Commentary Magazine


Snatching Back the “Pro-Israel” Label

Shmuel Rosner’s interview with ECI’s executive director, Noah Pollak, makes for an interesting read. The two opening questions deserve special attention:

1. Do we really need another pro-Israel advocacy group? haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?

We will not rest until there is a pro-Israel group representing every pro-Israel person on earth.

2. What is the difference between the Committee and other pro-Israeli groups — like J Street?

Well, for starters, ECI is pro-Israel. Our purpose is to address three major threats to the U.S.-Israel alliance in the context of the American political debate: the Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups; the campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel; and the hostility of the Obama administration to the traditional closeness of the two nations. At bottom, we believe that the turn against Israel is a rejection of America’s special role in the world as a defender of liberal democracies. We will do great damage to our own national soul if we allow ourselves to become cynical participants in the international lynching of the Jewish state.

Rosner’s second question assumes facts not in evidence — indeed, contradicts available evidence — in stating that J Street is “pro-Israel.” Indeed, it is the new-found attention on the distinction between the ECI and groups like J Street, which have adopted that moniker (except when on college campuses or when it makes leftists uncomfortable), that has rankled the self-proclaimed liberal Zionists (not to mention the out-and-out unhinged Israel-haters). What is at issue here is essentially a definitional question: what does it mean to be “pro-Israel”?

Until recently, it was easy. Pro-Israel advocates and lawmakers supported financial aid and military support for Israel. They condemned declarations like “Zionism is racism” and pushed for face-to-face negotiations seeking a two-state peace deal. There was no nuclear-armed Iran on the horizon. There had not been a withdrawal from Lebanon followed by war or a withdrawal from Gaza followed by war. A two-state solution seemed obtainable and foreseeable. Self-proclaimed pro-Israel advocates didn’t doubt that Israel had a right to defend itself (in theory and in practice) or that it could investigate by itself incidents that raised concerns.

Yes, it seems a lifetime ago. Now, groups like J Street, which hold views and use rhetoric virtually indistinguishable from Israel’s worst enemies (e.g., opposition to strong sanctions against the mullahs, acquiescence to — if not support for — the Goldstone Report, condemnation of the Gaza operation and of Israel’s conduct in the flotilla incident, support for American bashing of Israel’s housing policies, division of the Old City), say they too are “pro-Israel.”

The ECI as well as the Friends of Israel Initiative have sprung up in protest and, in essence, are helping to set parameters for what pro-Israel advocacy looks and sounds like. It’s not hosting the Leveretts at your convention. It’s not cheering the prospect of an imposed peace deal. It’s not throwing sand in the wheels of a last-ditch effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear plans by economic sanctions. It’s not applauding when Obama condemns a routine housing permit in Jerusalem.

The Friends of Israel Initiative helps out by listing its broadly defined convictions, which provide some boundaries in the debate about what it means to be pro-Israel. One of them reads as follows:

Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

How does J Street measure up on that score? You can see why the left has gone bonkers. In short, their cover is being blown.

It’s not — at least not yet — acceptable to call oneself “anti-Israel,” so they’ve absconded with the “pro-Israel” label and sought to redefine it. The ECI and the Friends of Israel Initiative are grabbing the label back and calling foul. No wonder some not-all-that-pro-Israel politicians, groups, and pundits are upset. Now, isn’t that the most definitive sign that the new pro-Israel kids on the block are having an impact?

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