What Does It Mean to Support Israel?

Mar 26, 2015

By Herb Silverman

In a recent piece about Israel, I chose the deliberately provocative title, “Why I No Longer Support Israel.” I did so because of America’s unwavering support for Israel. Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on anything, but they all claim to love America and to love Israel. We hear no such whole-hearted love pronouncements or regular vows of support for France, Canada, or any other allies.

That piece started a veritable cyber fire, eliciting over 900 comments and 8,000 “likes,” many more than for anything else I’ve ever written online. However, most comments were negative, and most “likes” were for comments critical of my perspective.

Some misinterpreted what I said, but I also learned from thoughtful comments, and if I had to do it over, I would express a few things differently. We don’t often get a second chance. I’m taking one here, and I’ll break the comments into 7 general categories and respond to each.

Comment 1: If you don’t support Israel, then you oppose Israel’s right to exist.

My Response: I no longer support Israel in the same way I no longer support President Obama. I enthusiastically supported and voted for him in 2008, but I was disappointed by much of what he then did and didn’t on key issues that mattered to me. Nevertheless, I voted again for Obama in 2012 because I preferred him to alternatives like Romney, Huckabee, Gingrich, Santorum, Trump, and others. While human rights violations in Israel are significant enough for me to withhold support today, I acknowledge that Israel gives more human rights to its citizens than does any other country in the region. I do support Israel’s right to exist and I hope all those countries will one day recognize the right of everyone in every country to exist in peace.

Comment 2: Go live in a Muslim country.

My Response: I was told to move to Iran, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, where I would presumably lose my head. I also received a number of positive comments from Muslims because of my criticism of Israel. They are probably unaware of far more critical pieces I’ve written about Muslims. See, for instance, here and here.

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35 comments on “What Does It Mean to Support Israel?

  • How can Israel be a Jewish religious state and be a democracy? The elephant in the room is that it can’t. It can’t even be a secular Jewish state and a democracy. Democracies don’t work that way. They must be inclusive of all citizens whatever their religion or tribe. Its the reason that countries that define themselves as religiously Muslim can’t function as democracies. Democracies require separation of church and state, a lesson that sometimes has to be learned over and over.

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  • How can Israel call itself a democracy when a huge chunk of the population are forbidden from voting on racial/religious grounds. (Palestinians). The USA gave that up decades ago, but they still fund it in Israel.

    Would we support any other country pulling that stunt? What would we have to say if France banned Christians from voting?

    How can Israel claim it is not a rogue state when it refuses to permit international inspection of its nuclear weapons. It is really quite cheeky of Israel to claim Iran should not even have uranium, much less nuclear weapons, must less uninspected ones. The same rules should apply to both.

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  • Imagine the reaction you would have got had you been a politician with real power… You got a taste of the fear politicians have of AIPAC. You did not mention death threats. I would have expected some.

    I have been saying similar things to you for years, and never once heard a Canadian politician echo any of the ideas, even though what I was saying was simply history. Gwynne Dyer points out the obvious, but he is now “hiding” in London.

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  • I am not impressed by any analysis of Israel that does not mention the recent massacre in Gaza or that hints that the conflict is between equal forces with equal lack of justification. It is not two people fighting over the same land. It is one people forcefully taking the land of the other people.

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  • Comment 1: If you don’t support Israel, then you oppose Israel’s right
    to exist

    Non-sense, if ever nonsense were uttered.

    What is a right to exist? To clear the air, there is of course a right not to be murdered if you are a person, or not to have your borders invaded if you are a state.

    Where does a right to exist reside, and when does it come into being? Did Israel have a right to exist on 28 November 1947, the day before the UN recommended its creation, or did it perhaps develop that right on 29th with the UN decision? Or maybe the right popped from the ether on 14 May the next year, when Ben Gurion proclaimed the creation of the state. Another alternative is that the right could have existed since biblical times, but it was dormant and no one noticed it. In that case the deedholder of the right was presumably God.

    States, like people, come into being and go out of existence all the time. The Soviet Union existed for seventy years, then ceased to exist, few mourned its passing. But that does not change the question, where did its right to exist come from, and where did it go to? Of course many would be tempted to say that because it was so nasty, the USSR had no right to exist in the first place. Not a good move, as that would confine the right to exist to states we approve of, but not to those which we dislike, which would cause all sorts of complications.

    Similarly people do not have a right to exist. Once you do exist, you have certain rights, provided that you can persuade people to give them to you, but some time before birth, or once you die, you no longer have those rights. We say that you have a right to a decent burial, but that does not make sense, your family have that right.

    The most that could be said, maybe about any state, is that whilst it exists, it has rights. It does not have a right to exist, since there is no way of establishing where that right comes from, or indeed where it goes. A right to exist which lasts for the duration of existence and no longer, does not confer any benefit on the holder of that right.

    Israelis argue for the right of their state to exist, as a justification for its existence. If you concede that Israel does indeed have a right to exist, you are somehow endorsing the actions of Arthur Balfour, the United Nations and Ben Gurion to bring the state into being. You are in fact buying the line that Israel has somehow existed before 1948, and that its establishment then was merely a recognition of something which had somehow always existed.

    Just on a historical note, Ben Gurion’s declaration did not say that, he merely said that the state was established in Eretz Israel, and would function from tomorrow. A Right to Exist is a propaganda term, which I have only noticed in recent years. Various interest groups, mostly conservative, have co-opted the notion of rights and erected them as having some sort of occult, immutable existence, divorced from concrete realities. It makes it easier to win arguments.

    So next time a Zionist starts rambling on about Israel’s right to exist, you now have an elegant way of exposing the idea as a load of cant. This might even enable a discussion to start about how to manage a human situation where there a few million Jews, and a few million Palestinians, who mostly hate each other, are trying to live in one small part of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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  • 9
    Light Wave says:

    Israel is an ideology just like Islam…there are as many genetic links to the area for Jewish people as there are for Arab people…….most Israeli’s are immigrants from Europe and America, but there is no genetic consistency among jews of the world….other than European decent…..All people have a right to exist…..but denouncing what the murdering government does not mean hating the people. what the governments do Is generally not the will or the fault of the common people.

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  • Did Israel have a right to exist on 28 November 1947, the day before the UN recommended its creation,

    That was one of the strangest things. The treaty a country signs on joining the UN basically says they agree to leave borders as they are. They agree to avoid aggressive (first strike war), then the UN says to Jews “start an aggressive war, and we hope you win”. It is all quite hypocritical. The countries of the world supported this crackpot Zionist idea because they wanted to be rid of their Jewish citizens. The world would be so much better off with Jews sprinkled all over the planet running delis and bakeries, making music, and all the other things they do so well.

    The territory occupied by the Jews now is much larger than what the UN allocated them. The government are scofflaws in so many ways. If they were an Arab country, they would #1 on the terrorist list. They have nukes they will not allow to be inspected, for a start. They threaten neighbours with nukes. There routinely pre-emptively attack their neighbours. They are a theocracy. They have an apartheid system with a class who cannot vote.

    Spread out those Jews are a net asset to the world. Concentrated, they are very likely going to drive us all extinct with their monumental egos.

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  • I agree with all you say about Israel. However please be careful not to talk about Jews in a way that appears to be racist. I’m sure that you don’t intend to be, and you speak with respect and approval of some of the activities for which Jews are famous.

    However there is so much more to Jewry than delis and bakeries. They have excelled at philosophy, music, entertainment, law, medicine, banking, business, politics (mostly left wing), and in Europe have provided intellectual alternatives to the Christian norm.

    Australia’s most famous soldier, the man who broke the mould of trench warfare in the Great War, was a Jew, Polish/German at that. He was the first man to be knighted by the King on the battlefield for getting on for two hundred years. With the usual Australian skill at not quite getting a grasp on abstract ideas, the proto fascist New Guard, asked him to become Dictator during the Depression, but he refused on the grounds that he had spent four years fighting Kaiser Bill, and didn’t want to emulate him. Not really relevant, but interesting none the less.

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  • The World might just be more sympathetic to Israel’s “right to exist” were they to afford the same privilege to others.

    A succinct and accurate summary of the problem with Israel. Well defined Michael.

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  • I would prefer to see a world without countries, political constructs that they are. Yes even Olde England, a political construct through and through. Israel though not the youngest country, certainly punches above its weight, – thanks to the USA. Another political construct to suit the American capitalists.

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  • I have viewed this from a distance, being neither for nor against Israel particularly, but I have an observation to offer, for what it’s worth.

    In my youth (the 70s) it seemed to me the media portrayed Israel as the “goodies” and the PLO were definitely the “baddies” (they were in the same club as the IRA and Baader-Meinhof; they were all busy week in, week out – to the point where this was parodied frequently: on TV, hijacking buses with the line “take me to Cuba”, and schoolyard humour, “what’s the fastest game in the world? pass the parcel in a Belfast pub”).
    I must confess I wasn’t paying close attention, but that’s how it seemed at the time.

    Nowadays, the media seems generally for Palestine and against Israel. Yet, nothing much has changed – except the media opinion.

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  • 17
    aroundtown says:

    Personally I’m as common as dirt and I call em the way that I see em. Oppression is Oppression regardless of efforts to use a crayon to color a picture in a different light. Observations intended to shine a light on problems are usually perceived in alternate spectrum’s by locally specific interests and agreement is generally nowhere to be found unfortunately. You know the drill by now, my tribe/trope is better than your tribe/troupe. I don’t expect to see a change in my lifetime and I can’t imagine that anyone else sees light at the end of the tunnel. John Lennon had a nice tune about it all but in the end it was just that, a nice Diddy about what we can be, but never are. Don’t stress out, it’s just the musing of a dedicated misanthrope, and George Carlin would likely agree with me.

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  • I would prefer to see a world without countries, political constructs that they are.

    Co-operation rather than conflict. What a good idea. The European Union shows the way, but there’s a good deal of hostility towards it.

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  • In addition to a lack of regard for armed settlers grabbing land from Arabs, there seems to be a corrupt culture in high places.


    Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, already facing a six-year prison term after a corruption conviction, was found guilty on Monday in a separate case of accepting illegal payments from a US businessman.

    The ruling in Jerusalem District Court reversed a 2012 acquittal of the veteran politician, who led Israel from 2006 to 2009.

    Last May, Olmert was sentenced in other proceedings to six years in jail for accepting $160,000 (£107,000) in bribes linked to a real estate deal in Jerusalem, when he served as the city’s mayor. He is currently appealing against that conviction in the Supreme Court.

    The district court found that Olmert accepted cash-filled envelopes from an American businessman who hoped to further his interests in Israel. It convicted him of fraud and breach of trust on the basis of new testimony from a former aide who had accepted a plea bargain.

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  • 21
    scargill says:

    America has trouble separating church and state judging by the bias against atheists in the public sector – and that’s a democracy.

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  • 22
    Stephen says:

    The problem with his article is not that it is anti-Semitic or that he is a “self hating Jew” but rather that the majority of it is just incorrect. He reads what others write, maybe visits for a short time and then believes himself to be expert enough to write a “knowing” article. Having spent time in Israel. I read this article and chuckled at the ridiculousness of some of it. He states things as facts which are just not true.

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  • “The world would be so much better off with Jews sprinkled all over the planet running delis and bakeries, making music, and all the other things they do so well.”

    But I am not anti-semitic, I am just against Israel… right.

    “Spread out those Jews are a net asset to the world. Concentrated, they are very likely going to drive us all extinct with their monumental egos.”

    Again, not anti-semitic at all…

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  • What the Israeli government is doing Is DEPLORABLE. All the people who flocked to Israel to steal land is disgraceful. Why they did this was partly for religious reasons — a crazy myth that they had title to other people’s lands. That too is deplorable. That can be blamed on the Jewish religion. If that makes me anti-Semite, I wear it proudly. I must be one of the first anti-Semites who had a Jewish boyfriend now dead. I am also a strange anti-semite calling for increased Jewish immigration to my country. We have let Israel get away with behaviour we would tolerate nowhere else.

    I am continually horrified that a people so badly abused by the holocaust would turn around and persecute another people. Just because Jews were persecuted, does not mean we should look the other way at Israel’s bad behaviour. Criticising bad behaviour is not the same thing as claiming some inherent wickedness.

    “Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.”
    ~ W.H. Auden

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  • Are you referring to the Palestinians in the so-called ‘occupied territories’ of Gaza and the ‘West Bank’? If so they are not Israeli citizens and they are entitled to vote for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza – if they ever have elections again.
    On the other hand in Israel itself, Israeli Arabs do most certainly have the vote as illustrated in the most recent election when the Joint List won 13 seats in the Knesset. Israeli Arabs, whether Christian, Muslim, Atheist or whatever are not forbidden on racial or religious grounds from their democratic rights. Even the head of the Israel Electoral Commission is an Israeli Arab, Salim Joubran.
    As for inspections, and despite being a signatory to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) the US itself doesn’t allow the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities either. The point being that neither Israel nor the US is threatening the total annihilation of any other country, Iran is. Only those countries that have signed the NPT are obliged to accept IAEA inspections – Israel hasn’t signed. Neither has India or Pakistan.
    “Iran is a party to the NPT but was found in non-compliance with its NPT safeguards agreement and the status of its nuclear program remains in dispute. In November 2003 IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that Iran had repeatedly and over an extended period failed to meet its safeguards obligations, including by failing to declare its uranium enrichment program.”
    So there is a difference and therefore the same rules don’t apply to both.

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  • There could be some major changes for the better coming in US/Israeli relations. I heard on DemocracyNow.org this morning that Obama is considering that the US will no longer veto UN resolutions against Israel. That would be huge.

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  • There is this latest news:-


    The Palestinians have formally joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), a key step towards being able to pursue Israelis for alleged war crimes.

    Foreign Minister Riad Malki attended a low-key ceremony at The Hague.

    The ICC’s chief prosecutor launched a “preliminary examination” in January, after the Palestinians signed its founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

    Palestinian officials said they would wait for the outcome of the review before considering further action.

    Although Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, its military and civilian leaders could face charges if they are believed to have committed crimes on Palestinian territory.

    Palestinian militants will also be open to prosecution.

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  • Certainly the six million Jews that the Germans murdered in their genocide factories mostly in occupied Easter Europe during WWII were “regrettable.” But come on guys! Two wrongs don’t make a right! The Jews have no right to Palestinian lands even though the United Nations originally partitioned Palestine to allocate a territory for a Jewish Homeland. What difference does it make if Egypt, Syria, Jordan et. al attacked Israel in 1948 to finish what Hitler started? The Jews won, enlarged their borders driving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their towns, farms and homes. But come on guys! Two wrongs don’t make a right! What difference does it make if Egypt massed troops on Israel’s border in the Sinai allied with Syria and Jordan in 1967 with renewed ambitions to exterminate the Jews and finish off the state of Israel good and proper. The Jews won again in six days with a devastating preemptive strike against Egypt then followed up with a thrashing of Syria and Jordan thereby expanding their territory further. But come on guys! Two wrongs don’t make a right! Hamas fired thousands of primitive rockets at Israel last year. Israel retaliated against Gaza with awesome fire-power killing children and pulverizing Palestinian neighborhoods in the vicinity of the rocket launchings. But come on guys! Two wrongs don’t make a right!

    And so goes the song. Of course Israelis have committed war crimes, seized Palestinian territory and built illegal settlements throughout the sordid tragic history of these wars. Of course Israel has problems with corrupt politicians, organized crime, accommodations for religious zealots, discrimination against Arab minorities…But Israel remarkable for a tiny nation has built one of the most progressive, prosperous, democratic and humane societies in the world. From inception Israel was inclined to negotiate and live in peace with Arab neighbors. It is not the fault of Israel that this nation has been attacked, surrounded and besieged mercilessly by Arab dictatorships and Islamic terrorists.

    International pressure to negotiate a two-sate solution must come from the United States , Europe and the Arab League in collaboration with Israel and Palestine by way of territorial concessions and security guarantees -concessions and guarantees enforced by an international peace-keeping force probably for decades to come.

    Whatever “peace process” is required to move this intractable blood feud toward resolution, I’m appalled that so many of you can look at Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah, the PLO and Hamas and scream that old lie: “THE JEWS ARE TO BLAME!”

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  • Two wrongs don’t make a right!

    I endorse the reasoning in Melvin’s article.

    ‘Israel is the rich mature adult in the room. Given it’s history, it should know better. Israel must become to dominant leader in seeking a fair and just peace with the Palestinians. It must shed the US Christian fundamentalist support and call them out. It must sideline and ignore anyone who says that god gave them the land.

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  • David R Allen Apr 2, 2015 at 5:02 am

    ‘Israel is the rich mature adult in the room.

    I think now the Palestinians have formally joined the International Criminal Court, we may start to see some evidence taken seriously rather than just being fed the PR image promoted by the Western media.

    The “whites” were viewed as the “mature adults” in the South African apartheid regime, but that was mainly because they suppressed or assassinated any “mature” black leadership.

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  • Alan 4, your opinion is reasoned and impassioned, shared by some thoughtful people. I believe advocacy for widespread prosecution of leaders of sovereign nations for collateral or deliberate damage inflicted during periods of war, civil rebellion and states of emergency including the suspension of civil rights, imprisonment, the seizure of property, and restrictions of movement resulting in economic damages is ill-considered and sets a precedent leading to incessant politicized reprisals and chaos. (Special crimes and conspiracies would constitute exceptions qualified by motives, context, and scale.)

    The ambiguous realities of international conflict and especially the grim imperatives of military action confer a range of immunity on national leaders. We cannot parse out thousands of bad guys from good guys on the killing fields of war, or societies under terrorist attack. If we tried to hold every national leader personally responsible for every innocent child killed in a bombing strike or artillery shelling while carrying out Clausewitz’s “…[foreign policies] politics by other means” we would become lost in the absurdity of blood feuds whose endless cycle of violence would dwarf the violence that “international courts” were appointed to remedy in the fist place.

    Pursuing justice for Palestinians with partisan prosecutions of Israeli political and military leaders is a crazy exercise in futility. Irreconcilable political, ethnic and religious differences between Israelis and Palestinians that result in the bitter oppression manifested in the security measures imposed by the former on the latter are misconstrued and inflammatory in an analogy with South African Racial Apartheid.

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  • 33
    Carlos says:

    As an atheist, I have at least two problems with the state of Israel. Let me start however by stating that nothing I put down below should in any way shape or form be considered as either a denial or worse endorsement of what happened to the European Jews at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. The Holocaust is one of the worse crimes ever committed, full stop. It was the culmination of centuries of anti-Semitism and testament of the power of institutionalized bigotry, discrimination and ignorant hatred. It was a horrible thing to have happened to the Jews and I hope we never see anything close ever again done to anyone. Now, moving on to this idea of any country’s “right to exist”. It seems to me the historical record indicates that any particular country’s existence has more to do with the size and success of their army than any theoretical “right”. On this planet, countries have come and gone with each passing army, so there is no “right” to exist except that granted by the ability of your army to withstand the assault of the other army. By this account, the old Israel lost its “right” to exist back in Babylonian times. And if Israel has a right to exist now it is in large measure due to its army as none of its neighbors want Israel there. Which leads me into my second problem, if the World wanted to give Jews a parcel of land to form a country (totally fine with that by the way), why did it have to be in Palestine, where it was surely going to cause – and the historical record indicates – nothing but political strife and warfare, now on its 6th decade? Why not pick a place less controversial say carve out half of the state of Utah, or somewhere in the middle of Canada, or the middle of Russia? If the answer has something to do with the Biblical stories of the Old Testament then as an atheist you can see how this is a problem. If the Bible is nothing more than ancient mythology, then there was no covenant, no land was ever “promised”, just another story similar to Quetzalcoatl’s pointing out where to build Mexico city. I think it is clear, Israel is there by political and military imposition on the other peoples in the region, and it justifies itself by Biblical mythology that is antagonistic to our times and has no basis in reality.

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