A lot of those who label themselves pro-Palestinian hold the belief that this means being anti-Israeli. To put it mildly, that’s like saying that a requirement for being a feminist is being a misandrist, or that to be in favour of same-sex marriage you must believe that heterosexual couples are not worthy of the same treatment. It is possible to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine; that’s what’s commonly referred to as the advocation for a two-state solution. The only requirement for being both is not being blind to the positive and negative attributes of either side.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a testament to the double standards held by the international community against Israel. Women are stoned for being raped in the Middle East, and yet the hipster-left doesn’t advocate not flying Emirates or buying electric cars specifically to avoid having to fill up with oil from Saudi Arabian reservoirs. People complain about being labelled anti-Semitic for speaking against Israel, and then try to cite the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Dredging up old blood libels and using anti-Semitic rhetoric is, surprise surprise, going to invite an anti-Semitic label.
It’s not by any means true to say that criticising Israel makes one anti-Semitic, or indeed anti-Zionist. As a Zionist myself, I believe that the only way to properly support Israel is to criticise it when it does the wrong thing. That’s called being reasonable. My personal view is that recent settlement activity made by Israeli authority undermines efforts to achieve peace; I also see the recent UN vote granting Palestine non-voting member status as having the same purpose. Every nation and every group needs to be held accountable for everything that they do. The nature of democratic discourse and the right to free speech entitles us to argue, and to criticise, and even to condemn; but it is an affront to free speech and to democratic discourse to simply boycott one voice.
I respect the majority opinion enough to believe that myopic criticism of Israel is not rooted in anti-Semitism, and I believe that the root of this prejudice lies in the convenience of criticising Israel. The Israelis as a people tend not to see need to explain themselves to foreign powers or the media. They do what they do and then they rely on people like me, Jews living in the Diaspora, to proliferate the clear reasoning behind their actions, which filters down to us from our schools and our community leaders. To us, Israel’s actions are usually very straightforward; a flotilla arrives in their waters full of weapons, for example, and the army boards that flotilla and disarms it with what could probably be regarded as very minimal force, for example. To those of us who have watched the footage, who understand the real and present need to protect Israelis in the wake of constant threat of a third intifada, Israel’s actions are quite reasonable. The same is true of Israel; and it thus does not believe that it needs to explain itself to the media or to foreign powers. Israel does not factor in the massive bias that exists against it in the media, because it does what it does not for the benefit of the international community but for the safety of its citizens. This is the reason it is easy to criticise; it doesn’t explain it’s actions because it doesn’t feel that it needs to. On another level, Israel is easy to criticise because it does not declare war on those who believe it to be wrong. It is not founded on or run by fundamentalists whose priority is to attain supremacy over the ideological discourse of the international community. It accepts criticism and then gets on with the business of government.
I think that only supporting the good things that a nation does is the only way of continuing conversation and dialogue. I applauded the recent decision made by Scarlett Johansson to withdraw from her position as Oxfam ambassador to appear in advertisements for Sodastream, an Israeli endeavour that provides jobs for hundreds of Palestinian workers in the West Bank. Instead of standing by an organisation which would rather see those Palestinians destitute and without work simply to prove an inflammatory point, Johansson stood by the people giving Palestinians the means to work to put, as the great George W. Bush once put it, food on their families.
It’s kind of a paradox, but the only people who shouldn’t be allowed to engage in conversation are those that believe that some voices shouldn’t be heard. We need to have rational conversations, like the ones Eva Cox argued for this evening on Q&A; ones that eschew labels and partisan support and simply argue for each side on its merits, with the ultimate aim being a fair and balanced conversation. Inflammatory rhetoric like “apartheid state”, designed to evoke comparisons to a regime that subjugated its citizens to a way of life not experienced by the Palestinian people living in Israel, does not get anyone anywhere. On an aside, the use of that assertion, that Israel is an apartheid state, is not only inflammatory but also supported by no evidence. There are currently twelve members of the Knesset who are Israeli Arabs, a right that would never have been afforded to black people in South Africa. The only possible reason this phraseology could be used would be to curry myopic favour for the BDS movement, and I err on the side of caution against those who would try to deliver their message through the use of buzz phrases that aren’t relevant to the conversation.
My support for Israel remains not because of some kind of deeply seeded belief that God entitled the Jewish people to that specific plot of land thousands of years ago. It remains because Israel stands as a reasonable, open force for change not just as the only democratic nation in the Middle East, but across the scope of the globe. Recent common law decisions about the way that the fashion industry portrays body image with regard to BMI limits and warnings about doctored images are measures strides ahead of any action taken by other governments on this issue. Israel’s recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other countries reflects a commitment to equality not even taken by our own government. The nation that provides the most humanitarian aid to Palestinians? Israel. Whilst many sit and blindly condemn Israel and its people, choosing to disallow their voices instead of accepting their obvious experience and ability in many nuanced fields, they damage the credibility of their own commitment to education, to diversity, and indeed to open democratic discourse.
I support the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, and I think that makes me pro-the-Palestinian-people. I choose to identify as pro-everyone-who-isn’t-a-convicted-criminal-even-though-that’s-problematic-as-some-convicted-criminals-have-been-rehabilitated-just-look-at-Orange-is-the-New-Black-that’s-got-to-be-an-example-of-how-the-judicial-system-can-inspire-fear-of-recidivism. A rather straightforward position, I think.