A year ago, I wouldn’t have been surprised to think I would one day be among the ranks of people protesting AIPAC’s presence in Washington, D.C. It is a bigger shock to know that this year I would be walking past those same people to enter the country’s biggest U.S.-Israel policy conference as a pro-Israel delegate from the political left, advocating for a cause I previously associated with the political right.
I first became acquainted with the Jewish community last summer as a counselor at Tamarack Camps. Drawn in by Jewish and Israeli culture and close relationships within the community, I returned to Detroit in the fall with a mission to continue my connection with Judaism. I attended weekly Shabbat dinners, holiday festivities and Jewish-Israeli fellowship programs, one of which led me to an AIPAC delegation.
Eventually, I was engaged in the political dialogue of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I knew that I believed in Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state. Even with that knowledge, I was not ready to compromise ideologically with Republican AIPAC speakers like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. I don’t fit the mold of AIPAC’s centrism, so how do I maintain my liberal identity as an advocate for Israel?
Expressing interest in J Street, a liberal Israel advocacy group, met with criticism of being anti-Israel because of the organization’s support of a sovereign Palestinian state. To maintain integrity as a non-Jew who believes in the equitable treatment of Israelis and Palestinians alike, I often feel I must sacrifice credibility as a pro-Israel advocate.
The political left is full of young, passionate leaders searching for peace in the Middle East. They are undoubtedly assets to moral righteousness in securing Israel’s prosperity. Many within this branch of the political spectrum desire for Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
For Israel to ethically maintain a Jewish majority without obstruction of immigration and forcing emigration (according to Dr. Wahid Abd Al-Magid, Al-Ahram’s Arab Strategic Report editor, Arabs could become Israel’s demographic majority as soon as 2035), many on the left believe there needs to be an established, sovereign Palestinian state. To remain a true democracy, Israel must guarantee full democratic rights to Jewish Israelis as well as Arab Israelis, even at the risk of losing the country’s Jewish identity to an Arab-majority population.
The left’s commitment to humanitarianism leads many of its ranks to aim to preserve both a Jewish and democratic identity for Israel, but if not both, it views the latter as necessary. We desire for this to be seen not as a willingness to sacrifice a Jewish identity, some treasonous thought or an anti-Israel stance; rather, we see this as the highest form of dedication to the Jewish homeland, a commitment with mindfulness to the line between humble patriotism and blind nationalism.
In the pro-Israel lobby, the left is in unfamiliar territory. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 2016 of political ideology demographics relative to the Israel-Palestine conflict, only 34 percent of Democratic-leaners sympathize more with Israel as opposed to 72 percent of Republican-leaners, and much fewer on the left are found to sympathize with Israel and Palestine (3 percent). Much of this tilt can arguably be attributed to the allure of patriotic sympathy for Israel and the demonization of interest in a two-state solution.
If the left is honest in proclaiming a pro-Israel identity, it must remain diligent in disapproval from further-right sections of the political spectrum. As with any ideological conflict, progress can only be achieved by reasonable cooperation and compromise between parties of dissenting opinion.
It is unreasonable for the left to expect the right to sacrifice its political positions entirely; likewise, the right cannot require total conformity from the left to be accepted and validated in the pro-Israel lobby.
All parties must be receptive to humble discourse to avoid a philosophical civil war, which some may see as an effective tool in the fight to delegitimize the State of Israel.
As the left seeks its niche in the pro-Israel lobby, it must commit to answering the same questions we seek answers to with honesty and humility: How do we maintain the State of Israel? How do we keep Israel democratic? How do we keep Israel Jewish? How do we address the necessity of Arab and Jewish-Israeli states?
And most importantly, how do we circumvent extraneous political differences to strengthen a unified force of pro-Israel advocacy?
Jack Mullen, a junior from Royal Oak, is majoring in Elementary Education at Wayne State University.