What Does It Mean to Be anti-Israel?

Those who accuse organizations such as J Street and the New Israel Fund as anti-Israel while proclaiming themselves pro-Israelis are nullifying important questions every patriot should be dealing with.

Mira Sucharov.
Mira Sucharov
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Mira Sucharov.
Mira Sucharov

The debate over loyalty to Israel continues to rage, this time fueled by the Anti-Defamation League’s issuing of a list of the “Top 10 most influential and active anti-Israel groups in the United States.” Given the increasingly pressing debates over Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, what does it mean to be “anti-Israel?”

As Daniel Treiman reported in JTA, J Street and New Israel Fund expressed public displeasure over the very idea of the list, as well as the inclusion of certain groups, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council. MPAC actually does support a two-state solution. Other groups, like JVP, in Treiman’s description, “neither concurred with nor explicitly disputed the ADL’s characterization of it [JVP] as an anti-Israel organization.”

Leaving aside for the moment the ethical dubiousness of drawing up such lists when the breadth of policy discourse at this juncture is so essential for conflict resolution, it is indeed puzzling why some of these groups are included. For example, given that Jewish Voice for Peace does not explicitly support the two-state solution (neither does it explicitly support the one-state solution), should it be considered “anti-Israel”? Some would say yes. Yet despite not using buzz words like support for a “Jewish state,” JVP’s platform doesn’t necessarily deny the Jewish right to statehood: “Israelis and Palestinians have the right to security, sovereignty, and self-determination within political entities of their own choosing,” JVP’s mission statement says.

In this era of apparent policy deadlock on the peace process, determining what it means to support Israel is becoming an increasingly murky task. Far-right voices are increasingly advocating West Bank annexation without granting the Palestinian residents citizenship, an arrangement resembling apartheid. And many voices on the left are deciding that a Jewish and democratic state simply cannot be squared. Not surprisingly, these critics are siding with democracy.

Some of these voices include committed Israelis, Israelis who are Jewish, had long embraced the Zionist dream, served their country in various public ways, and who are now questioning whether the two-state dream is still possible. Consider Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, who told me in a 2011 interview that he “still believe[s] that a two-state solution is the best one. But if not, then what?” And that “we have to see how we can live together in a one-state solution.” A year later, Burg outlined his vision in a New York Times op-ed: Israel would shift to becoming a “democracy based on a progressive, civil constitution; a democracy that enforces the distinction between ethnicity and citizenship, between synagogue and state; a democracy that upholds the values of freedom and equality....”

Or Diaspora Jews prominent in scholarly circles, those like Ian Lustick, a founder of the Israel Studies Association, who caused a stir when he recently wrote in the New York Times that he is ready to consider alternatives to what he now calls the two-state “illusion.”

Or consider what Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli pollster and analyst wrote last year in +972 Magazine. “I have been a “committed two-stater” ever since college, when I was old enough to think about it, long before I moved to Israel,” Scheindlin wrote. “In that sense, it’s not only part of my political identity – two-states has been part of my personal identity. But paradigms shift and we must be brave enough to sacrifice our familiar individual identities to adapt to historic realities.”

I happened to be one of the friends in the liberal Zionist circle Scheindlin mentions, as we studied together at McGill University. We had high hopes for a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with our graduation year coinciding with the Oslo Agreement’s signing. And while Scheindlin made her life in Israel while I stayed in North America, I deeply understand her admission about particular political solutions being part of one’s personal identity. For now, I still feel that aspects of my personal and communal identity -- wrapped up with my scholarly understanding of the region, including the needs and identities of both Israelis and Palestinians -- are contingent on the idea of Jewish, democratic statehood.

But I also admire these authors’ courage in beginning hard conversations about what else is possible. The ADL’s classification of groups wrestling with questions of justice and identity in the Middle East as “anti-Israel” therefore does a great disservice to the goal of intelligent and incisive policy debate, a cornerstone of freedom and democracy.

The question remains whether attachment to a country -- and by extension to its symbols, citizens, language and geography -- means loyalty to a certain political idea. I once thought I knew. But now I’m not so sure.

Follow Mira Sucharov on Twitter @sucharov

A 2010 rally against the New Israel Fund, in which protesters blame the organization for sullying the image of the Israel Defense Forces. Credit: Alon Ron

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