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Being More Pro-Israel Than Israel

I consider myself to be unabashedly in the pro-Israel camp. I am glad that there is a Jewish state, I am proud that it is democratic, and I happen to like that state a lot irrespective of its characteristics, having spent a large chunk of my life living in and visiting Israel. Nevertheless, I don’t like the term pro-Israel because it draws unnecessary boundaries that oftentimes do Israel more harm than good by excluding those who do not deserve to be excluded. It effectively creates an alienating dichotomy through a standard of purity that is difficult for many, if not most, people to meet, including those who would not think of doing anything to malign, diminish, or delegitimize Israel. This is damaging enough when it involves Diaspora Jews creating an unnecessarily harsh litmus test for Diaspora Jews. It veers into Alice In Wonderland territory when it involves Diaspora Jews and non-Israelis of all stripes deciding that the government of Israel itself is not sufficiently pro-Israel.

Exhibit A: Last week, famed Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (who goes by the stage name Noa) was the subject of controversy over a Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) concert she is scheduled to perform at in Vancouver. The Jewish National Fund of Canada, which had been slated to sponsor the concert as it does every year, pulled out when it was announced that Nini would be performing due to the fact that, in JNF Canada’s view, “the entertainer that has been hired does not reflect, nor correspond to the mandate and values of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.”

JNF Canada appears to have taken exception to the fact that Nini has been critical of Israeli actions in the West Bank and has lent her support to Breaking the Silence, and a number of prominent Vancouver Jews accused her of supporting BDS, a charge that Nini unequivocally denied.

Not only did JNF Canada’s move prove unsuccessful in getting Nini’s performance cancelled, it backfired spectacularly when the Israeli embassy in Ottawa and the Israeli consulate in Toronto stepped in to sponsor the concert in JNF’s place. In other words, JNF Canada takes a more hardline view of who and what is considered to be so objectionably anti-Israel that it requires disassociation from the offending party or views than does the government of Israel itself.

Exhibit B: The Republican debates and victory (or pseudo victory) speeches on primary nights have been sprinkled with references to Israel and what it means to be an Israel supporter. With the notable exception of Donald Trump – a topic I can’t quite decide to write about or to avoid like the plague – the GOP candidates take a reliably right-leaning view on Israel that supports Prime Minister Netanyahu and his policies, and they use these expressions of support as a cudgel against President Obama and his Democratic heir apparent, whomever he or she may be.

Nevertheless, the Republican support for Israel tends to veer into territory that is actually out of sync with the stated policies of the Israeli government or the overwhelming consensus of Israeli generals and security officials. When Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio state that their support for Israel requires them to rip up the Iran nuclear deal on their first day in office, this does not comport with the near-consensus opinion of the IDF and Mossad that the Iran deal is imperfect but has at a minimum temporarily removed the threat of a nuclear Iran. When candidates for president decry even attempting to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, they are implicitly trashing the current and past Netanyahu governments, which have engaged in negotiations multiple times.

When Cruz dubs John Kerry the most anti-Israel secretary of state in U.S. history, as he did at the debate last Thursday night, he is going to be hard pressed to find one Israeli cabinet official or MK who agrees with him, and he contradicts numerous public defenses of Kerry by Netanyahu. It is silly to pretend that the current Israeli government is enamored of the Obama administration, but it is a surreal scene when the men fighting to be the Republican standard bearer are more hawkish on Israel than its own government.

I do not mean to suggest that there aren’t people or organizations legitimately outside the pro-Israel tent, since there are. Had Nini really supported BDS, then I would have no problem with JNF Canada pulling its sponsorship. If John Kerry opposed American diplomatic recognition of Israel, as George Marshall did in 1948, then perhaps Cruz’s hyperbolic hysterics would be justified. But when you brand someone as an unacceptable Israel-hater and the Israeli government steps in to counter the charge, it is probably time to rethink your priorities and worldview. Not only does it make for foolish optics, it makes for bad policy.

The reality is that most people in the world, and even most Diaspora Jews, are not going to support the most hardline and hawkish positions on Israel, and so out pro-Israeling even the Israeli government is guaranteed to create an orthodoxy on Israel that is severely limiting. There are advantages to maintaining ideological purity, but winning a broad base of supporters is not one of them. In a time when Israel needs all of the friends it can get and is searching for relatable faces to present to the world, rooting out imaginary anti-Israel monsters hiding under the bed does Israel and its government no favors.

This article was originally posted in Ottomans and Zionists.