Partisanship is hardwired in human beings. We love to cheer, we need to cheer, for our groups and our teams. I’m such a diehard Lakers fan I enjoy cheering against our nemesis the Boston Celtics.
Politically, I’m surrounded by partisans. My Democrat friends will never be caught dead saying anything that might help those dreaded Republicans; while my Republican friends feel the same way in reverse.
Can you recall ever hearing a Democrat or Republican say something like, “You know, in all fairness, we must give credit to the other side on these issues?” That just doesn’t come up, because what counts, above all, is to make the strongest possible case for your side.
I can think of one notable exception to this hard-rock principle— liberal Zionists who feel compelled to make the case for Palestinians. These Israel supporters have decided that when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, they can ditch their partisan reflexes in favor of something more enlightened and even-handed. For their beloved Israel, in other words, it’s not enough just to make the case for Israel; they must make the case for the other side, as well.
It’s hard to question that approach because it sounds so reasonable. After all, who can be against fairness and balance? In that framing, anyone making the case exclusively for Israel ends up looking like a blind, heartless partisan.
But if even-handedness is so valued, why won’t Zionist Democrats treat Republicans the way they treat Palestinians? Why won’t they go out of their way to see things from the point of view of the Republican side, as they do with Palestinians?
One answer is that politics is about power, and in the game of power, your side must win at all cost.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict, on the other hand, is more of a distant geopolitical issue where there’s little risk in making the case for the “other side.” If anything, when liberal-Zionist-Democrats bend over backward to show compassion for Palestinians, that makes them more popular in their Democratic circles.
When liberal-Zionist-Democrats bend over backward to show compassion for Palestinians, that makes them more popular in their Democratic circles.
So, where does that leave devoted Israel supporters who don’t really care about being popular in any circle? Are they allowed to make a strong case for Israel without being accused of being a biased supporter of the Zionist state?
This is a serious question. Anyone making the case for Israel today is up against the most beloved victims in human history—the Palestinians. After decades of nurturing the world’s sympathy, the Palestinians are sitting on top of the victim food chain. The genius of Palestinian leaders, their primary occupation, is to maintain that supreme victim status.
This presents a paradox. On the one hand, the fact that most of the world already takes the side of the Palestinians would suggest that Israel supporters ought to double down on making the strongest possible case for Israel.
On the other hand, the fact that the Palestinian cause has become so popular within mainstream society offers obvious temptations for anyone seduced by such popularity.
The choice, then, is messy: Defending Palestinians and going with the mainstream means piling on to what much of the world is already doing; while defending Israel means you’re on a lonely island where you’re accused of being one-sided.
I once asked a relative of a renowned humanitarian who was also a passionate Zionist how he felt about the plight of Palestinians. This was the gist of the response: “Most of the world supports the Palestinians. Do I really need to add my two cents?”
He could have added: The condemnation of Israel in international bodies like the United Nations is so wildly out of proportion, does the world need another Israel basher or a course correction?
The bottom line is this: Israel supporters need not apologize for making the strongest possible case for their side.
Of course, if you’re a historian, an academic, a journalist or a diplomatic peacemaker, you have an obligation to see and understand both sides. But most Israel supporters don’t fall in those categories. They can show tough love and criticize their side, but that doesn’t mean they should make the case for the other side.
What’s more, Israel supporters are constantly confronted by the hostile, antisemitic forces of the BDS movement and a Palestinian leadership that glorifies terrorism and is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Why should they make the case for those who want to destroy them?
If the notion of balance means anything, what the world could use right now is a course correction with a lot more Israel supporters. God knows there are more than enough fans on the other side.