The real way to be 'pro-Israel'

March 17, 2010

I am a Jewish, Israeli-born, dual citizen -- I became a U.S. citizen over 20 years ago -- who mourns what Israel has become. The "bad timing" of the East Jerusalem settlements may be a blessing in disguise in that such settlements, so destructive to the prospects of peace, are normally either ignored or given the mildest of criticism by Washington, either out of fear of the Israeli lobby or out of short-sighted refusal to disparage a powerful strategic ally state. I feel morally compelled to say two things to my fellow Americans.

First, it is time, and past time, to stop referring to blind support for Israel government policies as the "pro-Israel" position. Such policies have often been not only illegal and brutal towards Palestinians but also deeply harmful to the interests Israel's own citizens and to the very future of the Israeli state, thus truly anti-Israel. Those Americans, Jewish or otherwise, who disagree with or even condemn Israel government actions, so long as they come from a position of universal respect for human rights and international law, are taking a position that is not only righteous but also far more deserving of the label "pro-Israel" in the sense of being in the long-term interest and well-being of the Israeli people.

We must not be silenced by fear of being labeled insufficiently "loyal." Our own American history -- the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II comes to mind -- bears witness to the fact that taking a dissident moral stand often means having one's loyalty questioned in the short run for positions which history ultimately proves were right and just.

My second and final plea to fellow Americans who care about Israel's future is to please get to know the growing network of Israeli peace movements. Israel may be praised for allowing critical voices within its borders, yet ironically such Israelis are seldom heard in the U.S., and American leaders risk being attacked as "anti-Israel" or even "anti-Semitic" if they criticize the actions or motives of Israel, even if in ways which are often milder than what many Israelis think about their own government's actions.

The Internet allows us to connect with such Israeli voices: Ir Amim (ir-amim.org.il/eng/ ) about Jerusalem; Yesh Gvul (a pun on "there is a border" and "enough is enough" at yeshgvul.org) in support of Israeli military personnel courageously refusing to back the occupation; and Gush Shalom (the Israel Peace Block, gush-shalom.org) where one can find updates, photos from peaceful demonstrations, and the fiery yet compassionate writings of its 86-year-old founder, Uri Avnery, himself a veteran of the 1948 war of independence. If you want to be truly "pro Israel," listen to these voices before making up your mind.

Harel Barzilai, Salisbury

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