Progressives Hate Israel Because It's the Jewish State, Not Because of Netanyahu

Rep. Ilhan Omar / Getty
March 27, 2019

For the American political left, Donald Trump is obviously public enemy No. 1. But Benjamin Netanyahu is a close second. Indeed, progressives seem to regard the Israeli prime minister as a foreign Trump, a corrupt and racist authoritarian destroying liberal democracy. In a major speech on foreign policy last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) described the Israeli political right as intolerant and bigoted, accusing "Israel's Netanyahu government" of giving non-Jewish citizens "second-class status." More recently, he warned against equating "anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel" while defending Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) flurry of anti-Semitic comments. Progressives are not alone: many establishment, even centrist Democrats share similar views of the Israeli premier, adopting Barack Obama's antipathy for him. In 2016, Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League, penned a column in Foreign Policy magazine in which he castigated Netanyahu for truthful comments the prime minister made about the Palestinians.

These critics fail to acknowledge—or perhaps even to realize—that many of Netanyahu's policy positions, especially on issues concerning security and Jerusalem—are mainstream and centrist in Israel. Just look at Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's chief rival in Israel's upcoming elections next month. Gantz, a former chief of general staff of the Israel Defense Forces, helped form the centrist Blue and White Party, and Netanyahu has tried to portray him as a weak leftist. Yet Gantz and Netanyahu share many of the same views. In fact, several of Gantz's big applause lines during his first major international address on Monday, a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington, could have easily been written for Netanyahu.

"Never again will we allow you to establish yourself in Syria. We will not allow you to develop nuclear weapons," Gantz said of Iran. "On my watch, you will not become a military power. I will not hesitate to use force if and when it is needed."

"We will never withdraw from the Golan Heights," he also told AIPAC. Democrats have blasted Trump this week for recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights as a move to help Netanyahu's reelection bid.

Another decision for which the left has lambasted Trump is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that Netanyahu endorsed wholeheartedly. "Jerusalem will always be Israel's undivided capital, and the Jordan Valley will always be our eastern security border," Gantz said Monday.

Regarding Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Gantz told i24NEWS on the sidelines of the AIPAC conference that Israel "cannot accept whatsoever any attack from the Gaza Strip, whether it is on the southern communities or on central Israel."

"We have to retaliate firmly," he added. "We are far stronger than Hamas. They know it, and they will feel it now."

Clearly many of Netanyahu's views are not exactly on the far right. But that does not matter for the progressive left, which has made clear that is has a problem with Israel because it is the Jewish state, not because of this or that policy. When examining how progressives single out Israel's treatment of religion and its approach to the Palestinians while ignoring all other comparable examples, it is hard to reach any other logical conclusion. Moreover, the progressive movement has institutionalized the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which seeks nothing less than the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state through economic warfare. Even when progressive voices claim to be simply criticizing the Israeli government, they cannot help but delve into anti-Semitic canards about Jewish Americans and the nefarious influence of Jewish money.

Of course much of the political left, including within the Democratic Party, does not share these views about Israel. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) made powerful speeches to the AIPAC conference in which they denounced hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism. Indeed, the Democratic leadership and much of their constituency support Israel; they may disagree on issues like Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for example, but they do not fundamentally oppose the Zionist project.

But the likes of Pelosi and Hoyer have a problem: how can they, and the rest of the Democratic leadership, manage a progressive movement in their party's ranks that hates Israel for being Israel, for being the Jewish state? Left, right, center, Netanyahu in office, no Netanyahu in office—it does not matter; progressives will feel the same way and pursue the same agenda.

It is an open question, but one should not be optimistic. The loudest voices in the Democratic Party are now progressives, and the party's base and energies belong to the progressive movement. That is why Pelosi and Hoyer caved on condemning Omar's anti-Semitic remarks, instead allowing some bogus resolution to pass in the House that obfuscates to the point of rendering it meaningless. Going forward, more sober-minded Democrats will struggle mightily to control a broader movement whose illogical hostility to Israel reeks of anti-Semitism.

In short order, the Democratic Party may resemble the United Kingdom's Labour Party, which has lost its soul and any legitimate claim to seeking social justice after it institutionalized anti-Semitism under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. And the American left will soon no longer be able to put all of the blame on Netanyahu's government. The charade is obviously false now to those who are paying attention, and sooner or later, it will became evident to the rest of the American people.