“How can you defend Israel?”


This was published by David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, in the Huffington Post

I was sitting in a lecture hall at a British university. Bored by the speaker, I began glancing around the hall. I noticed someone who looked quite familiar from an earlier academic incarnation. When the session ended, I introduced myself and wondered if, after years that could be counted in decades, he remembered me.

He said he did, at which point I commented that the years had been good to him. His response: “But you’ve changed a lot.”

“How so?” I asked with a degree of trepidation, knowing that, self-deception aside, being 60 isn’t quite the same as 30.

Looking me straight in the eye, he proclaimed, as others standing nearby listened in, “I read the things you write about Israel. I hate them. How can you defend that country? What happened to the good liberal boy I knew 30 years ago?”

I replied: “That good liberal boy hasn’t changed his view. Israel is a liberal cause, and I am proud to speak up for it.”

Yes, I’m proud to speak up for Israel. A recent trip once again reminded me why.

Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things, the things that many may not even notice, or just take for granted, or perhaps deliberately ignore, lest it spoil their airtight thinking.

It’s the driving lesson in Jerusalem, with the student behind the wheel a devout Muslim woman, and the teacher an Israeli with a skullcap. To judge from media reports about endless inter-communal conflict, such a scene should be impossible. Yet, it was so mundane that no one, it seemed, other than me gave it a passing glance. It goes without saying that the same woman would not have had the luxury of driving lessons, much less with an Orthodox Jewish teacher, had she been living in Saudi Arabia.

It’s the two gay men walking hand-in-hand along the Tel Aviv beachfront. No one looked at them, and no one questioned their right to display their affection. Try repeating the same scene in some neighboring countries.

It’s the Friday crowd at a mosque in Jaffa. Muslims are free to enter as they please, to pray, to affirm their faith. The scene is repeated throughout Israel. Meanwhile, Christians in Iraq are targeted for death; Copts in Egypt face daily marginalization; Saudi Arabia bans any public display of Christianity; and Jews have been largely driven out of the Arab Middle East.

It’s the central bus station in Tel Aviv. There’s a free health clinic set up for the thousands of Africans who have entered Israel, some legally, others illegally. They are from Sudan, Eritrea, and elsewhere. They are Christians, Muslims, and animists. Clearly, they know something that Israel’s detractors, who rant and rave about alleged “racism,” don’t. They know that, if they’re lucky, they can make a new start in Israel. That’s why they bypass Arab countries along the way, fearing imprisonment or persecution. And while tiny Israel wonders how many such refugees it can absorb, Israeli medical professionals volunteer their time in the clinic.

It’s Save a Child’s Heart, another Israeli institution that doesn’t make it into the international media all that much, although it deserves a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Here, children in need of advanced cardiac care come, often below the radar. They arrive from Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza, and other Arab places. They receive world-class treatment. It’s free, offered by doctors and nurses who wish to assert their commitment to coexistence. Yet, these very same individuals know that, in many cases, their work will go unacknowledged. The families are fearful of admitting they sought help in Israel, even as, thanks to Israelis, their children have been given a new lease on life.

It’s the vibrancy of the Israeli debate on just about everything, including, centrally, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. The story goes that U.S. President Harry Truman met Israeli President Chaim Weizmann shortly after Israel’s establishment in 1948. They got into a discussion about who had the tougher job. Truman said: “With respect, I’m president of 140 million people.” Weizmann retorted: “True, but I’m president of one million presidents.”

Whether it’s the political parties, the Knesset, the media, civil society, or the street, Israelis are assertive, self-critical, and reflective of a wide range of viewpoints.

It’s the Israelis who are now planning the restoration of the Carmel Forest, after a deadly fire killed 44 people and destroyed 8,000 acres of exquisite nature. Israelis took an arid and barren land and, despite the unimaginably harsh conditions, lovingly planted one tree after another, so that Israel can justifiably claim today that it’s one of the few countries with more wooded land than it had a century ago.

It’s the Israelis who, with quiet resolve and courage, are determined to defend their small sliver of land against every conceivable threat – the growing Hamas arsenal in Gaza; the dangerous build-up of missiles by Hezbollah in Lebanon; nuclear-aspiring Iran’s calls for a world without Israel; Syria’s hospitality to Hamas leaders and transshipment of weapons to Hezbollah; and enemies that shamelessly use civilians as human shields. Or the global campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy and right to self-defense; the bizarre anti-Zionist coalition between the radical left and Islamic extremists; the automatic numerical majority at the UN ready to endorse, at a moment’s notice, even the most far-fetched accusations against Israel; and those in the punditocracy unable – or unwilling – to grasp the immense strategic challenges facing Israel.

Yes, it’s those Israelis who, after burying 21 young people murdered by terrorists at a Tel Aviv discotheque, don the uniform of the Israeli armed forces to defend their country, and proclaim, in the next breath, that, “They won’t stop us from dancing, either.”

That’s the country I’m proud to stand up for. No, I’d never say Israel is perfect. It has its flaws and foibles. It’s made its share of mistakes. But, then again, so has every democratic, liberal and peace-seeking country I know, though few of them have faced existential challenges every day since their birth.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, it’s said. Israel is a good country. And seeing it up close, rather than through the filter of the BBC or the Guardian, never fails to remind me why.

15 comments on ““How can you defend Israel?”

  1. amazing how rude people feel they are entitled to get when it comes to Israel.

    Had Harris acquired the look of a drunkard or a man who doesn’t brush his teeth would the acquaintance have felt equally at liberty to reprimand?

  2. Brilliant David, I have once had the priviledge to visit Israel in 2006. It was alas for a short time but I truly loved being in Israel it is so special. The way the Guardian, Al BBC and co portray her is diabolical. They completely lie, misrepresent and spew out propaganda which is worthy of the sewer. Iam a middle aged woman who is reading History at a university in the North East of England. I am amazed at how western intelligentsia, students etc are so blind and swallow hook line and sinker propaganda when it comes to Israel. They lose thier critical faculties when Israel is mentioned. I would love to live in Israel, being born in South Africa I know what Apartheid is and Israel is as far from apartheid as possible. The media portrays Israel in such a negative way that it inculcates the masses with ignorant prejudice whilst groveling before the masters of black liquid gold.

  3. “amazing how rude people feel they are entitled to get when it comes to Israel.”

    It is exactly the same sense one gets when listening to more overt anti-Semitic outbursts. There is so much intense passion involved that it is as if they are obtaining some form of sexual release.

  4. Hoi Polloi
    I don’t know what getting aroused by sadistic stuff feels like thus I don’t know whether it increases their blood flow in the nether regions but I am struck again and again about this sadism they expose, this salivating at the chance to hit a Jew? why?
    it is a very distinct impression from the one I get when they are sneering at Roma for example.
    ———-
    Jonathan
    I’ve had the great luck to listen to David Harris speak maybe two or three times via podcast. Therefore I know what a pleasure it is, but alas for whatever reason they have discontinued putting his speeches out there. All I can find now are short radio messages.

  5. Ask “progressive” fascists how can they defend palestinianism or islamofascism.

  6. “I am struck again and again about this sadism they expose, this salivating at the chance to hit a Jew? why?
    it is a very distinct impression from the one I get when they are sneering at Roma for example.”

    All human beings have the capacity to hate the outsider. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if there are evolutionary reasons for this, but, of course, like virtually all sociobiological musings this is just idle speculation. Whether we hate, who we hate, how we hate and the degree to which we hate are all deeply rooted in a society’s culture.

  7. Israelis took an arid and barren land and, despite the unimaginably harsh conditions, lovingly planted one tree after another, so that Israel can justifiably claim today that it’s one of the few countries with more wooded land than it had a century ago.

    Correction: Israelis took land that was populated by dozens of villages, expelled the inhabitants of those villages, then planted non non native trees to erase all evidence of that socieity.

    But I take your point, I’m sure they did it lovingly. ;-)

    So yes, Israel can justifiably claim today that it’s one of the few countries with more wooded land than it had a century ago, butrather than embrace the land, they have tried to make it look like Switzerland rather than the Middle East, no doubt to being comfort to those immigrants who were feeling homesick.

  8. “they have tried to make it look like Switzerland rather than the Middle East, no doubt to being comfort to those immigrants who were feeling homesick.”

    Ah yes, homesick for hatred, betrayal, theft, pogrom and genocide. And for the approximately fifty percent of Israel’s Jews who were originally from Arab lands, no doubt you imagine they are homesick for brutal discrimination, murderous riots, ethnic cleansing and theft of all their property.

    It is difficult if not impossible for any normal person to feel homesick for something not worth a bucket of warm spit.

  9. To get the true measure of Shingo, his contempt for Israel and his stalwart support for Hamas, I suggest you read this post which appears at the notorious hate site, Mondoweiss:

    Shingo December 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    “Israel bombed Gaza this week killing 5 Palestinians. They are again trying to start another war that they can defend themselves against.

    Israel also declared that the Goldstone Report will not affect how they conduct the next massacre, in spite of their so called investigations into their own war crimes.

    Hamas has renewed calls for a ceasefire, which have been ignored by Israel.

    And once that massacre is under way, Witty will be here to blame Hamas for the escalation, for not taking their medicine with good grace and lacking discipline when they fore back.

    This time around, Israel will inflict irreparable damage to itself, so much so that Europe is going to officially turn against them and the PA will be finished.”

    http://mondoweiss.net/2010/12/the-drums-of-war-are-heard-again-in-israel.html

  10. To paraphrase Shingo who never met an islamofascist he saw as noble:

    The Muslims flooding into the UK –

    “butrather than embrace the land, they have tried to make it look like the Middle East, no doubt to being comfort to those immigrants who were feeling homesick.”

    Hence the burqas, the sharia law in the UK, the 5th columnists who curse and spit on British soldiers.

    The UK is heading for a crash – thanks to people like Shingo.

  11. “No, I’d never say Israel is perfect. It has its flaws and foibles. It’s made its share of mistakes. But, then again, so has every democratic­,….”

    is straight out of the Israel Project’s Hasbara Handbook written by Frank Lunz:

    “Don’t pretend that Israel is without mistakes or fault. It’s not true and no one believes it. Pretending Israel is free from errors does not pass the smell test. It will only make your listeners question the veracity of everything else you say.”

  12. Hence the burqas, the sharia law in the UK, the 5th columnists who curse and spit on British soldiers.

    There is no Sharia Law in the UK. You should visit the place and see for yourself.

  13. And for the approximately fifty percent of Israel’s Jews who were originally from Arab lands, no doubt you imagine they are homesick for brutal discrimination, murderous riots, ethnic cleansing and theft of all their property.

    Seeing as you’ve just described Israeli poicy over 60 years, one would have to agree.

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