By Herb Silverman
I published a piece last year with a deliberately provocative title, “Why I No Longer Support Israel,” which elicited hundreds of negative, online comments. I wrote that article partly because of America’s unwavering support for Israel. Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on anything, but they all claim to love America and Israel. We hear no such love pronouncements or unconditional support for actions of England, Canada, or our other allies. I understand the need for a democratic ally in the Middle East, and Israel’s principles are closer to our principles than are those of its neighbors, but Israel’s human rights violations should also be criticized.
What most upset me was Israel’s failure to live up to its own 1948 Declaration of Independence that “ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” In particular, the Israeli cabinet had approved an anti-democratic bill that defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; reserved national rights only for Jews; and officially relegated the 20 percent of non-Jews living in Israel to second-class status.
It’s not especially difficult for a country to be either democratic or theocratic, but Israel has struggled with trying to be both a Jewish and democratic country. The problem is complicated by the variety of Jewish citizens, ranging from the ultra-orthodox who believe God gave Israel exclusively to the Jews, to the humanistic and secular Jews who support social and political equality for all Israeli citizens. Unfortunately, Israel’s current government seems unwilling to rise above sectarian concern or live up to the values in its 1948 Declaration.
Israel became America’s favorite Middle East country in part because of common interests and shared democratic ideals, but I’m disturbed that Saudi Arabia is our second-favorite. My introduction to deplorable Saudi Arabia behavior occurred in 1988. A mathematician from India with whom I had published several research papers asked me for a letter of recommendation to teach at a university in Saudi Arabia, which he said paid extremely well. Their math department recommended him highly for the position, but the administration rejected him. A friend of his in their math department subsequently told him that the higher-ups had vetoed his candidacy because of my letter, but not due to anything I said. It was because of my surname, which revealed that I was a Jew. My math colleague had no idea I was Jewish, and neither of us could have imagined its relevance to my evaluation of his complex variables research.
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