I had interesting conversations recently with leaders of two progressive pro-Israel organizations in the wake of the renewed terror attacks in Israel. Because I believe in their love for Israel, the conversations made me reflect on how the two ideological camps—the right and the left—love Israel differently.
A crucial difference is that the left tends to look inward when assigning responsibility, while the right tends to looks at external forces.
When the left, for example, talks about making peace with the Palestinians, it focuses on what Israel does or fails to do. They will acknowledge the destructive actions of the other side—such as terrorism and teaching Jew-hatred—but, by and large, the responsibility is on Israel.
The right, on the other hand, treats things like Jew-hatred, rejectionism and the glorification of terrorism as the decisive factors that make any talk of peace moot. Even when the right acknowledges Palestinian rights, the focus remains on the belief that Israel doesn’t have a partner for peace, and until it does, the pressure must be placed on the Palestinian leadership.
Both camps claim the moral high ground: The left asserts the Jewish values of taking responsibility and pursuing peace and justice. The right asserts the supreme Jewish value of protecting life in the face of bloodthirsty and genocidal enemies.
Beyond the conflict with the Palestinians, the differences continue inside Israel. The left focuses on Israel failing in its responsibility to bring equality and justice to all citizens, while the right focuses on what Israel is doing right under very difficult circumstances.
Take the recent terror attacks. Some of the perpetrators were Arabs enjoying the rights of any Israeli to roam freely in a democratic and open society. At such moments, the right has little patience with the traditional leftist complaints about more rights and equality for the Arab minority.
While the left condemns the terror attacks, it remains undeterred in its search for peace and the creation of a more just society. Often, the left will cite the violence itself as a reason to double down on the need for conflict resolution and equality.
What further exacerbates the division is that the camps generally stick to their own. Time becomes the enemy: The more you only hang out with like-minded people, the more likely you are to demonize the other side.
Yet another factor is body language. When the left explains its relentless criticism of Israel as “tough love,” what the right often sees is “love tough.”
“Love tough” is when you start by showing some understanding—“Israel faces dangerous enemies,” “Israel offers plenty of rights to its Arab citizens,” etc., but then you add a “but” to deliver your real message: criticizing Israel. The right believes that tough love should end with the love.
Can the left and right do things differently to reduce animosity and mistrust? Perhaps.
The left can do a better job of expressing its love for Israel, without taking for granted that people will always feel that love. The left can also better recognize the harsh realities that limit Israel’s ability to create the left’s ideal society.
The right can better recognize that the left wants the best for Israel, even if sometimes they have to squint their eyes to see it.
Take the complex issue of the two-state solution. The left’s belief that separating from the Palestinians will secure a Jewish and democratic future for Israel is perfectly legitimate. The problem, for many on the right, is that it’s also a delusional pipe dream. The only way to narrow that gap is for each side to make a greater effort to understand the other side’s argument.
A good example of this approach is Israel’s improbable unity coalition, which has governed the country for the past year. Rivals from across the political spectrum, including an Arab Islamist party, got together and realized that despite all their differences, they shared plenty in common. Yes, they first united over their common opposition to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but then got down to business and accomplished some real things for all Israelis.
Similarly, Israel supporters don’t have to love Israel the same way, but we each can have, as Rabbi David Hartman once said, “a heart with many rooms.” As we celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday, that wouldn’t be a bad birthday present for the world’s only Jewish state.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate