Why Shouldn’t a Liberal Democrat Be a Zionist?

Israel is an asset and proud ally of the United States; it embodies Jewish, democratic and liberal values of espousing civil rights, gay rights, minority rights, women’s rights, free robust press, independent judiciary, top quality health care and education. In Israel, biology trumps ideology, each life is precious. Very few other places in the world can say this, and certainly none in the Middle East.

On May 14, 2018, I was invited to participate in a special program of Evangelical Christians and Jews commemorating Israel’s 70th anniversary and the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem at the historic Congregation Mikveh Israel, the synagogue of the American Revolution, located across from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was a true honor, and the remarks of my speech can be seen here.

But unfortunately, I was reminded later in the day at a local Jewish food pantry where I regularly volunteer how some members of the Jewish really feel. I was mentioning to a woman that I had seen the festivities opening the embassy in Jerusalem live online that morning, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Rivlin, Ambassador David Friedman, Jared Kusher, Ivanka Trump, and President Trump and how amazing a celebration it was. Suddenly, a man interrupted and exclaimed, “they are all deplorables.” Startled, I said, “who is?” and he repeated it and then said he was a “liberal Jew.” I challenged him and said “but that doesn’t prevent you from being a Zionist and celebrating this momentous event.” He mumbled something I couldn’t make out. I then said, “and I’m a proud deplorable too !” I was so riled up, my blood boiling, but I took a deep breath, settled back, said nothing further and determined to get refocused to do the mitzvah work of packing food for needy and indigent Jews and others from the area.

But that leads to my quandary which I have asked of several rabbis and other learned folks: how do we reconcile Klal Yisrael — that all Jews must be treated with respect as our brothers and sisters and that we are not to do harm to another Jew- with the many, and sadly increasing, members of the Jewish community who act against the interests, safety and security of Israel and the Jewish community, putting us all at great risk and danger. In other words, how do we as a community deal with the betrayers and traitors amongst us? I believe Hashem ultimately will deal with them, but what can we do, here and now? How should we view them ?

Here is what I can glean: we must feel rachmonis, compassion, for them, consider them to have an illness/infection that must be healed. But it is also our job to confront, challenge and educate them, deftly and with respect (when possible).

That Trump is the one who kept his promise, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the embassy to Jerusalem– Israel’s ancient, eternal and undivided capital — has turned some of these folks into mental pretzel twists. They cannot even acknowledge and celebrate an obvious good thing when faced with inconvenient truth that challenge their bias.

How do we get them to show some respect for Israeli sovereignty and democracy for its elected leaders? Understandably, we are not all expected to agree with them, their qualities and positions. However, if you don’t like them, you are free to move to Israel and vote there. Indeed, the latest poll shows 74% of Jewish Israelis support the embassy move, and another 20% support it but preferred it happened in the context of Trump unveiling his plans to ending the Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict.

Zionism is not a political position, not party-dependent.  I know “liberal Jews” who are proud Zionists, however, many feel muzzled. Increasingly too many in the Jewish community are terribly confused and conflicted. We must get our own house in order.

Israel has miraculously reached 70, and despite it all (Gaza, Hamas, Syria, Iran, security challenges, BDS, Europeans, NGOs, UN, terrorists) is thriving, and has the greatest friend and ally in the United States. Can’t we all just celebrate for a change?

About the Author
Lee S. Bender co-authored a book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z” (Pavilion Press) with Jerome Verlin, and has been speaking about anti-Israel bias and activities to numerous schools, synagogues, churches and civic groups, and written dozens of articles published in local and national media. He is Co-President of the Zionist Organization of America-Greater Philadelphia District, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, Israel Advocacy Committee of Jewish Federation among other organizations. A former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, he has been in private practice as a trial attorney in Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 1995.