November 16, 2018

At the center, battling left and right extremism

It’s not going to end. 

I’m talking about the increasing demonization of Israel by progressive organizations and individuals. This month it was Black Lives Matter’s platform, and the vulgar cold shoulder given the Israeli Olympic athletes by some Lebanese and Egyptian athletes. 

Next month it will be the BDSers waiting to greet your college kids back to a new school year with mock Israeli checkpoints, divestment drives and protests against Israeli speakers.  

More and more progressive voices are falling prey to the simpleminded and extreme formulations of the radical anti-Israel crowd. These are not people who want a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — they see Israel’s existence itself as unjust. 

The Black Lives Matter platform is the perfect example. It took legitimate concerns over the amount of United States aid to Israel and turned it into hate speech. The platform accused Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinian people — something that should come as a shock to the 4.1 million more Palestinians alive today in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza than in 1948, when Israel came into being. 

Black lives do matter. But when it comes to Israel, so do facts. The only genocide in the Middle East is being perpetrated by Syrians against Syrians. On that, the BLM platform is unconscionably silent.

But BLM’s seemingly out-of-the-blue illogical attack on Israel should come as no surprise to people watching what’s happening everywhere from college campuses to the Bernie Sanders campaign — pro-Israel progressive voices are playing defense. 

“So-called intersectionality and identity politics,” Omer Benjakob writes in Haaretz, have been “conflating progressivism with blind support for BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], creating an impossible dilemma for liberal Jews who want to be supportive of Israel.”

The fringes have bought the arguments of the Israel haters, and the extremes are eating toward the center.

And who are their greatest enablers? The extremists on the other side. 

In their persistent defense of the occupation, their cynical attempt to paint every act of Palestinian resistance as a stalking horse for Islamic fundamentalism, and their constant support for — or silence in the face of — the settlement project and its attendant injustices, the pro-Israel extremes continue to undermine the strategic and ethical standing of the Jewish state. 

These are the people who keep telling us that Israel is nothing but a victim, that the problem is only anti-Semitism, that if Israel could just do a better job of telling its story, of teaching our children to defend its actions, then the world would understand. 

What they don’t get is you can’t change the narrative without changing the reality. You can’t fix the image without fixing the facts. And the fact is that a democracy cannot deprive millions of people of their democratic rights and remain viable, much less popular. 

Occupation and the settlement project behind it undermine Israel’s security, its morality, its very existence. That’s why the strongest voices against the occupation have always been pro-Israel and pro-security. That’s why people who put Israel’s security first, like Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin, stood up to their extremists. 

Whether you are Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Arab, the center is an increasingly lonely place these days. In the center are those of us who understand that the occupation does not justify anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism does not justify the occupation. 

In the center are those who choose to fight BDS as if there is no occupation, and fight occupation as if there is no BDS. In the center are those who believe neither Israel nor the Palestinians need to justify their existence to anyone. In the center are those who believe the happiness and security of both peoples are inextricably linked to one another. 

The center might not be dead, but it is shrinking. From the left and the right, extremism shows no sign of ending. And if that continues, none of this is going to end well.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.