‘I am pro-Israel too’: Reflections on +972’s use of the term

The term ‘pro-Israel’ should mean anti-occupation, support for human rights, equality, democracy for all peoples under Israel’s control – not hard-line Zionism. Reflections and commentary on +972’s use of the term.

A right-wing Israeli activist yells at a left-wing Israeli activist in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
A right-wing Israeli activist yells at a left-wing Israeli activist in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

My colleague Noam Sheizaf’s article about the addition of David Makovsky to the American negotiating team for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process carries the following headline:

‘A pro-Israel hawk to draft Kerry’s peace plan?’

The subheading reads, with some indignation:

‘That one must be a pro-Israeli Zionist in order to be eligible for the State Department’s Israel-Palestine team is indicative of the problem with U.S. policy in the region.’

I disagree with the heading and the subheading and with full respect for our editorial decisions, I decided to express my critique here.

The words “pro-Israel” mean simply to be supportive, or “for” Israel. Yet the term has been hijacked by a portion of Jews (including and perhaps primarily non-Israelis) who have anointed themselves defenders of the faith; they have unilaterally set the gold standard for everyone else in determining what supporting Israel means.

The meaning of pro-Israel, in the eyes of those Jewish-American organizations who often refer to themselves this way, is twofold: first, it involves being apologists for every policy of every Israeli government, and second, it is a permanent mission to prove that Palestinians are 1. Bloodthirsty, 2. Primitive and unready for peace or democracy – essentially, inferior 3. Sinister, all-powerful manipulators of global media, minds and public discourse 4. Politically incompetent. 5. Islamic jihadis, every last one. The camp that calls itself “pro-Israel” has added a third cause du jour of late – broad insistence on a maximalist, warmongering position vis-à-vis Iran.

So-called pro-Israel types are not only saying that these two/three are the best and only ways to support Israel. They are also saying that anyone who thinks differently is against Israel. Such a person who is also unfortunately Jewish or Israeli may be branded no less than a traitor, self-hater, lunatic, idiot or worse. The Israeli mainstream press has adopted the wrong definition wholesale.

Here is what permanent apologists for all Israeli government policies and demonizers of Palestinians actually accomplish. They perpetuate conflict, by supporting Israeli government policies that perpetuate the conflict, and they command that Israel’s greatest enabler, the U.S.A., do so too. They scream down criticism in a most hysterical and undemocratic way that is antithetical to both American and Jewish traditions. They employ and entrench shameless racist stereotypes that ought to make “never again” crusaders shiver, although many won’t.

Put simply, those who embrace the term “pro-Israel” support the occupation of over four million Palestinians who live permanently under military law or as refugees, while Israeli Jews living next to them walk free.

How this behavior supports the country of Israel or the People of Israel is a moot question. It does not. It maintains the policies that maintain the conflict; that’s about as anti-Israel as you can get.

Therefore, I disagree with how we at +972 Magazine used the term in Noam’s piece, for three reasons: first, because “pro-Israel” should mean anti-occupation, support for human rights, equality, democracy for all peoples under Israel’s control, regardless of the accident of citizenship or ethnicity – not hard-line Zionism. We may have different means of doing this, but I personally think that my own version, moving to Israel at the start of my adult life and voicing dissent against policies I consider wrong pretty well advances both democratic culture and conflict resolution – and therefore counts as full-throttled support for Israel.

Second, in using the term the wrong way, +972 Magazine conveys unwittingly that it is opposed to having people on the negotiating team who support Israel. Personally, I would not be against such a thing, provided that the person was equally pro-Palestinian. But Makovsky can hardly be accused of that. For a third-party negotiator, America was already deeply suspect in the eyes of Palestinians: in a November survey, only 11 percent viewed the U.S. as an honest broker, and 90 percent believe the U.S. is biased toward Israel. Reinforcing this view can’t possibly help.

Finally, in accepting the mainstream media’s use of ‘pro-Israel’ we go along with exactly what’s wrong with the Israel discourse. But that “plus” sign at the beginning of our name isn’t just a quirky reminder of the country code. I hope that we add something of substance to debates. This comment is my attempt to demolish the failed and hollow notion, thoughtlessly churned out, that being for Israel means being against someone else.

Related:
The end of ‘pro-Israel’ in American political discourse
What do ‘pro-Israel’ image-mongers actually stand for?
NYC subway ad: When ‘pro-Israel’ rears its ugly head