And how should liberal American Jews feel about that?
It is a given these days that the more “progressive” an American is, the more she detests the Jewish state. The average well-intentioned liberal might read in the New York Times that the Israelis are expelling Palestinians in Jerusalem from their homes, or that an Israeli soldier apparently shot dead an Al Jazeera journalist, and shake her head over the reported abuse. But it wouldn’t occur to her that America ought therefore to stop sending Israel military aid, any more than she would read an article about police brutality at home and automatically agree with calls to “defund the police.” For the progressives, however, only the radical solution will do. The Israelis are “on the wrong side of history,” they are just like the Afrikaner apartheid racist bastards and European colonialists and brutal racist American police. Therefore, the Palestinians must and will triumph over them, for they are the righteous and virtuous “colonized people.” Thus the cheer, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” The Left and Progress stands with colonized “people of color,” always and everywhere, against the evil White colonialists, so obviously the Palestinians are people of color, and the Israelis are evil White people. It’s all so simple!
And so wrong. This is nothing but the wildly inappropriate, forced imposition of a rigid ideological framework on a situation where it does not belong. Its roots lie in Soviet Cold War propaganda, dating all the way back to Stalin’s late antisemitic phase. Flipping his support for Israel’s establishment in the UN partition vote of November 1947, Stalin decided that Israel was in the “imperialist camp,” and all Jews living in the Soviet Union were potentially Zionist spies. Fortunately, he died before he could have more than a relatively small number of prominent Jewish cultural figures murdered. But the change in Soviet policy lasted, and the cry was taken up in the late 1960s by that era’s “New Left.” It never made much sense. Whose “white European” empire was Israel supposed to be extending? The British, who had become so hostile to Zionism by 1939, when they were still the colonial power throughout their “mandate” of Palestine, that they energetically blocked Jewish Holocaust refugees from settling there? The Americans, who did recognize the new state of Israel in 1948 but immediately imposed an arms embargo on the newborn country as it fought a war for its life? Yes, American policy changed 25 years later, beginning with Richard Nixon, a Jew hater himself but one who saw Israel as a useful chess piece in the Cold War. But the relationship between the two countries has always been complex, with American policymakers often seeing Israel as an obstacle to other American goals in the Middle East, and U.S. military aid always conditioned on Israel piping most of the money right back into the United States via American defense contractors. Israel has never been an obedient servant of the United States, and only conspiracy-obsessed antisemites believe that Israel runs U.S. foreign policy.
The racial lens through which anti-Israel progressives view the conflict is even more absurd. “Ashkenazi” Israelis with European roots may indeed have light skin, but since the nineteenth century, racist European antisemites have always insisted the Jews are a parasitic “race” and persecuted them with the same or greater fury as contemporary White Americans persecuted African-Americans. But Ashkenazi Israelis are less than half the Jewish population of Israel, the rest being “Mizrahi” Jews (sometimes called “Sephardim,” though this is an imprecise term) who trace their roots to North Africa or the Middle East, look just like the Arab peoples of those regions, and share much of the Arab culture. Local residents can immediately distinguish between a Mizrahi Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian with or without Israeli citizenship, in the same way that residents of Northern Ireland can immediately tell the difference between a Protestant and a Catholic, but in both cases Americans with firm opinions about the conflict would have to have a local tell them who’s who. Racist views about Africans can be found among Palestinians just as much as they can among Israeli Jews, so it is hard to see why American progressives who claim to stand for African-American rights should assume that stance entails automatic sympathy for the Palestinians over the Israelis.
Even the explanation sometimes advanced that progressives side with the Palestinians because a bleeding heart always bleeds for the “underdogs” falls apart on closer inspection. Yes, the Israeli army versus Palestinians from a refugee camp can easily be made to look like Goliath trying to squash David, which was already a hoary cliché of anti-Israel propaganda by the 1960s. But behind the Palestinians, as Islamist propaganda constantly brags, are “one billion Muslims,” or at least the opinion of overwhelming majorities in the Arab Middle East and North Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc., if not always of their governments. So, who is the tiny David, and who is the immense Goliath? Or is this an inflammatory metaphor that contributes little to understanding?
The apartheid accusation is likewise inflammatory, seriously misleading, and an outrage to Black South Africans’ suffering under the real thing. Palestinians who are Israeli citizens do not suffer from de jure discrimination. They vote, and a fusionist “Arab” party is a part of the current Israeli coalition government. Palestinian Israelis do endure de facto discrimination, especially in employment and housing, which is unjust and must end. But it is absurd to compare this to the position of Black South Africans before 1994. The status of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the West Bank is much worse, but they are not powerless victims as Black South Africans were under apartheid; they are represented by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the fact that many of them are still under Israeli military occupation is due to the failure of negotiations between Israel and the PA since 2000, for which there is plenty of blame to go around. There’s also the difference that most Black South Africans did not wish to expel or massacre all the White South Africans, whereas a wish to expel or massacre all of the Jews in all of what was once the British Mandate of Palestine, which includes all of sovereign Israel, is practically de rigueur for Palestinian nationalists. I do not understand how the push to render “Palestine” Judenrein is seen as compatible with social justice.
Then there is the fact, inconvenient for progressives, that in cheering for the downfall of Israel, they are cheering for the victory of theocratic-fascist regimes and groups like the Iranian government, Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, etc. How is it that radical gay groups in America are so hostile to Israel, which hosts regular Pride parades, while LGBTQ people cannot live openly in areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority, much less in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip or any Arab country? Or that radical feminist groups root for the victory of a Palestinian society where so-called honor killings and other misogynistic violence are rampant, whereas Israeli society is probably better than American society on issues of gender equality?
There is no way I can see around the conclusion that the unremitting hostility toward Israel on today’s progressive left is driven by the same ancient prejudice they deplore when it comes from the Christian and MAGA right: Jew hatred. For me and many other American Jews raised with left-liberal political instincts, there is no escaping the suspicion that progressives don’t really have our backs, and that the charges of preening moral hypocrisy that “conservatives” have long made against “progressives” have more than a little truth to them.