Raising the pro-Israel goalposts

Raising the pro-Israel goalposts

Scene from the 2018 Celebrate to Israel Parade in New York City. Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images
Scene from the 2018 Celebrate to Israel Parade in New York City. Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images

recent poll commissioned by Jewish Democrats concluded that a majority of American Jews agree that it’s possible to criticize Israeli government policies and still support the Jewish state.

Well, duh. This isn’t exactly news, but what IS news is how the definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel” keeps changing as the issue becomes more and more entangled in the unforgiving world of American partisan politics, to the detriment of broad and stable support for the Jewish state.

As JTA reported, the inclusion of the question is noteworthy; in no previous poll were respondents asked both if they support Israel and believe it is OK to criticize its policies. No doubt that inclusion reflects a certain defensiveness on the part of Jewish Democrats as they grapple (not very effectively) with a resurgent left-wing faction that tends to be more critical of Israeli policies and which includes a segment — how large, we don’t really know — that is overtly antagonistic to the Jewish state.

Even more, Jewish Democrats are reacting to the growing effort by many Republican leaders, backed by some Jewish groups, to weaponize the very notion of being pro-Israel, redefining it in a way that leaves even many American Jews outside the pro-Israel tent.

Is it anti-Israel to favor a two-state solution? Listen to some politicians and you’d think so, even though polls continue to show that a majority of American Jews favor that outcome.

Can you have serious qualms about Israel’s policies in the West Bank or its blockade of Gaza and still be an ardent supporter — indeed, an admirer — of Israel? For countless American Jews, that duality defines their relationship to Israel, but they are increasingly written out of a pro-Israel narrative shaped by partisan politics.

Don’t get us wrong: The Democratic Party does have a growing Israel problem. Overall support for the Jewish state is clearly on the decline, and party leaders seem fairly clueless about how to address the shift.

But Democrats who support Israel while taking issue with some of its policies are not anti-Israel. Nor are the countless American Jews who treasure their connection to Israel but despair at some of its actions. Nor are the Jewish groups that sharply differ with the current government in Jerusalem. It is not necessary to agree with these groups, but it is essential to not exclude them from a movement that once regarded diversity and inclusiveness as strengths.

By constantly raising the goalposts for what it means to be “pro-Israel,” politicians exploiting the issue for votes and campaign contributions are, in fact, undercutting broad political support for an Israel they claim to cherish.

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