Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Being Pro

Or "anti" for that matter. Paul Waldman has an incisive post critiquing the concept of being "pro-" or "anti-" Israel. That's a slight over-simplification -- Waldman argues that "pro-Israel" should be limited to the narrow question of whether "Israel ought to exist." This is no longer a debate in mainstream western circles (so Waldman asserts, anyway), and beyond that the terminology distracts us from specific policy questions like, e.g., should Israel withdraw to 1967 borders, should Israel engage in military operations against Hamas, should Israel maintain its blockade of Gaza, and so on and so forth. One can take a variety of a positions on these questions while still believing that "Israel ought to exist", so what good does the label do us?

I think there is a lot to Waldman's argument. It tracks Phoebe Maltz Bovy's narrow definition of Zionism, that the creation of Israel was a good idea and it shoudl stick around. Of course, I think Waldman might understate the contemporary salience of the "Israel should not exist position." In the west this depends on what one considers "mainstream", but of course the world does not consist of only the west. Both regionally and internationally, the debate over Israel still very much encompasses the question of whether it should be there at all. And because that debate does, in fact, remain very live, it is understandable that even on policy questions where people on both sides genuinely believe that Israel ought to exist; coming to the right conclusion (or at least not getting it catastrophically wrong) has real impacts on whether Israel will in fact be around as a Jewish democratic state in 20, 50, or 100 years.

But none of that diminishes the important point, which is to not think of Israel in terms of bare-bones "solidarity" politics. Caring about something means having opinions about it. If you care about Israel, as many people do, you should have opinions about it, and it is highly unlikely that those opinions will perfectly track those of any particular governing coalition.

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