on the people of Gaza is wrong by any standard.”

Why is this not anti-Israel, according to Rosenberg? Because pretending that everything is fine in Israel is actually dangerous because it encourages further bad behavior, etc etc. But like in Part 1, I feel that Rosenberg is not entirely thinking through the consequences of these events. Let’s take through every one of them.

This “fact” about human rights in the West Bank. It’s so poorly defined that I don’t know what I would disagree with, but suffice to say the situation in the West Bank is not a good one. The problem is that there are people around the world who believe that Israel is not a legitimate state and will find any excuse they can to explain why it shouldn’t exist. And they are always searching for a chance to portray Israel as a serial human rights violator,worse than every other state in the world put together. Rosenberg looks at Israel’s situation in the West Bank in a vacuum, as if Israel’s detractors around the world aren’t licking their chops at every word he writes. Rosenberg dismisses what he calls the “genocide census” as small and inconsequential. That’s his opinion, I feel differently. When people slander Israel as “worse than Nazi Germany” or “worse than apartheid South Africa” that is code for “dismantle Israel.” I don’t see how it is “pro-Israel” to help these people achieve their goals.

Second we have Goldstone and the blockade. Again I feel that Rosenberg is looking at these issues in a vacuum. If Israeli soldiers were convicted of war crimes and thrown into prison, he would probably be smiling from ear to ear. But do you know what might happen next?

1. Anti-Israel propaganda campaigns around the world would receive a massive boost, with the aforementioned “genocide consensus” declaring that they were right all along, that Israel truly is a war criminal state that should be wiped from the pages of history.
2. Rockets will fall on Israel but the IDF won’t fight back, afraid that next time they will be the ones thrown in prison on trumped up charges of war crimes.
3. Lawfare organizations around the world will search for more clearly biased panels to find Israel guilty of “crimes” common to every other nation around the world. 

I have a feeling that Rosenberg would immediately call me “paranoid” for considering all of this, or maybe that I am “an apologist for war crimes.” But it’s only because I don’t feel that he looks at the consequences of these things further than five minutes down the line. How is emboldening Hamas to continue a low intensity rocket war against Sderot and Ashkelon “pro-Israel?” How is aiding organizations like the BDS movement and the ISM “pro-Israel?” How is helping to isolate Israel and spread a false message about it “pro-Israel?”

And of course, what goes unmentioned is any culpability on the Arab side for any of this. For a guy who claims to be pro-Israel, Rosenberg has very little criticism for anyone who isn’t Jewish. Search the article, but you won’t find even the tiniest bit of blame for this conflict on the Palestinians or their Arab allies. We can argue about to what extent Israel is responsible for the situation but I can’t imagine that even Rosenberg thinks the Arabs’ hands are entirely clean.

Maybe Rosenberg can explain that to me how all this makes sense but I can’t for the life of me see how. Maybe we will never come to a consensus about this: I see him as hopelessly out of touch with the truly nature of Israel’s enemies in terms of their size, strength, and motivations. He no doubt seems me as hopelessly out of touch with how destructive AIPAC and Netanyahu’s government are, and that I am blowing the hate toward Israel completely out of proportion. But meanwhile, over there, life goes on. One way or another.

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