Should love for Israel be conditional?
In the recent Israeli election, two political blocs competed for votes: the center left, led by Yesh Atid, and the center right, led by Likud. Among the considerations of center-left voters were maintaining the status quo on religious issues, curbing the exemptions from military service enjoyed by the charedim, who now constitute 14% of the population, and foreclosing annexation of the territories as it would imperil furtherance of the Abraham Accords and strain relations with the United States at a time when Israel faces the prospect of nuclear threat of Iran.
Center-right voters’ utmost concern was security, as they witnessed Israel Arab rioting in Israeli cities during the last conflict with Gaza; the actions of a new concerted terrorist gang in the West Bank, Lion’s Den, which resulted in more than two dozen Israeli deaths, and either the weakness of the Palestinian Authority or its collaboration in these wanton murders.
As 61% of Israeli voters lean right, they provided the mandate for the 64 seats Likud and its partners garnered to constitute a new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
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As I wrote in my last column, the question is whether the tail of the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist parties will wag the dog of the largely secular Likud and its presumptive prime minister. With his recent coalition agreements giving unprecedented authority to the junior members of his coalition, will Bibi have the political will to curb their zealousness? In interviews with NPR and the journalist Bari Weiss, Bibi said that all critical decisions will be made by him and that Israel would not be ruled by talmudic law. He also wants to expand members of the Abraham Accord, particularly to include Saudi Arabia. Any effort toward annexation would doom those efforts. He also believed that no change would be made to the Law of Return. Only the future will determine if he will succeed.
We are all concerned about the contentiousness of these issues, as we should be. But the Israeli electorate spoke, and if we believe in democracy, then we should respect them. Much of the dynamic of this electoral result is because of demography. Most Israelis are Sephardic, and it is their memory of Arab oppression, which led to 750,000 of them being forcibly exiled to Israel in the 1950s, that animates their politics. They also remember the perceived if not real condescension by the Labor party, resulting in Likud’s ascendancy in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, back in the States, even before the government was formed, we heard a chorus of naysayers, led by two Jewish foreign policy experts calling, in the pages of the Washington Post, to cease arms shipments to Israel if it takes actions jeopardizing prospects for a two-state solution. They don’t criticize continued U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority when it still practices “paying for slaying,” providing payments to families of terrorists killed or imprisoned after murdering Israelis. Meanwhile only 33% of Palestinians support a two-state solution, and 72% support additional arms groups, like Lion’s Den, directed against Israel. The two-state solution is illusory for the foreseeable future.
And then Abe Foxman, the longtime director of ADL and ardent advocate for Israel, was quoted as saying that his support for Israel is conditioned on Israel not changing the Law of Return.
Conditional love is a slippery slope in our personal lives, let alone regarding the only Jewish state in the world, founded after the ashes of the Holocaust.
When President Biden, against the advice of his military advisors, abandoned Afghanistan, the exit of which resulted in the deaths of hundreds, including 13 of our own, it represented the nadir of our foreign policy since Vietnam. It emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine, as he viewed this evacuation as a sign of American weakness against the backdrop of a feckless West.
We celebrated Brittney Griner’s release from captivity. But what about the tens of thousands we abandoned in Afghanistan under the yoke of the oppressive Taliban? We don’t hear much about this at all. Out of sight, out of mind.
Even as I was appalled by this unilateral surrender, did I make moves to apply for Canadian citizenship? My love for America as well as for Israel is unconditional, even though I disagree with some of their policies. That’s what elections are all about, creating change if the political leaders don’t reflect the will of the people. That’s why I am so pleased with the full-throated support that the Biden administration has displayed in supporting Ukraine’s just war against Russian aggression and mass murder.
“Making your support (for Israel) conditional on the election result,” writes Israeli commentator Mark Lavie, “it’s not support over here in actual Israel. Those [Israelis] who are horrified by the outcome are doubling down to fix it next time. We still believe in our country. I don’t think it is too much to ask you to do the same.”
If we believe what our sages taught us, that all Jews are responsible one for the other, our love for Israel becomes natural. It’s the only Jewish state, and it has the world’s largest Jewish population. It is the national homeland for all Jews. Over its 75 years, it has resettled millions, including remnants of the Holocaust, Jews fleeing from Arab lands, Soviet Jews escaping Soviet antisemitism, and more than 100,000 Ethiopians. As Monroe Greenberg, the Afro-American Jewish former police commissioner, quipped: “Only Israel brought a Black people from one continent to another — but to freedom, not slavery.”
Israel is the major strategic asset for the U.S. in the Middle East. It serves as a bulwark against its enemies as well as America’s. Israel has helped the U.S. military immensely though missile defense innovations, improving U.S. aircraft with battle-tested upgrades, and sharing world-class intelligence. A former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Daniel Inouye, believed that the intelligence provided by Israel exceeded all of NATO’s. Unlike South Korea, Germany, and Japan, no U.S. troops ever needed to be stationed in Israel. In addition, Israel must spend virtually all U.S. military aid in American companies, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and the like, creating tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, while providing innovative solutions.
We are all aware of Israel as an incubator for innovation in IT, biotechnology, agriculture, and other spheres, leading it to have the most per-capita start-ups and patents in the world.
Less known is Israel’s contributions to developing countries. Since its inception in 1957, Mashav — Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation has helped hundreds of thousands of African farmers make the desert bloom. Through drip irrigation and innovations in desalination, Israel is helping to prevent famine in the most arid parts of the world. The Israeli NGO IsraAid, for example, provided physical and psychological support for 160,000 refugees in Kenya. We should also be aware of IDF’s role in being among the first teams to respond to natural disasters, even in countries that don’t recognize Israel.
My love for Israel as a Jewish state is not conditional on a particular government’s policies and actions. As a committed Zionist, I can work with like-minded individuals in the U.S. and Israel and advocate for change. But if my love is conditional, how will my partner know if I’ll be there during times of difficulties?
At a time of increasing antisemitism, we need a Jewish state as a refuge. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians are now on Israel’s doorstep. That’s the State of Israel.
Let’s celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday with unbridled and unconditional love.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.