Shira Herzog: What does being pro-Israel mean?

In North American and European Jewish communities, criticism of Israel’s attack on the Turkish flotilla has reignited discussion over a deceptively simple question: What does being pro-Israel mean? Regardless of widespread domestic criticism (even after this week’s findings by an Israeli military investigation) of both the decision to attack and its faulty execution, leading Jewish organizations largely defended Israel. Liberal Jewish organizations questioned Israel’s action, as they do others with which they disagree.

These divisions aren’t new, but they’re particularly sensitive now. Last year’s Gaza incursion and the flotilla incident have isolated Israel to an unprecedented degree. In parallel, recently formed American (J Street) and European (JCall) Jewish lobby groups have gone public with their dissent without following the Jewish establishment’s automatic support of Israeli policies. They consider themselves no less pro-Israel and see ending the Palestinian conflict and holding Israel accountable for its human-rights record as critical for its future.

Last month, Peter Beinert spawned the latest round in this debate with his New York Review of Books essay, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. Mr. Beinert argued that, if established Jewish advocacy groups don’t make room for “pro-Israel criticism of Israel,” they’ll alienate liberal American Jews from an Israel whose policies are increasingly dissonant with their American values. Mainstream Jewish organizations quickly contested his conclusions, reiterating that, in an increasingly critical world, burdened by unique security imperatives and with only one reliable ally (the U.S.), being pro-Israel requires holding the line against public criticism.

There’s no doubt that Israel is more vulnerable due to the growing presence and sophistication of what the Tel Aviv-based Reut Institute calls “the delegitimization network.” That disparate, largely viral coalition links European and North American radical left NGOs and fundamentalist Islamic groups in rejecting Israel’s legitimacy. In other words, they don’t distinguish between Israel and its continued occupation of Palestinians and territory. They’re focused not on resolving the Palestinian issue through a two-state deal that would respect Israel’s territorial integrity and Jewish majority alongside a Palestinian state, but on branding Israel as a pariah internationally. (The loose network includes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers this new “battleground for legitimacy” serious enough to rank it as one of Israel’s key challenges (along with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian process). He isn’t wrong: Reut’s comprehensive report documents the potential scope of the network’s reach and its strategic implications for the country’s international standing unless checked….READ MORE

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