As a progressive (or “liberal” as I grew up calling myself), I’ve been troubled by the divide I’ve seen in the progressive community over the Israeli-Hamas conflict. While there are many good progressives on the national scene who, as I do, support Israel enthusiastically, I have also seen the unmistakable strain of anti-Israeli sentiment on the part of progressives I know, read, or interact with on social media. To me, much of what I’ve heard from these people with whom I normally share so much is both profoundly troubling, and antithetical to everything progressivism is supposed to be about.
First, when I say I am a progressive, let me tell you what I mean: the legislation in Pennsylvania legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour, mandating paid family leave, abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana and taxing the use of plastic bags are not only bills I support, they are bills I’ve introduced. A number of commentators have nicknamed me “The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania,” a moniker I proudly embraced during my recent Congressional campaign.
My views on foreign policy are similarly, if not quite as aggressively, progressive. I opposed the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, and Grenada. However, I am not a pacifist; I supported going into Afghanistan to prevent those who attacked us on 9/11 from planning their next strike. Generally, I support more foreign aid to help alleviate poverty and a greater emphasis on human rights in our dealings with other nations.
To me, this general world view can lead to only one logical conclusion, which is the strong support of Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. There is one country in the Middle East which respects women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of political minorities, free speech and the right of dissent, and that is Israel. There is no other nation in the region which could, in any sense of the word, be considered progressive.
Hamas has a human rights record that can only be described as awful. Being gay is a crime punishable by death and women are subjected to strict dress codes, and are often the victims of “honor killings” while the Hamas government looks the other way. Religious minorities living in Gaza are subjected to almost daily governmental harassment, and one need only watch the news to see reports of extra-judicial killings of anyone even suspected of opposing Hamas’ war on Israel. There is no other context in which progressives would tolerate the sort of human rights violations against their own people that Hamas perpetuates every day.
It is certainly true that a large number of Gazans have lost their lives in the current conflict. And some of my progressive friends have correctly noted that many of them are innocent civilians and children.
But tragically, this is the case in all wars. We don’t fight wars against individuals; we fight against governmental regimes that control the weapons that threaten us. There were many innocent Japanese children during World War II. They were too young to know who Hideki Tojo was. But Tojo bombed Pearl Harbor. We had to fight back, sad in the knowledge that innocent people would die. Similarly, Israel has the right to defend itself when attacked, doing their best to minimize civilian casualties.
Many progressives, who share my strong preference for peace over war and rarely, if ever, find a legitimate reason for Israel (or the United States for that matter) to use force, somehow justify Hamas shooting rockets into Israel. The fact is that since Hamas assumed power, they have fired almost 15,000 rockets, killing dozens and injuring almost 2,000 Israelis. No other nation in the world would be expected to tolerate this.
Perhaps we could all have some faint hope that the recently announced open-ended cease-fire will result in some progress in addressing the concerns of all sides. I understand that progressives feel the Palestinian people have legitimate grievances, and it seems to me that the negotiating table is the place to address them. But there is no grievance that would justify Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians, which is a war crime. And there is no progressive principle which would require Israel to silently endure countless attacks on its people.
We all have political heroes. As a progressive, I find my inspiration in the words of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These great, progressive leaders all achieved far more for their people than the rocket-launchers and suicide-bombers of Hamas have for theirs. I would hope that in time, the progressive community can come closer to speaking with one voice in condemning the sort of terrorism and genocide that can be found in the Hamas charter. If we as progressives really care about the suffering of the Palestinian people and peace, we have no other choice.
Senator Daylin Leach represents Pennsylvania's 17th Senate District.