Sunday, January 15, 2012

What does it mean for Jews to be pro-Israel today? (Expanded)

I gave a little more thought to the question asked in Moment magazine of "What does it mean to be pro-Israel today?" that I briefly answered on Friday.

I would like to expand the answer, and to narrow the question a little bit, to "What does it mean for Jews to be pro-Israel today?"

If you are Jewish, then you are more than just someone who shares a belief system with other Jews. You and the Jewish people also share nationality, culture, and a long-standing emotional ties to the Land of Israel with your fellow Jews. As Jews colloqually say, you are a "member of the Tribe."

You are, effectively, family. And family members, when they are not dysfunctional, are expected to love each other unconditionally.

Of course we fight. Of course we argue. Of course we get passionate, and angry, and emotional. But the undercurrent of all these actions is love. We want what is best for our family, for our people, for our nation, and we are willing to fight for what we believe is right, even when most others disagree.

Israel, both in its geographic and its political incarnation, is our home. We can disagree and argue over what is best for Israel, and in fact we do. And as long as the dominant emotion behind the disputes remains love, all is fair.

But there are two things that family members do not do to each other.

One is that they do not air their disagreements in public. They do not go to media outlets outside of their community to disparage their own. They especially do not tell their family's sworn enemies that they agree with them and disagree with their own people. When one does that, it indicates that he or she is more interested in their own selfish agenda than in bettering their people. It is effectively a declaration of independence from the family, a statement that one believes that the family's actions are so reprehensible that one does not want to be associated with them anymore.

Anyone is free to do this, of course. But their actions show that they are not behaving out of love, but rather out of spite. It shows that they are taking themselves out of the community and that they respect their own people so little that they cannot stomach trying to fit in anymore.

That is not how family members behave.

And the other thing that loving family members do not do to each other is to assume that when others within the community do anything seemingly disagreeable, that they are automatically guilty.

When anything happens in Israel that looks bad on the surface, the vast majority of the time it can be shown to have been misunderstood or even fabricated. The psyche of Israelis is one of morality; while there might be exceptions one cannot fairly say that Israel is an immoral country. There is always another side to the story, one that sadly does not get the publicity of the seemingly bad one.

To be pro-Israel is to start with the assumption that Israel is right, and to be skeptical when things look otherwise. In the end, perhaps the explanation will not be satisfactory, but one needs to make the effort to at least find out what it is. If you are truly pro-Israel you would first do everything possible to find out the truth. That is what support means. And that is what family members do for each other.

When you start assuming that your family's actions are abhorrent before you even investigate their side of the story, you are placing yourself outside the community.

These two metrics show who is pro-Israel and who is not. Criticizing Israel or Jews is not inherently anti-Israel or anti-semitic, but criticizing them in the pages of Al Akhbar or the Guardian is. Lobbying your own community institutions to change is admirable; lobbying outside parties to force your community to change is reprehensible. Doing that shows that you care more about pleasing the rest of the world than about your own people. It doesn't matter that Israel's enemies can read our criticisms of each other in Ha'aretz  - what matters is that the intended audience is your own people. Nothing needs to be hidden, but publicly disparaging your own people in venues that are not friendly to them indicates that you do not believe you are a member of your people any longer.

Similarly, hearing a rumor or a report that makes it sound like your relatives did something bad and jumping to the conclusion that it is symbolic of an inherent evil that pervades your own people is not what a loving family member does. They would find out the truth, and trust what their own relatives say above what a newspaper says, all else being equal.

In short, being pro-Israel means treating it the way you would treat your own loving family.

Any member of the Jewish community is free to leave. They are free to cut all ties with their family. But they are not free to claim that they are criticizing out of love when their actions show that they have no love for Jews or Israel. When they act against the family as a whole, they should not be surprised to no longer be treated like a family member.