I love Israel, and I am not ashamed. I love Israel because I believe that the Jewish people, like all peoples, have the right to self-determination. I love Israel because after millennia of persecution, it provides Jews a much needed place of refuge. I love Israel because I am an atheist Jew who feels a profound connection to the Jewish people’s historic homeland, from which my people were expelled by the Romans(1).
My love of Israel does not prevent me from admitting that it has faults. Just as I consider it a false notion that American patriotism means enthusiastic flag waving and blind acceptance of every action our country takes, I believe the narrative that a pro-Israel stance must mean supporting all Israeli policy is every bit as unreasonable. Just as I firmly disagree with many policies of the current American government, I am not a proponent of the Netanyahu administration, and I am strongly against settlement expansion in the West Bank. Despite the fact that the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are among the freest Arabs in the Middle East, many suffer discrimination by their fellow Israeli citizens, and work must be done to rectify these injustices. Despite the fact that the majority of the non-Israeli Palestinians in the West Bank live under their own Palestinian administrative control, they do live difficult lives, in part because of Israeli security measures, and there ought to be a collective effort to improve their conditions.
In Gaza, however, Palestinians live under the brutal government of Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the US (2) and EU (3). Unfortunately, after Israel uprooted eight thousand settlers in its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Hamas, which actually calls for the genocide of Jews in its charter (4), rose to power. Hamas has repeatedly orchestrated suicide bombings against Israeli citizens (5), and since its takeover of Gaza, has periodically launched rockets from the Gaza Strip toward civilians (6). Many Israelis desperately want peace, but they are mortally afraid that a withdrawal from the West Bank would soon lead to Hamas control of the area, leaving Israel – 9 miles wide at its narrowest point (7) and with its largest city, Jerusalem, directly adjacent to the West Bank – extremely vulnerable to further attacks.
Supporters of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to economically isolate Israel, frequently frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a straightforward case of power dynamics. In focusing primarily on Israel’s current strength while largely overlooking the historic vulnerability of the Jewish people and the dangerous threats Israel continues to face, they turn an exceedingly complex situation into a unilateral condemnation of one side. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has no easy answers, and oversimplifications only serve to discourage nuanced dialogue and decrease sympathy on both sides.
One of the most troubling examples of this concerning rhetorical trend is “Israeli Apartheid Week,” which was held at Haverford this past week and occurs annually on campuses across the world. During these events, organizations that support BDS attempt to sell students a narrative replete with distortions. The very title of this week slanders Israel while ignoring the thoroughly invalidating fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel have equal voting rights in the State of Israel (8) and hold one seventh of the seats in the Israeli Parliament (9). The title additionally conflates occupation with apartheid in the West Bank. Even Richard Goldstone, a South African former chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals who has written highly critically of Israel, explained that the situation in the West Bank lacks the characteristics that defined South African Apartheid, as “there is no intent to maintain ‘an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group (10).’” Goldstone’s assertion is bolstered by the fact that Israel has offered peace treaty propositions to withdraw from virtually all of the West Bank in both 2000 and 2008 (11). To be clear, I disagree with much of Israeli policy in the West Bank, but the situation just does not amount to apartheid. BDS proponents also generally ignore that the occupation arose in direct response to Jordan’s war against Israel in 1967.
The platform for the international parent organization of Israeli Apartheid Week claims that “Palestinian citizens of Israel are barred from controlling and developing over 90% of the land,” a malicious distortion that omits the essential fact that most land in Israel is owned by the government (12). The Israel Land Administration leases rather than sells land in the state of Israel, and does so to both Jewish and Palestinian citizens (13). Apparently holding a lease for land does not constitute “control.” If we follow this logic, Israeli Jewish citizens are also “barred from controlling and developing” the same 90% of land. The platform also laments that Jews can automatically become citizens of Israel, entirely ignoring the murderous treatment Jews have endured periodically throughout the centuries that makes this Law of Return so necessary. Further, this law is not without precedent, as similar rules allowing ethnic groups to become citizens of their respective people’s countries have been adopted by at least 22 other countries (14). Additionally, BDS supporters often frame the conflict as between white European Israelis and Palestinians of color, overlooking that more than half of Israeli Jews are direct descendants from the Middle East and North Africa (15).
On many campuses, BDS supporters put up a “wall” to symbolize the security barrier Israel built to prevent terrorist attacks, without mentioning that it was erected in direct response to the murder of more than 700 Israeli civilians (16). They disregard the 800,000 Jews who became refugees from Arab countries after the 1948 War (17), and instead demand the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, omitting facts about these refugees that are crucial to understanding the situation. The majority of the Palestinian refugee population of 750,000 was created in 1948 after the Arabs rejected the existence of a Jewish state alongside a state of Palestine, and instead waged a war against the Jews (18). Palestinian refugees are the only group in the world who have their UN refugee status passed down through generations by blood (19). As a result of this unique designation, the original 750,000 Palestinian refugees have grown into a current population of more than five million (20), roughly 40 percent as large as Israel’s 8.6 million population.
The narrative that these groups espouse is but one perspective. We should certainly look critically at all sides of a story, and many of the arguments that BDS proponents present are fueled by a myriad of factual distortions. Although they pin the blame for the Palestinians’ situation almost entirely on Israel, much of it unfortunately lies at the feet of Palestinian leaders whose rejectionism, incompetence, and corruption has irrefutably increased their people’s misery. Indeed, Palestinians living in the West Bank should have the right to vote for their own government in the Palestinian Authority, and are only prevented from doing so because their President, Mahmoud Abbas, is inexplicably in the 13th year of his 4-year term (21). Moreover, the Palestinian Authority government provides the school textbooks in the West Bank, and many of these books erase Israel from the map, replacing it with Palestine (22). By indoctrinating the next generation of Palestinians, the government ensures that future Palestinian leaders will feel entitled to nothing less than all of Israel and continue to systematically reject every Israeli peace offer.
I am not ashamed of my love for Israel, although BDS supporters frequently paint a misleading picture that makes this view seem impossible to reconcile with morality. Israel may fall short of the unachievable standards these groups hold it to, but it has long been an oasis of freedom in a very troubled part of the world. I am not ashamed to love a country that has endured and persevered in spite of being repeatedly attacked since its establishment. Despite its current status as a powerful nation, had Israel not emerged victorious from wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973, it would have been destroyed. I am not ashamed to love a country that protects the Jewish people in a world where history has shown time and time again that other countries are utterly incapable of doing so. I love Israel, and I am not ashamed.