Israel has no shortage of avowed detractors. It also has many genuine avid supporters. Even more people and institutions claim to “support Israel.” But what does “supporting Israel” really mean?
Sadly, and insidiously, in many cases, it means very little. It is the proverbial “talking the talk” without the willingness to “walk the walk.” Certainly, the climate in some circles, notably academia and the media, is apt to make the malleable fall on the denigrate-Israel team. But given the circles in which some others travel, it evidently is more comfortable to claim status as a supporter of Israel, rather than not.
A recent poll commissioned by The Israel Project illustrates that point: Eighty-two percent of the American Jews that took part in the survey said they support Israel, with most of them characterizing themselves as “strong supporters.” Yet when asked if they engage in conversation about Israel or defend Israel while talking to non-Jews, most of the participants replied negatively. Thus it appears that the majority of American Jews claim they “support Israel,” yet they are not even willing to “talk the talk”, much less “walk the walk.”
In life generally, it is important to know who your real allies are, and who are on the team or are friends in name only — whom you can count on, and who will dilute the effort; who will help, and who will not. And you want to know whether your contributions to an ostensibly pro-Israel organization are likely to help Israel’s cause, or be used in the service of another agenda.
While recognizing there are many ways to support Israel, here are some guidelines to judge whether one is a genuine supporter:
What does the individual or organization actually do to support Israel, beyond claiming to be a supporter? If the answer is little or nothing, the verdict is self-evident.
A discussion of specific types of activities follows.
What does the individual or organization actually say beyond that he “supports Israel”? Something like “I support Israel but not its government,” or “I support Israel but not the occupation,” or “I support Israel but I want it to change”?
That is not support. It is a realm of the double standard applied to Israel. These “supporters” insist on virtual perfection for Israel (and, of course, only Israel). In this mindset, Israel and only Israel can be considered supported with a reservation, if not downright opposition appended in the same sentence. It makes as much sense as “I love that restaurant, but the food is terrible.” For another example, does any UN supporter ever say, “We should rely more on the UN, but the oil-for-food-scandal is a travesty”? (Not that any of Israel’s misdeeds compare to the oil-for-food-scandal.)
“I support Israel but not its government” is a common refrain, but most of these “supporters” repeating this mantra were saying the same thing of Israel’s previous governments led by Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, and every Israeli government for years before that.
Contributions and Membership
What organizations does the individual support with contributions and membership? Any pro-Israel organizations – groups that actually work on behalf of Israel? A few that come are Friends of the IDF, Stand With Us, the Zionist Organization of America, and Honest Reporting. Or are groups such as these disdained and scorned as “extremist,” considered unworthy of support for some other reason, or perhaps just not considered important enough?
Of course, support of any Israeli organizations that don’t seek to “change” or tear down the state is also a mark of a true “supporter of Israel.” There are, of course, innumerable such Israeli organizations, such as Magen David Adom, One Family Fund, and Palestinian Media Watch.
Or does the “supporter” find that non-Israel causes always have a higher priority? Or, even worse, is the individual more comfortable with, and thus a contributor to organizations with an anti-Israel agenda, such as Oxfam, “Human Rights Watch”, and too many others of a similar bent?
And what do the ostensibly pro-Israel organizations themselves do, when perhaps Israel’s actual supporters are not paying attention? In a 2003 case, a major U.S. Jewish organization one might have relied on to lend support to Israel was devoting its resources to filing a legal brief supporting the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program.
Many organizations that promote themselves as “supporters of Israel” or “Israel advocates” in fact operate more as largely neutral forums for Israel-related programs. They apparently feel compelled to provide a balance of speakers with some providing an obligatory bashing of Israel, to offset pro-Israel aspects of their programs. Apparently, for these groups, it is too politically incorrect to include only pro-Israel voices.
Somehow, compared to these “Israel Advocacy” organizations, “advocates” of other entities don’t as often feel compelled to gratuitously invite speakers or authors to bash the subject of their advocacy. Do other “advocates”, perhaps your college’s alumni association or any chamber of commerce invite even lukewarm speakers? Not likely.
Then, according to the Forward, there was the case of America’s largest synagogue movement, the Union for Reform Judaism, representing 900 congregations and 1.5 million followers. It criticized Congress “for passing one-sided pro-Israel resolutions.” Maybe the Union for Reform Judaism (erroneously) thinks that it supports Israel, and that action is an example of doing so.
But probably most of the Union’s members did not even know of that action. And while undoubtedly some would have approved, others would not have. Did any ostensibly pro-Israel member congregations that were aware of the Union’s action repudiate it (much less withdraw from the Union)? Did any congregants press their congregations to do so?
In fact, many non-orthodox Jewish congregations appear to have a minimal concern for Israel, at most. That logically mirrors their congregants’ attitudes as revealed by the Israel Project’s poll. Action to support Israel just doesn’t cut it along with feel-good activities such as bingo and casino nights, and other, more “liberal” social action projects.
It goes without saying that “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur is commonly protested, but “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza is one of the few areas where these congregations did “support Israel.”
A number of congregations offer Israel token support, but may consider that support as generous. Many are willing to keep their Israeli flag in their sanctuary, but in many cases this is a holdover from years past when supporting Israel was less controversial.
Another example offered as congregational “support for Israel” is that of a 300-plus family congregation that plants one $7 tree in Israel for each of a few dozen B’nai Mitvot each year. In fact, that practice is a largely a symbolic gesture, and not one that provides any meaningful aid to the state or its people.
Where does the “supporter of Israel” get his news? The old mainstream media, such as most major newspapers, the BBC, or CNN? It is very hard to be a true supporter of Israel while relying on these sources, as they relentlessly vilify and inculcate a subliminal or overt “Israel is bad” message.
A true supporter of Israel is apt to rely on niche sources of news and commentary that are more likely to present Israel in a more fair or even favorable light.
Does the “supporter of Israel” support, accept, or demonize Israel’s friends, such as are often found among conservative Christians and conservatives in general? Does the “supporter of Israel” support the war against Islamofascist terrorism? Or did the “supporter of Israel” cast his vote and his lot with anti-war groups laden with Israel vilification and anti-semitism?
Of course, a large majority of Israelis themselves prefer the former to the latter.
Does the “supporter of Israel” seek Israeli products when shopping? For example, many U.S. supermarkets in metropolitan areas with a significant Jewish population carry a number of products made in Israel that supporters may purchase.
In contrast, I recall an instance of a Jewish Federation distributing giveaways made in China. When queried about the possibility of sourcing trinkets from Israel rather than China, Federation headquarters personnel reacted as if the question were from an alien.
Does the traveling “supporter of Israel” ever go to Israel, or is everywhere else a higher priority?
Is a more-than-trivial part of the “supporter of Israel’s” portfolio invested in Israel?
Investing in Israel is not difficult. Beyond the well-known Israel Bonds, there are many Israeli companies traded on other markets, with readily available information. In fact, the NASDAQ hosts more Israeli companies than any other nationality, save for the US. American mutual funds of Israeli securities are also available.
These are among the factors that tend to indicate whether an individual or organization actually “supports Israel,” or just pays it lip service. If a consideration of these factors spurs anyone to realize that he can do more to genuinely support Israel, all the better.