Liberal Israel – reclaiming Zionism as a liberal cause

This winter I had the opportunity to travel to the most polemical area in the most contentious part of the world – the State of Israel. I spent four weeks traveling all over the country, from the Arab villages in the West Bank, to the Israeli-Syrian border. I learned a lot: how to drink milk from a bag, which brands of hummus taste the best, and how to ride a Segway without falling off. Most importantly though, I learned that so many of the stereotypes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are completely false.

One important fact to keep in mind about the conflict is that it is not Jews verse Muslims or Israelis verse Arabs. The conflict is not between two peoples. It is between two governments: the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (The PA). Arabs and Muslims who live in Israel proper are Israeli citizens with full civil and political rights. Walking around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I saw Arabs living side by side with Jews. I saw them driving on the same roads and eating in the same restaurants as Jewish-Israeli citizens. When I visited the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament building), I learned that Arab-Israelis even serve as Knesset members and Supreme Court judges.

As a liberal, I am usually inclined to side with progressive causes and therefore, support countries which share my values. This is precisely why I am proud to be an ardent supporter of the State of Israel.

Since its genesis, Israel has provided its people with full medical coverage. Every citizen of the State, whether Jew, Muslim, Christian or Druze, is guaranteed access to quality care. Israel, however, helps more than just its own population. Although the Oslo Accords gave the Palestinian Authority the right to control its own healthcare system, Israel recognizes that PA medicine is still not up to par. I visited organizations such as Save a Child’s Heart and the Peres Center for Peace, which bring Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza into Israeli hospitals to receive life-saving procedures which their own doctors are not able to perform.

Israel, though, does not just help those in the PA. Israel has a remarkable history of humanitarian aid. I spoke with a member of Mashav, an Israeli governmental organization dedicated to spreading Israeli agricultural and technological ingenuity around the world. I learned that Israel has assisted countries such as Ethiopia, Moldova and Myanmar in developing a successful agriculture program.

Israel is also willing to risk the lives of its own in order to help other countries. For example, Israel was the first to respond to the earthquake in Haiti, and currently has a team in the Philippines working to get the injured back on their feet. The Jewish State has even rehabilitated more than two hundred wounded Syrian insurgents. This is a side of Israel which is never shown in the media.

The Israeli-Syrian Border
The Israeli-Syrian Border

Other issues that are important to me as a liberal are LGBT rights and women’s rights. In Israel, gay people can live openly and safely. Gay couples even receive many of the same rights straight couples do. Although same-sex marriage is not yet legalized in Israel, gay people can get married abroad and have their marriages fully recognized by the State. Unfortunately, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where LGBT people can live without the fear of being killed for who they are. Israel realizes this and occasionally takes in LGBT Palestinians who will be killed by their families or by Hamas if they remain where they are.

Women are also equal citizens, and Israel is one of the few places in the world where women have always been guaranteed full political rights. Besides abortion being legal, there are also female officers in the army and more female than male judges in the federal court system. Israel was also the third country in history to elect a woman, Golda Meir, to the office of Prime Minister.

All of these reasons are why supporting the State of Israel is a liberal cause. Working to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people is still important, but we must remember who the real enemy is: Hamas, the terrorist regime which has been in control of Gaza since 2005, and Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently in his ninth year of his four year term as President of the PA.

On college campuses worldwide, hatred of Israel is being propagated. Students in organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine, erroneously blame Israel for the suffering of the Palestinian people. And although the Palestinian people are in fact suffering, Israel is not the reason for this tragedy. Every action Israel was forced to take which might infringe on Palestinian rights is a direct result of Palestinian terror. For example, Israel has built a security fence (imprudently called the “Apartheid Wall”) separating parts of Israel proper from the West Bank. This was built as a consequence of increased terrorist activity during the second intifada. Israel cannot be blamed for trying to protect its own citizens. The people who should be blamed for this are those who commit and incite terrorism.

Remnants of the rockets which landed in the Israeli city, Sderot.
Remnants of the rockets which landed in the Israeli city, Sderot.

Palestinians, from the second they leave the womb, are ceaselessly indoctrinated with lies about Jews and Israel. It is therefore difficult to blame these people for simply obeying the mission they’ve been taught to follow since birth – martyrdom. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas must be the ones taken to task for inciting hatred and applauding violence, for Palestinian incitement is the true obstacle to peace.

If you truly consider yourself Pro-Palestinian as I do, then you must realize who is to blame for the countless human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza. Freedom of speech, press and religion are all basic rights that Palestinians have only had when they lived under Israeli control. Their children are subject to indoctrination from birth and are taught that killing Jews is a religious obligation. To me, liberalism is about supporting the oppressed and punishing the oppressor. Israel, though, is not the oppressor.

As a Jew, Israel is important to me for it’s the only place where a Jew can truly feel at home. Discrimination and exile are ingrained in our history books, and a Jewish state is the only way we can guarantee that history does not repeat itself. Israel, though, is so much more than an insurance policy. Israel is a country which stands for all the liberal values I stand for – altruism, progressiveness, and equality for all.

About the Author
Jacob, 18, is currently a freshman at the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College studying political science. He is the president and founder of Hunter Students for Israel and is also a fellow of Hasbara Fellowships.
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