Dear Belladonna Rogers,
Of all the challenges I face dealing with leftists, one of the most difficult is contending with their anti-Israel bias. I realize Ron Paul has also expressed and mobilized anti-Israeli sentiments, but I, personally, don’t have to deal with them and hope I never do. How can I deal with the growing, overt liberal animus toward Israel?
Chagrined in Chicago
Much of the malicious and inaccurate criticism of Israel stems from two sources: ignorance and anti-Semitism.
If the criticism is based on the first, you can counteract it with facts. Here are four of the principal, hostile myths about Israel and the facts to rebut them.
(1) Israel is a foreign implant, a Western outpost, alien to the Middle East.
To the contrary, Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people, who were living there for centuries before Christianity or Islam began. Jews have lived in what is now Israel continuously for more than two millennia.
(2) Israel has imperial ambitions and seeks to expand its territory and dominate others.
When it was established by a vote of the United Nations in 1948, Israel accepted the borders that the UN drew. The year it was founded, the surrounding Arab countries, however, all attacked Israel in an effort to destroy it. Israel ended the war with more territory than it had had at the beginning. In 1967, Arab aggression led to another war of self-defense in which Israel captured more territory. The Israeli government immediately offered to return the territory in exchange for peace. In 1979-82 it did return territory to Egypt as part of a peace treaty brokered by the United States.
It has conducted negotiations with Syria to the north, and the Palestine Liberation Organization to the east, for the same purpose, but neither of them has been willing to make peace with Israel. For that reason the Golan Heights, to the north, and the West Bank of the Jordan River, to the west, have remained under Israeli control. At no time has Israel sought to enlarge its territory by attacking others in an “imperial” effort. Its boundaries have changed only as a result of wars initiated against Israel by its Arab neighbors.
(3) Israel is not a democracy.
The status of the Arabs living in the West Bank is the subject of negotiations, as discussed above. As for the rest of Israel, it is a Western-style parliamentary democracy in which full civil and political rights, including the right to vote, extend to all of its citizens, including its almost one million Arabs citizens, both Christian and Muslim, and to all women. (Full American-style rights are not available to the citizens of any Arab country.) Arabs have been elected to, and serve in, the Israeli legislature, the Knesset.
(4) Israel and its friends manipulate American foreign policy.
This is the canard of the vicious polemic written by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They charged that Israel and its friends were responsible for the American war in Iraq, which the two professors opposed.
The president, vice president, secretaries of state, and defense and national security advisor of the George W. Bush administration (none of whom is Jewish), who made the decision to go to war, were not, of course, manipulated by anyone, nor was the United States Congress, which supported the decision.
Indeed, Israeli government officials privately counseled their American counterparts against the Iraq war, believing that Iran posed the greater threat.
WHEN ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY IS AT THE ROOT OF ANTI-ISRAELI SENTIMENT
As for anti-Semitic bigotry as a source of anti-Israeli sentiment — a subject on which Eliot A. Cohen has written brilliantly — here are some telltale signs that this ancient hatred is the underlying cause of the animus against the modern Jewish state:
(1) When people refuse to accept the validity of the facts presented above.
(2) When the critic demonizes Israel and Jews, assigning to them responsibility for things with which they have no connection (e.g., “banking domination of the world,” referring to “Rothschild Zionists,” and asserting that Jews “always profit from war” despite the fact that if anyone “profits,” it is defense contractors whose ranks are not “dominated” by Jews).
(3) When they use a double standard, criticizing Israel for actions they never question in other countries (e.g., when they attack Israel for self-defense, while ignoring rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians, or ship-borne “peace brigades” from Turkey, with armed men on board ready to kill Israeli officers patrolling Israeli waters).
Bigotry is, unfortunately, rampant among Israel’s Arab neighbors, in part thanks to the bombardment of printed pamphlets of anti-Semitic propaganda and short-wave radio broadcasts in Arab lands by the Nazis during World War II. Since then, anti-Israeli hostility has been encouraged by the incompetent, oppressive authoritarian dictators who seek to deflect the anger of those they govern away from themselves.
Anti-Semitism is also making a vigorous comeback in its ancestral home of Europe, where for more than a millennium it was comfortably ensconced, reaching its apex in the Holocaust.
The current wave of virulent European anti-Semitism has caused an exodus to Israel from Sweden, France, the UK, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, and other countries by Jews whose families have lived in Europe and the UK for centuries.
The main cause? Criminal assaults on Jews by the fast-growing young Muslim populations. The governments in these countries are scandalously lax in protecting their Jewish citizens.
There’s one place, however, where criticism of Israeli isn’t fueled by anti-Semitism, and that’s Israel, whose boisterous democracy regularly generates debate and criticism so robust that they can make relations between American Democrats and Republicans seem positively chummy by comparison.
Unlike anti-Israeli sentiment based on ignorance of history, though, you don’t stand a chance of persuading bigots by using facts, logic, or reasoning, because their attitudes are irrational, deep-seated, and often unconscious.
Education may help with the factually-ignorant. With the deep-seated anti-Semite, nothing will succeed.
When you encounter such a person, I recommend minimizing contact — indeed, if you can, cutting off contact entirely.
Life is too short to subject yourself to an unrepentant bigot, no matter how charming or attractive he or she may appear to be in other respects. I’m with Moses Seixas and George Washington on this: “give bigotry no sanction.” None.