Apparently, for someone of my political sensibilities, I have anomalous views on the State of Israel. I am an American Jew who identifies strongly with the Democratic party and the liberal ideas it champions, and yet I also have deep love and support for Israel. I first discovered that this is considered slightly unconventional when I started college, and had liberal friends who assumed that, naturally, I would dislike Israel and believe it to be an exclusively problematic apartheid state. Or, I met people who assumed that I voted Republican simply because I supported Israel. Neither of these statements have any truth to them.
Beginning my nine-month-long fellowship in Israel in September of last year, this intersection between politics and religion started to rattle around more in my mind, particularly after learning that my experience was not all that unique. Other fellows received criticism from peers for choosing to do a program in Israel and some people have lost friends over the years because of the seeming incompatibility between being liberal and supporting Israel in any way. It was heartbreaking to hear that Israel is such a divisive issue in American politics and that most people fall to either one extreme or the other in their views on Israel, instead of having a more balanced and well-informed perspective on the conflict. There is an obvious difference between blindly supporting Israel in everything it does versus supporting Israel while acknowledging that many actions it takes are far from correct or perfect. I would never claim to know what Israel should do in a given situation, but that does not mean that I do not find legitimate criticisms of the political situation here.
I love Israel and feel that it is my homeland, but I am horrified by the new government coming to power and by the blatantly homophobic and racist statements being made by members of Netanyahu’s new cabinet. The emotions I am experiencing in response to this government are most akin to being a child that has a startling realization that maybe their parents are not really perfect or always right, but the child still loves them and believes in their ability to be good anyway. I am still clinging to a fundamental belief that things can change for the better here and that mistakes can be learned from and remedied.
It is actually my strong Jewish identity that is causing my greatest disappointment and that feels at odds with what is politically taking place in Israel. I do not find the statements and ideas for governance coming from Netanyahu’s coalition to be very Jewish in nature at all. Judaism is replete with ideas of compassion and empathy, and I believe those elements of the religion are quintessential. We are taught to love our friends like we love ourselves and to treat the stranger in our midst with kindness. These ideals and principles are lacking in the new government, and thus to have a senior minister such as Bezalel Smotrich declare, “I am a proud homophobe” or say that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, should have “finished the job” and kicked all Arabs out of the country is despicable. To have a government with Avi Moaz, who stated that a top priority of his is to abolish the Pride Parade in Jerusalem since it is “a promiscuous parade of abomination” breaks my heart.
I do not know what will happen with Netanyahu’s new government going forward, or the ramifications the government’s viewpoints and policies will have within Israeli society, but what I can say with certainty is that irrespective of my support for the State of Israel, I am deeply disappointed and fearful for the immediate future of this land.