There are those whose love for Israel is comparable to a parent’s love for a child. Parental love is unconditional. Regardless of a child’s behavior, a parent seldom ceases loving the child, even in cases of abandonment. Others love Israel as one loves a lover. Romantic love is earned and conditional. Romances begin and romances end. Longevity is the goal, but not always the conclusion. Yet others love Israel as one loves a brother or sister. Sibling love is complicated and delicate. Siblings fight, sometimes to the point where the existence of the love is unclear, but they most often want the best for each other, even if they are no longer involved in each other’s lives. The ideal love for Israel draws from each of these categories, putting it on a whole other plain entirely.
Being a teenage Israel advocate, I often encounter a troublesome phenomenon in the world of hasbara. That being, people often feel that since they love Israel, they are required to defend her every aspect and action. Advocates, especially those on campus, feel that it is their job to explain and justify every Israeli decision that receives scrutiny. They have a tendency to hear the criticism and immediately, prior to researching the matter, defend Israel actions. “Clearly this person is misinterpreting whatever happened or maybe even didn’t happen,” they may think, without leaving open the possibility that Israel may have made a flawed decision. They fail to entertain for even the slightest moment that there could have been a point of disagreement between them and a historical or contemporary Israeli decision.
I’m guilty of this as well, in some regards. This past week I heard Ezra Yachin, a veteran of Lechi, speak about his experiences prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Yachin spoke with passion of his selflessness, dedication, and sacrifice. He glorified and praised Lechi’s many operations, and he left the room of future leaders speechless and inspired. After he left, the students lauded and applauded his achievements. The conversation, however, quickly turned to the terrorism-based strategy Lechi employed. “How can we justify everything Lechi did?” a student inquired earnestly. The room went silent as everyone sifted through their thoughts and feelings to figure out how to justify it. That was, until one student spoke up. “We don’t have to,” he claimed.
I’ve been studying in Israel for the past five months, and I’ve spent five shabbatot on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Beyond the valuable research the topic deserves, I’ve spoken for hours upon hours with settlers about their religious ideologies and political beliefs. Settlement expansion is one of the paramount issues Israel advocates face today, and one that is important for me to understand as first-hand as possible. When I speak with anti-Israel activists regarding my pro-Israel stance, I’m often asked, “How can you justify the expanding settlements in the occupied territories?” What the questioner doesn’t understand is that I don’t have to. I’m an outspoken advocate of the two-state solution, and I honestly believe that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, and that the continued expansion is incomparably damaging to the process. “So how can you support Israel?!” is the natural follow-up question.
Israel advocacy is my passion, but truth and congruence are my passions as well. If these passions were in contradiction, my advocacy would need a serious reevaluation — but they are not. Israel advocacy does not demand unrestricted justification. Intellectual honesty does, however, demand giving every issue full, unbiased research (as opposed to deciding to stick by Israel’s unequivocally.) Israel is not flawless, and treating it as such is, beyond ignorant, detrimental to the cause. Not supporting Israel every time is a greater way to support Israel. Israel needs honest advocates. She needs passionate, emotional advocates, but she needs the same advocates to be intellectual and sincere.
This is vastly different than the philosophy that encourages embracing Israel’s flaws as her defining characteristics. Neither is it the philosophy that encourages stifling Israel’s negative aspects by focusing on the positives. This philosophy, however, entails focusing on the entirety – on both the positives, the negatives, and the big picture. The goal is to create a state that embodies everything we believe to be positive and moral, but in areas we are not yet there, the solution is not to focus purely on the positives and brush the negatives aside. This methodology is transparent, and induces claims such as “pinkwashing” or “greenwashing.” A dishonest advocate is a failed advocate. Rather, if we give the negatives their deserved attention as well, we stand a significant chance to change them.
The ideal love of Israel draws from all three of the aforementioned categories of love. It is like the love of a parent; it involves loving Israel through thick and thin, while being comfortable with disagreement. A parent does not say a child never does anything wrong, but rather a parent singles out and addresses the misbehaviors of his/her child. It is like the love of a lover; it involves understanding that our desire is to support Israel no matter what, but simultaneously understand that some things need to be addressed for the relationship to continue. A true lover, through fight after fight, does everything he/she can to work things out. That doesn’t necessarily mean the disagreement must be forgotten, or even forgiven; it means that the bigger picture is decidedly more valuable. Finally, it is like the love of a sibling; it involves being there for Israel, and desiring only the best for her, and understanding that not standing by her every action does not mean not standing by her as a whole.
I stand by Israel because of the things I am proud of. I am proud of Israel’s social progression. You may be proud of Israel’s technological innovations, its democratic government in a hostile and tyrannic region, its historical or biblical significance, or the flourishing of its land. Dynamic and effective Israel advocacy involves a personal connection to the state. It does not, however, involve an all-around comfort with every aspect. Israel has acted and will act in ways that should make you uncomfortable. Lechi operations and settlement expansion are among the things that make me uncomfortable. As Israel advocates, we should not be justifying Israel’s faults. Rather, we should be allowing those who can make a difference correct its faults. The good news is — we can all make a difference.