Seth Eisenberg
Freedom matters

The Puerto Rico Test

Many believe double standards applied to Israel are motivated by anti-Semitism. Frequent critics claim they care about Israel, but know better than the country’s democratically elected leaders how to bring peace and prosperity to the region.

When Foggy Bottom and European policy wonks or the White House political team gets it wrong on the Middle East, they still go home to their families, analyze how their decisions may affect voters, master the art of passing the buck, and polish up their LinkedIn pages while thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, die.

Is there a double-standard applied to Israel? To me, the test comes down to just two words.

Puerto Rico.

It doesn’t take much research to find that just one week after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a bill was enacted that made it illegal for those opposed to an occupying government to sing a patriotic song, assemble, or even talk of independence. Punishment for disobedience: ten years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.

That bill was not introduced in Jerusalem; it was passed on May 21, 1948 by the American-backed Puerto Rican Senate. Until 1957, it remained a crime to print, sell, exhibit, organize or help any group of people who challenged the rule imposed on the indigenous population by the United States.

Did anyone claim America was pursuing apartheid in Puerto Rico? Did leading columnists and editorial boards rush to say America’s decisions on Puerto Rico called into question our nation’s commitment to democratic values?

Puerto Rico Protest
More than a century after the American invasion of Puerto Rico, issues regarding the rights, status and relationship of the island’s 3.5 million residents with the United States remain unresolved.

American military forces violently invaded and took control of Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898. It’s taken much of the past 117 years for the island’s 3.5 million residents to win many of the most basic rights enjoyed by Americans. Yet even today, while the Puerto Rican head of state is the President of the United States, many residents cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. Those who do are U.S. citizens bound by allegiance to the United States and our Constitution.

Unlike 435 of his peers, Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s elected representative to the U.S. Congress since 2008, has no vote on matters before the House of Representatives. Like representatives of the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands, his representation of the people of Puerto Rico is limited to voting on issues before congressional committees.

Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles from Miami. [ISIS, al Nusra, al Qaeda, al Aqsa Hezbollah, and Hamas are less than 10 miles from Israel.] Yet it’s taken more than a century to sort out the territory’s relationship with the United States, which has included periods of brutal suppression and imprisonment that generated very few front page headlines in the West.

No one claims the decades of negotiating, and often imposing, the rights, freedoms and representation for Puerto Rico is a case study in democratic nation-building. But it does reflect the very real challenges addressed, for better and worse, of an America committed to the values of our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the vision of our nation’s founding fathers.

The issues Israel’s leadership must tackle to protect the security, character, and potential of the only country in the Middle East that comes close to reflecting American values are far more complex.

Is there a double-standard? Is it motivated by anti-Semitism?

Surely legions of pundits, analysts and spokesmen who rush before the cameras or to pen columns dissecting every utterance and action from the Jews of Israel will say it isn’t. What major American publication would pay for the words of admitted Israel haters?

For those who care deeply about the future of both America and Israel, holding those pronouncements up against the real world example of Puerto Rico offers a chance to draw our own conclusions.

About the Author
Seth Eisenberg is President of the PAIRS Foundation, a former At-Large chair of the National Writers Union, elected labor leader, and pro-Israel activist. He is an author of Instructions for Intimacy, The Laundry List of Relationship Mishaps, Knots and Double Binds, PAIRS Essentials, Warrior to Soul Mate, PAIRS for PEERS, and the SHALOM Workshop. He can be reached via LinkedIn at
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