Over in the United Kingdom, a controversy has been brewing as Ken Livingston, the former mayor of London, was suspended from the Labour Party for comments that were deemed anti-semitic. A few weeks before, a Harvard Law student was criticized for calling a visiting Israeli politician “smelly.” And before that, the University of California released a statement condemning anti-semitism in response to accusations that criticism of Israeli policy had taken on a more sinister tone. Across the United States and Europe, it appears that a minority of liberals has begun to express opposition to the very idea of Israel’s right to exist. While criticism of Israeli policies are usually completely justified, the claim that Israel has no right to exist is at odds with liberal ideology.
The recent surge in anti-zionism has its roots in liberal opposition to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Over this course of this occupation, Israel has built illegal settlements on Palestinian land, has arguably responded to Palestinian protest with excess force, has blockaded the Gaza Strip, and has enforced overtly discriminatory policies. There is widespread consensus that these actions constitute human-rights abuses. On top of it all, the current Israeli government has shown little commitment to restoring peace and dignity to the Palestinians. As a result, it is no surprise that liberals, who value equality and the respect of human rights, object to Israel’s actions. Yet channeling opposition of these policies into a hatred of Israel is a gross oversimplification of a complex conflict. Thus, while the criticism of Israel’s policies can and perhaps should be encouraged, the small group of liberals that condemns Israel’s mere existence should rethink their beliefs.
Israel was founded as a refuge for persecuted Jews. In the years following the Holocaust, it became clear that such a refuge would be a welcome addition to the world. Now, its Jewish residents have called it home for generations. Over the years, it has developed into the strongest democracy in the Middle East. It has a prosperous economy and is a beacon of stability in an unstable region. For that reason, it is a stalwart military ally of the West. It is unfortunate that such progress came at the expense of Palestinians, but to argue that Israel should be dissolved is foolish based on both strategic realities and liberal principles.
To many, it appears that Israeli Jews have switched sides. They’ve gone from the oppressed to the oppressor. And because they are the oppressor, that means that some liberals consider them the enemy. Such reasoning is incoherent. To direct one’s anger at millions of innocent Israeli Jews is an example of the same generalization and lack of empathy that many liberals take pride in loathing. While Israel certainly is oppressing Palestine, we must still remember that Israel is a nation of individuals who, like everyone else, deserve our consideration. Those who condemn Israel’s existence seem to forget that.
For this reason, criticisms of Israel should be kept within the realm of politics. We must always feel free to criticize policies and governments, but we must refrain from judging an entire country or people. It is judgements like these that we liberals hate most. This is a very complicated conflict, and we liberals owe it to both the Israelis and Palestinians to consider every facet of the issue before coming to a conclusion.