Uri Pilichowski
Author, Educator and Father - Brother to All

When Israel should be a wedge issue

In 2002 Georgia residents voted Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney out of office. Among her many controversial positions, her anti-Israel rhetoric put her out of the mainstream in Georgia. Without the partisan environment that exists today her opponents’ raising of Israel in the campaign was natural and didn’t bring accusations of making Israel a wedge issue. It was clear when McKinney said things like, “[There has been] a failure of just about every effort to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and crimes against the peace… Israel’s actions have been aided and abetted by a U.S. political class that has become corrupted beyond belief due to its reliance on Zionist campaign finance,” that she was anti-Israel and couldn’t be re-elected.

Bipartisan support of Israel is crucial for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Democrats and Republicans often switch from the majority to the minority in Congress. If Israel enjoys support of only one party Israel will lose when that party is out of power. It is important that either party isn’t called out as anti-Israel. If a party espouses positions that are anti-Israel, Israel supporters must explain their concerns. Republicans and Democrats share values with the State of Israel; both can find a home in supporting Israel.

Zionists have diverse views on Israel; there isn’t one mainstream view to which all Zionists subscribe. There are Zionists that maintain that Palestinians should have their own state, who feel Israel’s security is hurt by settlements and settlement growth, and some even feel settlements are immoral and violate international law. I disagree with all of them, but just because I disagree with them doesn’t make them anti-Israel or me any more pro-Israel than they are. Opposing settlements or advocating for the two states solution shouldn’t be a wedge issue in any election outside of Israel, and definitely not in an American election.

In misguided attempts to keep Israel from becoming a wedge issue in American elections some politicos have set the bar too low to qualify as an Israel supporter. If someone slanders Israel by calling its treatment of Palestinians a violation of human rights, says that Israeli soldiers target innocent Palestinians for slaughter, shoot Palestinian children like birds of prey, or that Israeli policy is an apartheid or ethnic cleansing, then even if they say they support Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, they are not Pro-Israel. Calling them a friend or pro-Israel is absurd. If you sign a letter comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, even if that letter affirmed the importance of the two-state solution, you’re not a friend of Israel. Friends don’t slander friends in order to demonize them.

There are times when it is appropriate and necessary to highlight Israel in an American campaign. The U.S.-Israel relationship is an American national security issue. America’s security is enhanced when Israel’s security is strengthened. When candidates for office slander Israel, stand against Israel or take positions that weaken Israel, it is important that they be called out for their dangerous positions.

A candidate shouldn’t expect that if they use decades old stale lines from Pro-Israel campaign brochures, they’re Pro-Israel. Opposing the BDS movement and refusing to condition aid to Israel on settlement policy isn’t cover for slandering Israel. This is especially true if one side of their mouth is espousing the right for Israel to exist while the other side spews anti-Israel tropes like apartheid, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations. It isn’t the two-faced candidates’ opponents that are the ones making Israel a wedge issue.

It’s a shame when a non-Jewish candidate has to remind Jews who their true friends are because partisan allegiance to one party is blinding the masses to a candidate’s anti-Israel positions. This isn’t trafficking in legitimacy vis-à-vis the Jewish people, it’s calling out an anti-Israel opponent for their slanderous views. This isn’t a form of intersectionality or unnecessary division, it is a crucial issue for those who understand that a strong Israel requires a supportive America and a strong America needs a strong Israel. An anti-Israel voice in the Senate can be a deciding vote on legislation like an Iran deal. These pieces of legislation can prove crucial to the State of Israel and the security of Israeli Jews.

All too often partisan politics cover for anti-Israel behavior. At times Jews allow their allegiances to their party to outweigh their concern for Israel. They accuse others of making Israel a wedge issue. They don’t realize the “hechsher” they give to anti-Israel candidates is the true wedge. I fear that is exactly what is happening in the Senate race in Georgia. Instead of recognizing that Reverend Warnock’s positions have crossed from acceptable criticism to anti-Israel rhetoric. They claim that the Republican candidate for Senate – a non-Jew they point out – is making Israel a wedge issue. If Warnock’s opponent had given a speech with similar claims about African-Americans and then changed their tune as it came to election time, these same Warnock defenders would never excuse it. It’s time to tell the truth – Warnock hates Israel and will be a voice that weakens the U.S.-Israel relationship.

About the Author
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator. As a teacher, author and speaker, he teaches Torah and Politics, where he specifically emphasizes rational thought and conceptual analysis.
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