At recent event, someone asked me how I felt about President Obama insisting that Israel return land occupied since 1967. I pointed out that the president is not insisting on a return to the 1967 borders, but only that those borders be a starting point for negotiations. I also said I was offended by by Prime Minister Netanhahu’s reaction to the president’s speech, and that I felt Israel never dealt honestly with the Palestinians.
It wasn’t the answer she was expecting. It is, perhaps, surprising to hear someone of Jewish heritage criticize Israeli policies, especially when the media posts headlines like Fox’s “Obama Risks Losing Jewish Voters After Backing Key Palestinian Statehood Demand”. But while I’m no spokesman for the Jewish people myself, it seems to me that Jewish opinions on Middle East issues are as varied as those of the general population.
More and more, Jewish voices for peace and fairness are being heard. Organizations like J-Street and Americans for Peace Now are Jewish organizations that support Palestinian statehood and holding both sides of the conflict to their promises. A person, Jewish or otherwise, can acknowledge the importance of Israel, advocate for supporting and defending Israel, and still believe that Palestinians also have rights, and that Israel is not being fair or honest either militarily or diplomatically.
Critics of Israel are often accused of being anti-Semitic by hard-line Zionists. This is understandable because in some cases the accusations are true. White supremacists, Islamic militants and other bloodthirsty bigots use criticism of Israel as a tool to discredit the Jewish people. But people who confuse honest critics of Israeli policy with anti-Semites are guilty of the “with us or against us” line of thinking. They believe that one either supports Israel’s hard-line actions or seeks Israel’s destruction. The truth is, there are more than two choices.
Israel is a long time friend and strategic ally of the United States. They are a small democracy in a hostile region surrounded by enemies with horrible human rights records. Those are valid reasons to advocate for continued support for Israel. But they are not good reasons to support Israel’s own human rights violations or disregard for keeping promises.
President Obama’s call for the 1967 borders to be a starting point for negotiations is reasonable and is in line with the policies of previous American presidents. In truth, despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s surprising response, nothing in the President’s speech represented a significant departure in America’s Middle East policies. I, along with many Jewish and Non-Jewish supporters of Israel, also support the president’s efforts at restarting Middle East peace negotiations and the goal of self-rule for the Palestinian people.