There is no widespread international movement to support the Palestinians.
It’s a difficult reality to accept, because we see so many protestors, from Australia to the United States, hoisting Palestinian flags and shouting “Free Palestine!” on a daily basis. It’s also sad, because many Palestinians could benefit from a truly pro-Palestinian global network that focused on boosting the West Bank economy or providing aid to the struggling Palestinians in actual refugee camps throughout Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, where they face serious discrimination and often death at the hands of the Arab leaders under whose rule they live.
Nevertheless, groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which claim to represent the Palestinians’ best interests, are far more fixated on attacking Israel than on promoting Palestinian prosperity. If you take a moment to look at their Facebook page, you’ll see signs that say, “STOP DOING WHAT HITLER DID TO YOU,” boycotts of Israeli cultural and academic institutions (most of which have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), and accusations of a racism they claim to be inherent in any form of Zionism. I once received a particularly misguided pamphlet from a “pro-Palestinian” group as I stepped into an Idan Raichel concert in Boston, telling me that by attending the concert I was supporting apartheid. Ignoring the document, I spent the evening enjoying not only some excellent music but also Raichel’s usual pro-peace remarks in support of singers around the world, including Palestinians.
A few years ago, we saw another example of the “pro-Palestinian” movement in action when the Mavi Marmara and five other boats participated in an aggressive flotilla that tried to break the blockade on Gaza. That flotilla was in large part funded by a Turkish NGO called IHH, which is generally referred to in English as the “Humanitarian Relief Foundation.” The organizers of the flotilla, however, chose not to send aid through the Israeli government or through the United Nations (both of which are options for donating resources to Gaza), but through an attempt at forcible entry into Gaza, despite Israel’s warnings. They chose to provoke Israel rather than attend to the needs of the Palestinians who they claimed to be the focus of their concern.
In a way, all of this anti-Israel focus in the “pro-Palestinian” movement is not surprising, because Palestinian leaders have, for years, employed the propaganda tactics of totalitarian regimes during and surrounding World War II. Mussolini blamed Italy’s problems on worldwide communist plots, and Stalin blamed the Soviet Union’s problems on Trotsky, his exiled political enemy. Thus the peoples of Italy and Eastern Europe were convinced that their poor domestic situations were less the fault of their governments than the fault of outside forces. They were given someone convenient to blame for their problems, an “other,” so that they did not turn their criticism on their own governments. Likewise, Palestinian leaders have blamed Israel for the problems that the Palestinian Authority has perpetuated for decades. They have aimed to manufacture a single “Palestinian cause,” one that always opposes Israel and almost never creates space for talk of a two-state solution that would actually end the occupation. The “cause” does not address the corruption of Palestinian politicians, the Palestinian government’s failure to support democracy or freedom of the press, sharp divisions between Palestinian factions, issues of poverty, issues of oppression of Palestinian people throughout the Arab world, and numerous other pressing problems that huge segments of the Palestinian people are forced to face every day. The global community has picked up on this propaganda narrative and, attracted to the simplistic underdog story that it tells, lent enormous support to the “Palestinian cause.”
Fortunately, the Zionist movement does not, for the most part, share this flaw. To be sure, there are pro-Israel groups that target Palestinians more than they should (and there are a smattering of genuinely pro-Palestinian groups that are able to see a bigger picture than just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and/or are at least actively supportive of a two-state solution), but the general trend is for pro-Israel groups to be just that: pro-Israel. In fact, a good many Zionists, myself included, also consider themselves to be “pro-Palestinian” in that they support the creation of a sovereign and secure state of Palestine alongside an equally sovereign and secure state of Israel, provided that a genuine peace agreement is reached.
This contrast is epitomized by the strikingly positive social media presence of pro-Israel groups. The Brand Of Milk And Honey (BOMAH), for example, which is a social media-focused Israel advocacy organization, invites people to share their personal stories surrounding the Jewish state, promoting a realistic image of a state of Israel that is beautiful, democratic, and all around awesome.
The more politically active pro-Israel groups, too, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is first and foremost a lobbying organization, share Facebook posts about Israeli efforts to provide solar power to underdeveloped countries in Africa and to assist Syrian refugees. Even the IDF Facebook page has a greater emphasis on diversity within its own ranks and wishing its viewers a “peaceful weekend” than on any enemies that it faces.
For me, my enthusiasm for Zionism began at Camp Yavneh (in Northwood, New Hampshire), which I attended for seven years and which played Israeli music in the dining hall, held a culturally focused “Yom Yisrael,” and hired at least one Israeli counselor for each bunk. Never in my time there was I taught a thing against the Palestinians. There was no “enemy,” only a positive celebration of our homeland.
This difference between the pro-Israel and the “pro-Palestinian” movements is critical. If the latter were more like the former in its goals and its tactics, there would be a much greater potential for reconciliation between them. I call on those liberal people who think of themselves as “pro-Palestinian” to realize that the path to peace and to full Palestinian statehood is not through Hate Weeks and blanket boycotts, but through positive recognition of a Jewish state with legitimate aspirations and concerns. I call on those who are undecided about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to realize the extent to which the Zionist movement is pulling the debate in the right direction. And I call on those who support the more negative elements of the “pro-Palestinian” movement to open their eyes to this distinction between reactionary negativity and productive optimism. Only then will they see that what is best for everyone involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mutual respect for both Israelis and Palestinians as human beings with cultures and lives that are separate from politics. Only then will there be a true drive for peace.
This post originally appeared on the Times of Israel.