Rethinking the ‘Pro-Israel’ Label


To be pro-Israel is not to be anti-Palestine, alleges a politically active university student, but is the reverse statement true?

When is the last time you heard someone self-identify as “pro-Greece,” “pro-Canada,” or “pro-Brazil?” 
While it is possible, and common, to hear people describe themselves as pro-democracy or  pro-human rights or pro-any other cause, it is unusual to hear someone say he or she is “pro” a specific country. People are from a country, people support a country, people can be “pro” or “anti” the current government of a country. However, once a nation state exists, it is almost unheard of to be “pro” or “anti” that state’s existence.
Unless that state — a state representing 0.01 percent of the world’s population — is Israel.
Since the inception of Israel as a nation state, the country has been under constant attack. While the Jewish community accepted the terms of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and declared Israel’s independence in 1948, Arab leaders rejected the plan and launched a full-scale war against Israel.
Fast-forward to today. Israel’s multiple attempts to offer the Palestinians an independent state — in 2000, 2001 and 2008 — have all been rejected and returned with increased violence.  Since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas terrorists have fired more than 12,000 rockets at civilians. All the while, an impending nuclear-armed Iran threatens to “wipe out the Zionist regime from the forehead of humanity.” 
It is not surprising that communities wanting to show support for the Jewish state have latched on to the “pro-Israel” label. But is this application productive?
Last year I spoke at a “pro-Israel” event on the University of Pennsylvania campus and a student asked: “Is it possible, on today’s campus, to be pro-Israel and also support the Palestinian people?” The “pro-Israel” label had misled her. Being “pro-Israel” does not mean that you are anti-Palestinian. The majority of Israelis continue to favor a two-state solution, and Israel’s goal remains, after ensuring security for its people, to live peacefully with its neighbors.
This summer, numerous “pro-Israel” rallies all over the world showed support for Israel’s campaign to thwart Hamas attacks against civilians. To attend one of these “pro-Israel” rallies was not to be “anti-Palestinian.” The rallies were just as much an attempt to show solidarity for the people of Israel as they were for innocent people of Gaza living under the wrath of Hamas.
It’s not a choice between Israel and the Palestinians, at least in the “pro-Israel” camp. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the “pro-Palestine” movement.
According to the Anti-Defa­mation League, more than 50 “anti-Israel” rallies, often labeled “pro-Palestine” rallies, have taken place in cities across the United States this summer alone. These rallies “are often marked by extreme — and even anti-Semitic — messages,” according to the ADL, that “express support for violence against Israel and call for Israel’s destruction.” 
On the university campus,  the “pro-Palestine” groups are not focused on the development of democratic institutions or the advancement of human rights for the Palestinians. Instead, groups like Students for Justice in Palestine focus all of their efforts on the delegitimization of Israel. SJP actively  supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which calls for the end of Israel.
Labels can be misleading.
The “pro-Palestine” label has become a euphemism for “anti-Israel,” and thus “anti-peace” activity. Golda Meir, the late former prime minister of Israel, once said, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Perhaps peace will only be possible when the “pro-Palestine” movement loves Palestine as much as it hates Israel.
On today’s university campus,  it is important to expose labels for what they really are. It is important to explain that being “pro-Israel” does not mean that you are choosing sides. Instead, to support Israel is to be “pro-peace,” “pro-democracy” and “pro-human rights.” 
The “pro-Israel” community cannot control the messaging and activity of the “anti-Israel” community. But it can control its own. Perhaps the “pro-Israel” label should go. After all, Israel is a country, not a cause.
Sara Greenberg, of Gladwyne, is pursuing a joint masters degree in public policy and business administration at  Harvard University. A version of this column ran in the Times of Israel. 


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