What does it mean to be a pro-Israel candidate in 2018?

By Jacob Millner

What does it mean to be a pro-Israel candidate in 2018?

The reality of today’s politics is such that many — particularly those who identify themselves as “progressives”— see support for Israel as an affront to their values and worldview. This is a complete misunderstanding and perversion of reality.

First and foremost, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. On a macro-level, Israel aids the United States in intelligence gathering and technological innovation. More times than not, Israel’s interests and American interests are aligned in a way that is unique to most other nations.

In this April 26, 2012 file photo, an Israeli waves toward an Israeli air force flyover during Israel's 64th Independence Day anniversary celebrations in Tel Aviv, Israel.

If we dig down, we see that Israel is a free and open society — like no other country in the region. There is equality of gender, freedom of the press and freedom of religion — all religions. The government is elected in a free and fair (and often messy) process. Jews, Christians, Arabs and Druze serve in all levels of government and in the military.

Critics will often point to specific incidents as proof that Israel suffers the scourge of racism and discrimination. It is true there are incidents of hate that occur in Israel. But that is true of every nation. We have serious race-related issues in this country; we see hate in Germany; discrimination in England; and sectarianism in India. Where people have freedom, people are free to hate and in some cases people act on that hate. Racism and hatred is wrong, plain and simple. Whether in Israel, in Chicago, in Texas, in London, in Toronto or in Paris.

Others find fault with Israel because of its separation barrier. Again, here we see a double standard. Barriers currently stand between India and Pakistan, the Koreas, India and Bangladesh, the United States and Mexico, Spain and Morocco, Morocco and Western Sahara, Botswana and Zimbabwe, Malaysia and Thailand, Kuwait and Iraq, and many more throughout the globe.

My point here is to put the reality of Israel into perspective. The U.S. Department of State defines anti-Semitism as “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” More importantly, the State Department definition says that “Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” is anti-Semitism. In other words, applying double standards to Israel is a form of anti-Semitism.

To demonize Israel and ignore Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Turkey’s continued occupation of northern Cyprus, the hundreds of walls that separate nations and conflict areas, and the suffering and mass murder of Palestinians in Syria, is to create a double standard.  

Those who run for office in the country should have a more focused and nuanced understanding of the depth and breadth of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Giving into cheap rhetoric singling out one nation is discrimination and I doubt that most people — good people of good conscience — want to give in to that temptation.

Of course, legitimate criticism of Israel is appropriate. We should not shy away from calling out wrongs as they occur, but we must be aware of our surroundings and not be tempted to ‘virtue signal’ in a way that narrowly focuses on the Jewish State.

Those who hold liberal western values dear must recognize that Israel — unlike many other countries on Earth — is a beacon of freedom and democracy. Imperfect as it is, it is a place — in the heart of the Middle East — where 250,000 marched in the Pride parade this month. To direct focus on the only Jewish State in the world, to single out Israel — and only Israel — for the kind of criticism it’s frequently subjected to in the international media, is a glaring blind spot— particularly on the left. 

I hope that candidates in 2018 — on both sides of the aisle — are focused first and foremost on their charge of bettering their communities, their cities, their states and this country. But when we look beyond our borders, we need to recognize the complex state of world affairs and not make value judgments and policy decisions based on superficial media coverage that is often inaccurate and devoid of context.

Jacob Millner is Midwest regional director and senior policy analyst for The Israel Project.