At the end of my three-week stay in Israel, made possible by the generous folks at Eagles’ Wings Ministries’ Israel Experience program, I realized that Israel is a model of liberalism, a country that embodies progressive values and every cause American liberals champion.
The moment when this point hit me was when I was on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, taking a break from enjoying the night life on a bench, when a loud group with flags marched past me and handed me a flier. The group, called the Coalition of Pink Communities, was rallying in support of equal rights for those with alternative lifestyles, with the flier specifically mentioning “lesbians, homosexuals, transgenders, bisexuals, queer, intersex.”
The fact that this even occurred, in the holy city of Jerusalem no less, is proof that such equal rights have been granted. The demonstrators were not harassed, attacked, or even approached in any way, despite the presence of Orthodox Jewish onlookers. This stands in sharp contrast to anywhere in the Palestinian territories or Arab world, where such actions would be met with brutality of the highest order. Israel, which stands alone as the country most derided by human rights advocates daring to call themselves liberals, has upheld freedom of speech and shown a tolerance of homosexual lifestyles in a way deserving of far-reaching liberal praise, allowing openly gay centers to operate and known homosexual soldiers to serve. To be fair, I must mention the murder of two homosexuals in Tel Aviv while I was in the country, but the genuine outcry over the incident and extensive media coverage show that this was a rare incident, worthy of conversation and attention, rather than an act of normalcy.
This scenario alone should dispel the notion that Israel’s status as a Jewish state makes it theocratic, but this democratic country is still frequently referred to as “apartheid” on college campuses, an insult that denigrates the true victims of apartheid, both in the past in South Africa and those suffering from true oppression in the Arab world. Rarely is the gender apartheid in major parts of the Islamic world or the oppression of gays, dissenting political voices, non-Muslims (especially Jews), and Muslim minorities in such areas a cause for a fuss.
The apartheid comparison is so wrong on so many levels that using it should disqualify the users from being termed “academics” or “experts.” Few seem to know that twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs, given the same rights as their fellow Jewish countrymen. They are provided with social services, serve in the military, and even are elected to the Knesset.
The security “wall,” 97% of which is chain-link fence, is often touted as proof of Israel’s racism, but it is not designed to separate Jewish and Palestinian communities. In fact, the barrier intrudes through Jewish communities as well and anyone passing through it can see Jew and Muslim alike having to pass through. Nor is it an act of oppression. It was erected in response to unrelenting, unacceptable attacks on innocent Israelis which resulted in necessary, retaliatory strikes that harmed Palestinians. Since its creation, suicide bombings have dramatically dropped by over 90%. This wall is far from an act of racism; it is an appropriate security measure that, while annoying to the Jews and Palestinians that have to travel through it, has allowed economic progress, security, and a better life for both sides.
Of particular interest to those on the Israel Experience trip was the Israeli concern for human rights. During a presentation by Joe Hyams of Honest Reporting, we saw videos of Israeli pilots redirecting missiles targeting Hamas operatives at the last moment to stop from killing civilians, even if those civilians were opening their doors to the terrorists. The Israelis also sent automated messages and text messages to areas before strikes during Operation Cast Lead in an attempt to get civilians to flee. The Israelis haven’t even cut off the Ashkelon power station that provides the Gaza Strip with 70% of its electricity. Hamas, on the other hand, has frequently targeted it with its missiles.
In academia, I’ve noticed that the discussion almost always centers on some sort of moral equivalence between the two sides, as if the conflict stems from both sides’ equal dose of hatred and unwillingness to compromise. Such discussion erases the Israeli handovers of territory to the Palestinians and fails to account for the lengths to which Israel goes to defend itself humanely, whereas Hamas, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and other terrorist groups see inhumanity as a weapon of war and diplomatic tool.
There will be haters no matter what, but on the Israeli side, such hatred is not mainstream or institutionalized. In every conversation I can remember I had with an Israeli, the suffering of the Palestinians was always mentioned as part of the equation. While discussing their own suffering, they’d always turn and say something along the lines of: “You know, the Palestinians don’t deserve what they’re going through either; it’s unacceptable.”
Israel has adopted virtually every liberal cause. The Jewish state has taken in 1,700 refugees from Darfur, giving Africa the attention Hollywood has demanded. Israel does not do so for recognition, as surely they know by now they will never get any, but because it’s simply the right thing to do.
Environmentalists should be hailing Israel as a model. Twenty percent of the water used by Israel will be desalinated by 2010 and, according to Israel @ 60, “Israel treats 92 percent of its wastewater and reuses 75 percent in agriculture, the highest rate in the world.” Israel stands nearly alone as having more trees today than at the beginning of the last century and “is one of two countries in the world in which deserts are shrinking rather than expanding.”
Investing in electric cars and other forms of alternative energy, bacteria that can dissolve oil spills, and other green technology, Israel is taking a leading role in helping the environment. With the current health care debate in the U.S. raging, liberals should also take notice that Israel provides national health insurance — or, as conservatives would say, socialized health care. When we visited a hospital, our guide articulately defended the concept and criticized the American health care system in a way that would have made any Democratic Party operative proud.
Whether it’s protecting and respecting human life or preserving the rights of citizens despite the highest temptation to restrict them, Israel is a bastion of liberalism and progressivism. For liberals to not support Israel is to not support the very issues they fight for at home.