Alan Dershowitz has a blistering column in Haaretz today explaining why no self-respecting pro-Israel liberal should support J Street. Yet many genuinely pro-Israel liberals will likely continue doing so, for the same reason they continue giving to the New Israel Fund despite its track record of funding political warfare against Israel: They want an outlet for pro-Israel sentiment that also allows them to try to alter Israeli policies, whether foreign or domestic, with which they disagree. And absent a genuine outlet, it’s human nature to cling instead to groups that falsely purport to fill this niche, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Hence an alternative model for pro-Israel liberalism is desperately needed.
The good news is that such a model exists. The bad news is that few people know about it–which is why Haaretz’s profile of philanthropist Robert Price earlier this month ought to be required reading for pro-Israel liberals. Price, who self-identifies as “toward the J Street side of things,” is a major donor to Israel, but on principle, he refuses to give to any Jewish Israeli institution: He focuses exclusively on the most disadvantaged fifth of Israeli society–the Arab community. Yet unlike, say, the NIF, Price doesn’t seek to “empower” Israeli Arabs by financing their leadership’s political war on Israel. Instead, he tries to promote Israeli Arabs’ integration, by focusing on educational initiatives that will ultimately improve their job prospects and earning power: early-childhood community centers in Arab towns and, more recently, an Arabic-language version of PJ Library. As he put it, “Arabs represent 20 percent of the population and have an opportunity, we think, to be productive citizens and to actually enrich the fabric of life in Israel if provided reasonable opportunities.”
This is a radical contrast to the NIF, which claims to promote integration but actually promotes Arab separatism. For instance, it’s a major funder of Adalah, an Israeli Arab NGO that actively promotes boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, terms Israel an “apartheid state,” and demands a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. It was also a major funder of Mada al-Carmel, another Israeli Arab NGO, whose flagship project was the infamous Haifa Declaration. This document, compiled by dozens of Israeli Arab intellectuals, terms Zionism a “colonial-settler project” that, “in concert with world imperialism,” succeeded in 1948 “in occupying our homeland and transforming it into a state for the Jews,” partly by committing “massacres.” Israel, it adds, can atone for this sin only by transforming itself into a binational state with an Arab majority (via an influx of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees).
Needless to say, such activities by Israeli Arab NGOs not only undermine Israel, but also worsen Jewish-Arab tensions and exacerbate anti-Arab discrimination: Why would any Israeli Jew want to help or even associate with a community whose leadership actively seeks the Jewish state’s annihilation? Thus by funding such activities, NIF hurts both Israel and the Arab minority it ostensibly seeks to help.
By promoting integration, in contrast, Price is helping both Israel and its Arab minority, and working to reduce discrimination–which is precisely what one would expect a pro-Israel liberal to want to do.
There are numerous ways to promote liberal goals while also genuinely helping Israel. Examples include programs that help ultra-Orthodox Jews acquire secular educations and enter the workplace, or that promote the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis, or that foster Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. But by clinging instead to groups like J Street and NIF, while turning a blind eye to their reality, liberals aren’t just harming Israel. They’re also missing precious opportunities to genuinely make Israel a better, more equal, and more just society.