Originally published in Tikkun Daily
As a Jew, I admit to being uniquely invested in what's occurring in Israel and Gaza – an investment sometimes cited to paint political discourse on Israel as niche. However, as an American citizen and a self-avowed progressive, I not only reject such notions, but hold that Israel is a core progressive issue which demands our broad attention.
There are many arguments made amongst progressives which seek to deflect discourse on Israel, and which echo arguments made across the political spectrum. Two of these arguments I'd like to counter below in an effort to show why Israel indeed stands as a principle progressive issue.
1) Why Single Out Israel?
One of the most consistent arguments I encounter for why Israel need not be discussed prominently is one I would categorize as a red herring. Here is how the argument goes: yes, horrible things are happening to the Palestinians, but there's a lot of bad in the world. Try focusing on Syria or Russia or Sudan for once.
This sort of logic simply doesn't hold any weight. Would I be unjustified in writing about water shutoffs in Detroit (as I've done) when land grabs in Africa are intensifying water scarcity crises for local communities? Of course I would.
It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to tackle an issue of importance without being presented with a myriad of other issues worthy of focus. But that's the nature of taking any moral stand or championing any cause: it is done knowing selectivity is inherent, natural and unavoidable.
Mehdi Hasan, political director for The Huffington Post (UK), put it most articulately when he wrote regarding his publication's current focus on Israel, Palestine and the intense suffering in Gaza:
On what grounds did we "single out" apartheid South Africa in the 1980s for condemnation and boycott? Weren't there other, more dictatorial regimes in Africa at the time, those run by black Africans such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mobutu in Zaire? Did we dare excuse the crimes of white Afrikaners on this basis?So, why Israel? Why should what's happening in Israel/Palestine be a progressive political issue in America? The answer is simple: America is inextricably linked with what's going on in the region in ways that are incomparable anywhere else in the world.
Taking a moral stand inevitably requires us to be selective, specific and, yes, even inconsistent.
The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion annually in funding, more than it gives any other nation, and much of that funding supports Israel's military apparatus. The U.S. has even expanded that funding through 2018 despite the fact that Israel, against U.S. policy, has continued to expand its illegal settlements, making a U.S.-supported two-state solution impossible. America has also continuing this funding during Israel's decades-old military occupation in the West Bank, which denies Palestinians basic human rights while subjecting them to military law, including indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on movement and violent, sometimes deadly suppression of political protest.
And now, during a tragic war of choice in Gaza many international observers view as violating international law, the White House has backed Israel's efforts as hundreds of innocent civilians are being killed, often when their homes are targeted (an issue Jake Tapper raised pointedly with Israel's ambassador).
As citizens, our tax dollars are funding what is occurring.
Now, to be clear: I don't want funding cut to Israel, as U.S. funds help Israel in critically important ways. For example, as Hamas fires crude rockets it cannot control into Israel, the U.S.-provided Iron Dome is protecting civilians, my friends among them, and I'm grateful for that. However, I have many concerns about the way Israel is using its disproportionate military force – a force heavily-funded by America. Should we be invested in voicing concerns about how our tax dollars are being spent? Should we be asking whether the White House should freeze some funds until America's policy demands and international laws are met? As progressives? As Americans?
2) Let Them Kill Each Other – Regional Hate Is None of My Concern
This is an insidious, dehumanizing and wholly simplistic move that some people make with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though in their defense, it's a view most media in America perpetuate. I have no intention of engaging in a comprehensive, historical review in this space to counter it, though doing so would certainly be appropriate.
Rather, I'll simply respond to this line of reasoning as follows: this "conflict" is not so much a prolonged war as it is a decades-long, asymmetrical oppression of one people (sadly, my people) over another.
Yes, religious hatred amongst minority groups on both sides exist. Yes, racism and anti-Semitism amongst minority groups on both sides exist. And yes, the continued conflict has worked over decades to imbue each society with mistrust for the other that is difficult to overcome.
However, this is a situation – just like every other geopolitical crisis – which has geopolitical solutions. Here is the kicker, though: no solutions will be advanced, nor will peace be attained, unless outside pressure is brought to bear upon both parties, for neither seem capable of extricating themselves from counterproductive policies on their own.
All the more reason for us to be involved and invested, as progressive Americans, in what is happening.
Yes, as a Jew, I am invested in Israel's future in unique ways. I want it to thrive and survive, to achieve its democratic promise, however difficult that may be. And this investment is, in part, what motivates me to critique Israel: the damage it's doing to the Palestinians is also destroying itself.
However, as a progressive American whose liberal Jewish values align with my U.S.-borne political ones, I find it imperative that we address Palestinian suffering, the denial of their human rights, and the suppression of their right to self-determination.
As Americans partially responsible for and heavily intertwined in the conflict, we have no other choice.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.