The term “pro-Israel” is used routinely to describe Americans who are sympathetic toward the state of Israel. Increasingly, however, one hears questions raised as to what this term really means. The “pro-Israel” community was never monolithic, but the number of critics of Israeli policy and the volume of their complaints have grown to the point where some people are confused about the definition.
Does it mean support for the people of Israel and/or the government? Can someone be pro-Israel and criticize Israel?
Historically, there have always been American Jews (and non-Jews) who believed they knew what was best for Israel and argued that their views, despite their divergence from the mainstream of the pro-
Israel community or the policies of the government of Israel, were “pro-Israel.” What may be called the “chutzpah lobby” treats Israelis like children who don’t know what’s good for themselves and substitutes its judgement to save Israel in spite of itself.
Someone is “pro-Israel” if he/she:
- Believes the Jewish people are a nation entitled to self-determination in their homeland, which is Israel.
- Respects Israeli democracy and does not substitute their judgment for Israeli voters.
- Emphasizes the good in Israel while acknowledging the faults, rather than emphasizing the faults and ignoring the positive aspects of the nation.
- Criticizes Israel within the family. Israel may be the only country whose Prime Minister regularly meets with citizens from other countries to hear their views. The easiest way for a Jew to get attention – the man bites dog story – is to be the Jew who publicly castigates Israel. Israel’s best interests should trump personal ego.
- Rejects the idea that it is okay to publicly criticize Israel just because Jews in Israel censure their government. America is not Israel; Israelis have a common narrative and shared experiences. Americans, even American Jews, do not have the same level of knowledge or experience with regard to Israel so criticism is interpreted differently. Criticism is also not justified by Israeli encouragement as they do not understand the American context and they typically only bless critics who agree with them (leftist Israelis are happy to encourage American Jews to speak out against rightist governments but are furious with criticism of leftist governments and vice versa).
- Respects Israeli military judgements. Israelis are not infallible, but arm chair American generals typically have no qualifications for challenging Israeli military experts (even U.S. military generals can be wrong as proved by George Marshall’s prediction the Jews would be routed in 1948).
- Believes in trying to act by consensus. Sometimes this leads to a watering down of positions, but unity is one of the principal advantages the Israeli lobby has over the Arab lobby.
- Knows the history and facts about the contentious issues, including the Palestinian narrative.
- Doesn’t substitute wishful thinking for reality. Everyone wants peace, but objective conditions cannot be ignored (e.g., hoping Hamas will change won’t make it so).
- Does not join forces with Israel’s enemies. Some organizations claiming to be pro-Israel find common cause with groups that have long records of hostility toward Israel and trying to undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship. By doing so, they bring peace no closer and only weaken the political strength of the pro-Israel community.
- Knows their audience and recognizes that as a Jew their words are magnified. Comments made before an audience that shares their feelings about Israel are likely to be understood one way while the same remarks may be misconstrued by an audience that has mixed or anti-Israel feelings.
- Supports Israeli government efforts to make peace even when the risks seem high from the comfort of America.
- s pro-peace; however, being pro-peace does not necessarily make you pro-Israel as many groups and individuals who say they favor peace advocate positions that are damaging to Israel. In fact, those who believe Israel should disappear can claim that is a pro-peace position.