A Sanders supporter makes the progressive’s case for Israel
Surfers retreat to a sandy cove as the sun blurs into the horizon. I’m on vacation in an artsy city with beaches for miles and tattooed locals. Could be Austin-by-the-Sea. The are no historic gay neighborhoods here because the whole town is LGBTQ friendly. Solar-powered signs count the minutes until the next bus arrives. Giant public recycling bins collect water bottles. There’s widespread, bipartisan passion for farm-to-table cuisine. So why would Lana Del Rey and Lorde refuse to play here?
I’m in Tel Aviv in the Middle East’s only functional democracy. Even with the region’s low bar of dictatorships and violent theocracies, Tel Aviv is an extraordinarily liberal oasis in this nation founded by socialists and social democrats. As a Bernie Sanders progressive who’s counting on a Blue Wave this fall, I feel right at home here, and so should you. This country is a progressive exemplar worth singing about.
Later, while drinking a hoppy local ale, I wished more people would see this country for what it is, and less for how it appears to be. Like, for example, a rehashing of the American Civil Rights Movement, where Arabs are black and brown victims and multiethnic Israelis are … white Dixiecrat oppressors?
The truth isn’t so neat. Most Israelis are Middle Eastern and African; Americans would call them people of color. Palestinian nationalism is not the story of a minority once bound in slavery now advocating for equality. It’s a zero sum fight for sovereignty. Jews will not be granted citizenship in a future state of Palestine, even in biblical towns like Hebron or Jericho. Yet 20% of Israelis are Arabs and their citizenship is not up for debate. Making things more inverted, Israel has roughly 6 million Jews, most of whom fled here and are unwelcome in former homes in Baghdad, Cairo, Tunis and beyond. The surrounding Arab world has over 400 million souls. To this day, Israelis are barred from most Arab states. Who is the disenfranchised minority?
Current Palestinian politics bear no resemblance to a nonviolent integration movement. Hamas embraces a radical Islamism linked to Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. They are intolerant fundamentalists with social policies that make The Handmaid’s Tale look like a rom-com. And Hamas controls fully half of Palestine so when they say they’re resisting the occupation, they mean all of Israel. Their struggle ends with the annihilation of the Jews. Not exactly a civil rights dynamic.
Across the divide, the Palestinian Authority rejects peace when it isn’t stealing from its own people. It supports terror groups that compete with Hamas for brutality and it’s far from democratic—the last time there was an election was in 2005, when Facebook was limited to college students.
Israel is not blameless. It created the occupation in the first place, builds far flung settlements to frustrate future Palestinian sovereignty, deploys harsh security tactics and perpetuates internal racism against citizen Arabs.
It’s tempting to equate photos of racist police beating nonviolent black protesters with teenagers throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at well-armed Israelis, but Ramallah is no Selma. Goals and context matter. Confusing America’s brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy with Israeli security policy is about as as insightful as conflating Northern Irish politics with the Boston Celtics.
Beyond bus loads of super friendly Holy Land tourists, I wish more Americans would visit here for fun, but Israel suffers from polarized reviews in the TripAdvisor of our minds. The country is seen as either too dangerous or too controversial to risk discovering 15th-century Mamluk architecture, or the joys of a Yemenite breakfast with its slow-bake pastries and chili tapenades.
I find myself going back to what people here call “The Land” once or twice a year. I like playing my bit part in the epic saga of Jewish survival. When I think about my grandparents escaping conscription and murder in Odessa, I’m amazed by my luck: There’s a Jewish homeland, right now, in my lifetime. American Jews shouldn’t need an exit strategy, it should be paranoid to consider a retreat after all these years, but then came Charlottesville chants of “Jews will not replace us” and Holocaust deniers winning Republican primaries. If America falls further to the right, where do we go? France with its unrelenting anti-Semitism? The U.K. where the head of Labour supports Hamas? Canada is an option, until it isn’t. Rich fields of plenty suddenly seem arid compared to the land of milk and honey.
Beyond the literally biblical significance of a long-sought refuge, with citizens of every shade of human from every corner of the world, this country is a plucky example of democratic socialism. Yes, there’s now a right-wing administration that cozies up to an ultra-religious swing vote, but whichever party is in charge, universal health care, free tuition, muscular labor unions, public arts funding and a strong safety net are secure. Israel boasts medical, cultural, academic, and technical innovations of a far larger and less vilified country. These are the very achievements progressives like me strive for back home, vote after vote, rally after rally.
Published in Tablet magazine
Zachary Thacher runs a boutique digital marketing, Thacher Interactive. He is a frequent visitor to Israel and leads the Friday night minyan, Kol haKfar. He’s published in the HuffPo, the NY Post and Tablet. Zachary graduated with an MA in Communication from Stanford in 1996.
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine speak at the “Palestine Without Borders” session at the 2018 United We Dream National Congress. Photo: Youth Empowerment Alliance.
A pro-Israel group on Thursday denounced an “antisemitic” session recently hosted by an immigrant youth organization, which compared Israel with Nazi Germany and equated the movement for Jewish self-determination with white supremacy and genocide.
69% of progressives are ashamed to be Americans, but 63% are proud of their political ideology instead. The majority don’t attend religious services, but 73% list politics as their preoccupation.
Numbers from one poll showed that, “religiously unaffiliated Democrats were more than twice as likely to have attended a rally within the past 12 months compared with their religious peers” and were “significantly more likely to have contacted an elected official or to have donated to a candidate or cause” or “bought or boycotted a product for political reasons or posted political opinions online”.
Campus Week: A guide for Jewish students and their elders
Anti-Zionism ghettoizes Jews from the rest of the justice movement, putting a wall around us that separates us from other marginalized people. It cannot be reconciled with any movement striving for inclusivity. It denies us access to solidarity-based movements which should be fighting for equality, for historically oppressed peoples. As American Jewish students return to campus, they should prepare to be challenged academically and intellectually, and should also prepare to challenge movements that don’t respect Zionism and their Jewish heritage.
The Jerusalem Post reviewed a video showing two speakers who called for the “liberation of all of Palestine 48” and “we must take a stand and boycott Israel. BDS.” The slogan to “liberate all of Palestine” reverts to the founding of the Jewish state in 1948 and is widely considered a euphemism to cleanse Israel of Jews.
The German Middle East expert Thomas von der Osten-Sacken wrote an article on the website of the Austrian-based think tank Mena-Watch, with the headline “Speaker at indivisible demonstration calls for Israel’s destruction.” The protest was called #unteilbar (indivisible) by its organizers.
From 1998 to 2008, 5.4 million Congolese died as a result of civil war. Most of the Congolese asylum seekers in Israel came during this period.
It is now the turn of hundreds of asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to be deported back to their country. The Foreign Ministry has implied that the conditions that justified collective protection to Congolese asylum seekers no longer prevail and that there is nothing to prevent them from returning home safely. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) has given them 90 days to leave the country.
With its decades-old track record of murder and mayhem, Hamas has already secured itself a place in the annals of infamy.
From bus bombings to underground terror tunnels to the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets and projectiles at Israeli towns and cities, the Islamic extremist group has repeatedly found new ways to sow widespread death and destruction.
Since Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the standard of living for the Palestinian people in Gaza has steadily declined, even though Israel gifted the Palestinians with thriving agricultural lands, productive greenhouses and beautiful beachfront communities.
Every once in a while, I come across a book that I can say changed the way I understand the world I live in. Raymond Ibrahim’s new book, Sword and Scimitar, altered the way I understand the development of our civilization – I mean the one that America inherited from Europe and made our own. It drove home to me how little I knew about the way Islam – in the form of attempted and often successful conquest – really changed the way our civilization evolved and the way it grew to understand itself.
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“In the Hadith, the Day of Judgment will never happen until you fight the Jews,” Hatem Bazian reportedly declared, “until the trees and stones will say, oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him!”
That was in 1999.
Two years later, Bazian had co-founded Students for Justice in Palestine. Three years later, 79 members of his new SJP hate group were busted for disrupting a Holocaust Remembrance Day event.
Iran is a formidable enemy. A large country of more than 80 million people, endowed with energy riches, it has always been a regional power. Having an imperial past and revolutionary zeal (since the 1979 Iranian Revolution), Iran nourishes ambitions to rule over the Middle East and beyond. Furthermore, theologically there is no place in Iranian thinking for a Jewish state.