I am, and have always been, pro-Israel. That position is now being criticized by some of my friends on the left, who share my concerns about the military and corporate establishment. They ask how I can be skeptical about America’s involvement in foreign wars while also supporting a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.
The answer is that I support Israel because I share Israel’s values, and because a secure Israel does not require U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.
I have been involved in water issues in Israel for many years, in projects with EcoPeace Jordan Riverkeeper that bring Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians together to protect the River Jordan and manage a scarce common resource. I have seen how the environment can be a path to partnership in the region, rather than a flashpoint of conflict.
My father, too, had a deep connection to Israel, visiting the Jewish State on the eve of independence as a journalist. He, too, saw Israel as a future ally, a beacon of liberty, and a force for stability in the region.
I also support the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. These need not be mutually exclusive. Already, there are many areas of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that go unnoticed.
The challenge our Palestinian friends face is to decide what kind of society they wish to build. It cannot be one that replaces Israel, and it ought not be a proxy for the militant Iranian regime or overtaken by the genocidal Hamas terror group, as has happened in Gaza. Our conversation with Palestinians needs to focus on the future, not the past.
Mere criticism of Israeli policies is not antisemitic, and there are friends of Israel today, right and left, who question and challenge actions of the Israeli government, as they would any other government.
No country is perfect, and some of Israel’s more controversial policies are the outcome of conflict and genuine security threats. But if you are only critical of Israel, or judge Israel by a standard that you apply to no other nation, then you invite legitimate questions about your motives.
Some questioned my own motives when I supported Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters in his courage to speak out against draconian COVID policies, the persecution of Julian Assange, and the war in Ukraine. That did not mean I supported his radical stance against Israel, which I — like many fans of his music — had no knowledge of at the time. Human beings are complex, and our relationship with Israel must be mature enough to make room for that complexity — and for people to learn and grow.
The most important reality is that Israel has been the most vulnerable country in the world for much of its existence, completely surrounded by nations that unambiguously seek her destruction and extermination of her Jewish population. All this is happening just three generations after the Holocaust which saw the genocide of six million Jews, including one and half million children. Such external security threats invariably result in abridgments and, at times, even abuses of civil and human rights within. The United States grappled with similar challenges during the Second World War, leading to policies like the interment of its Japanese citizens. While I am not comparing Israel’s actions to those abuses, even friends of Israel can admit that its legitimate security threats can sometimes lead to questionable actions.
In spite of that, Israel has more freedom — for all of its citizens, Jewish and Arab — than any of the surrounding countries that Waters and others rarely criticize. Arabs in Israel have more freedoms – the freedom, for example, to openly criticize their government – than in any neighboring country.
Arabs, Christian and Muslim, serve in Israel’s government and on its Supreme Court. Can you imagine a Jew on the supreme judicial body of any Arab country?
It is also preferable to be a woman or a LGBTQ person in Israel than anywhere else in the Middle East. This month, over 150,000 people joined the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, making it one of the largest in the world. Meanwhile, in Iran, the regime hangs gays from cherry pickers in city squares. This abominable reality should never be forgotten.
We ought to challenge our Palestinian friends to guarantee the same rights and freedoms as Israel does. The question is: “What sort of state do the Palestinians want?” Will it be a free society? Will it offer citizenship to Jews who wish to live there? Will if offer its Arab citizens the freedom to protest without fear, a free press, and unencumbered free speech? If not, why not?
In recent years, several Arab states have made peace with Israel, based on shared interests and strong U.S. support for Israel. As president, I will expand that process, and invite Palestinians to join.
Israel has sought recognition and peace since 1947, when the UN voted for the creation of both Jewish and Palestinian states to replace the British mandate. The Jewish leadership immediately accepted this two-state solution; the Arab leadership rejected it and launched a war along with a pledge of nascent Israel’s annihilation. Since that time Israeli leaders have proposed two-state solutions in 2000, 2001 and 2007. It’s time for the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as the nation state and homeland of the Jewish people and for the Israeli leadership to re-offer a two-state solution with safe and secure borders.
Muslims and Jews pray to the same God. Abraham is father to both faiths. It’s time we bring God back into the picture and expand the Abraham Accords throughout the region and usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and justice for all.