|The Judgment of Solomon, by Leonaert Bramer (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
Writing for publication is daunting. Even for a single twig snap in the vast bonfire of the internet. So when I mentioned that I would consider submissions from readers for EGD's "Works in progress" Saturday feature, I did not expect a lot of waving hands. In fact, there was only one, this week’s guest writer, Steve Sheffey, active in Democratic and pro-Israel politics. In college he submitted a piece to NU's humor magazine, “Rubber Teeth,” which we rejected. I can’t say that it was an error or that I regret, or even remember, it. But he requested another chance to submit a piece, and this time the answer was yes.
Thank you, Neil, for inviting me to pinch-hit today. I’ve been reading your work since college and it’s an honor to contribute.
You would think that someone who’s been writing a weekly newsletter on pro-Israel politics for 17 years would have come up with a simple definition of “pro-Israel” by now, especially since he calls his newsletter “Steve Sheffey’s Pro-Israel Political Update, which The Forward referred to as “the Chicago Jewish newsletter that even Republicans have to read.” But it’s not that easy.
Israel is different from most political issues because disagreements stem from a common understanding of the facts. No one wants to get Covid; whether you favor wearing or mandating masks depends on whether you think masks work. Whether you favor getting vaccinated or mandating vaccines depends on whether you think the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks. These are facts.
Aside from the extreme right, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and settlement expansion in the West Bank is accepted as fact. The historic, national, and religious connections of Jews to the land that is today Israel and the West Bank is accepted as fact by all but the extreme left.
But these facts lead to different conclusions. Someone who supports the concept of a Jewish, democratic State of Israel, as I do, will oppose the occupation and oppose settlement expansion because only a two-state solution, one state with a large Jewish majority and one Palestinian state, can guarantee Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state.
Someone who opposes the concept of a Jewish state can point to the occupation and argue that the answer is one binational state, a state that might have a lot of Jews but that will be democratic and not necessarily Jewish.
Similarly, one can oppose proposals by Israel’s ruling coalition to eviscerate Israel’s Supreme Court because one sides with the Israelis who want Israel to remain democratic, or one could look at the same facts and see proof that Israel’s government does not support democracy and is not worthy of U.S. support.
I call my newsletter “pro-Israel” not because I reflexively support any decision made by Israel’s government: I differentiate between supporting the State of Israel and the government of Israel, just as I differentiate between supporting America and supporting Donald Trump (or, for that matter, Joe Biden).
Rather, I call my newsletter “pro-Israel” because I want my readers to know that the candidates and policies I support are consistent with the belief that only by working toward a two-state solution – and giving up the notion of a Greater Israel comprising Israel and the West Bank – can the State of Israel remain safe, secure, Jewish, and democratic. Anything less than that is not good for Israel, good for the Jews, or consistent with the values that form the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
A two-state solution is not politically possible now. Israel’s current government doesn’t want it and whether current Palestinian wants it or not, the Palestinian Authority is too weak. But Israel needs a two-state solution for its own sake, let alone to realize the aspirations of the Palestinians, which is why those of us who support Israel should oppose steps by Israel’s government that make a two-state solution less likely.
Some argue that it doesn't matter what Israel does because the Palestinians want not an end to the occupation of the West Bank but an end to Israel itself. Some probably do, just as some Israelis want a Jewish state from the river to the sea. The reality is that millions of Palestinians aren't going anywhere. Millions of Jews aren't going anywhere. Palestinians see the rebirth of Israel as a catastrophe, a nakba that conflicted with their national aspirations and led to displacement and worse. Jews see the rebirth of Israel as a modern miracle that realized 2,000 years of national aspirations and provided a needed safe haven from centuries of antisemitic persecution.
Neither side has to give up its narrative or accept the other side's narrative, but both sides must realize that the only path forward, a two-state solution, requires both sides to give up sovereignty over land that they believe should be theirs and both sides to accept that previous sins of the other side may never be fully redressed. And everyone who cares about Israel has a duty to speak up, whether for or against the policies of whatever government is in power.
That’s not everyone’s idea of “pro-Israel,” but it's mine. If you like what you’ve read, or if you’re curious, I’d love for you to join the thousands of people who read my newsletter. It’s free, it’s once a week, and you can sign up here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.