On a campus with roughly 6,000 Jewish students, identifying as a Jew isn’t something I usually worry about. Anti-Semitism is largely a topic for lecture halls rather than a fact of everyday life. But in the past few months, particularly during the recent violence in the Gaza Strip, I have experienced a torrent of bitter arguments about my support of Israel.
To be sure, disagreeing with the Jewish state is not the same as hating Jews. There is a nuanced distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and indeed, many Jews take issue with Zionism. But the lines are blurry. Particularly in attempts to embolden otherwise legitimate arguments against Israel, students occasionally support their opinions with unintentional anti-Jewish sentiment.
“The U.S. only supports Israel,” I have been told, “because American Jews control Washington.” Ignorant remarks like this one are especially disappointing as they serve to dilute very real concerns about Israeli politics. Those concerns are moreover undermined because condemning Israel as a nation of bigoted jingoists has become the latest posh opinion of leftist pseudo-intellectuals.
Even when the Israel debate steers clear from cultural epithets and chic cluelessness, the dialogue generally follows the same script. Opponents insist that Israeli statehood goes against the natural order of the region, arguing that Israel denies basic rights to Palestinians while accepting too much money from the U.S., among other concerns. Israel supporters then assert that it’s a thriving democracy in the Middle East, a loyal ally of the United States and that it has the right to defend itself from countless enemies in the region. The debate is an exhausted war of words and leaves little room for consensus.
Clearly, Israel needs to be more responsive to the humanitarian needs of Palestinians rendered powerless by poverty. Israel’s actions in Gaza this winter had understandable intentions but also exemplified an Israeli callousness that shocked many in the West. As the rightist administration of Benjamin Netanyahu likely comes to power in Israel, it must be open-minded to all possibilities on the path toward peace. It has to prove the world wrong.
If you don’t like Israeli politics, keep in mind that there’s a way to criticize it without calling for its destruction or resorting to anti-Semitic slurs. See the above paragraph for an example. Emotions and an overall disregard for pragmatism have gotten the best of people in the throes of this philosophical debate, and it’s time to stop raising the same talking points.
I’m not worried that Israel-bashing will morph into a new wave of anti-Semitism. But I’m sad to see discussion focused solely around conflict when there is so much else to talk about and so much to love about Israel. Blinded by one element of Israeli politics, the world neglects to see the seemingly impossible accomplishments achieved by the Jewish state in only 61 years of existence. From a barren desert, the first Israelis built a modern nation that enjoys a Western standard of living.
While the American economy may be lucky to grow at all this year, the Israeli economy continues to grow at a rate of roughly 4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Much of this growth is a result of enormous Israeli investment in technology that has given the world the cell phone, AOL Instant Messenger and the ingestible video camera used in colonoscopies. The study of medicine, specifically, has been significantly advanced by the ingenuity of Israeli hospitals and technology. But the Israeli story does not end there.
Before becoming the second nation in modern history to elect a female head of government, Israel addressed equal rights for women in the early 1950s, a decade before the United States had the same dialogue. In addition, Israel is the only nation on the planet that entered the new millennium with a net gain of trees, thanks to efforts by the Jewish National Fund. In fact, the overall dedication Israel has shown toward environmentalism – from water conservation to reducing air pollution – is unparalleled, particularly among young nations.
Yet more importantly, Israel is the cultural and spiritual homeland of a people spat upon by the world since its genesis. All biblical or religious reasoning aside, the Jews deserve a home. Jews have clung to books and bagels in the world’s cities and villages for most of their existence. A definite homeland has been the missing puzzle piece in the collective Jewish psyche for too long. Nevertheless, that doesn’t give Israelis the right to deny anything to Palestinians. Rather, Jewish past should give Israelis an understanding of what it means to be evicted from history.
So disagree with the Israeli government, by all means. Just don’t get carried away with blind, categorical assertions — because when you do, your opinions are only extra shrapnel in the conflict.
Matthew Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.