I am a staunch progressive, and it is precisely because of my progressive values that I — the son of Jewish Iranian immigrants — can simultaneously support Israel’s existence and status as the only Jewish state, while zealously advocating for Palestinians’ righteous entitlement to statehood and an end to the unruly occupation.
As progressives, we take pride in championing a more inclusive, just society — one in which we endeavor to empathize with burdens we haven’t bared. We labor to make space at tables for those who come empty-handed. Yet we become our own worst enemies when we practice what we oppose.
That is why I found the Progressive Delegate Network’s endorsement questionnaire for California Democratic Party delegate candidates disillusioning.
Regrettably, PDN’s questions attempted to uplift one group, Palestinians (as we should!), while shunning another — Jews who support statehood for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The message sent is that membership to the club is contingent on pledging to not endorse candidates who support anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) legislation or who are opposed to the “right of return.” Not on whether I support two states for two peoples (I vehemently do). Not on whether I support Medicare for all (I do). Not on whether I support the Green New Deal (I do).
And by devoting two out of five of its questions to Israel, the PDN is also sending the message that recruiting candidates who support BDS and the “right of return” — and, thus, crippling Israel’s existence — is somehow more pressing than the handful of crises currently crushing Californians and Americans writ large: the pandemic, the economy, rampant racial injustice, climate, homelessness, etc.
I try to see things from other peoples’ perspectives. I understand why some progressives support BDS, albeit misguidedly: It projects this humble, grassroots, social justice image that claims to engage in peaceful resistance like leaders of the civil rights movement to merely spotlight the plight of the Palestinians.
BDS is not that. There is more to their manicured image. But don’t just take my word for it. BDS co- founder Omar Barghouti is on record stating he doesn’t even support the existence of a Jewish state whatsoever (in other words, ethnic cleansing), and some of BDS’ leadership traffics in undisguised antisemitism.
Ironically, BDS has the contrary effect, perhaps deliberately, since you can’t achieve peace if you refuse to even acknowledge the other side’s right to exist. Its anti-Israel campaign only diverts attention and investments away from the Palestinians who so desperately need it.
Public pressure and justified criticism of Israel vis-a-vis Palestinians is absolutely necessary and proper to spur the Israeli government to course correct. I will proudly join that chorus, and I have done so. And it goes without saying: Peoples’ ability to criticize the Israeli government should not be undermined, nor should good faith protestors modulate their views to pacify the hypersensitive.
We all want an end to the conflict, but there are certain lines that cannot be crossed on the road to get there. At the bare minimum, we should not embrace organizations that demonize and discriminate — be it against Jews, Palestinians or otherwise. It is not a zero-sum game. We can highlight hardships without glorifying bigotry masquerading as advocacy.
As for the “right of return,” I sympathize with Palestinian refugees’ painful experience. That is why, among a host of reasons, Palestinian statehood is a moral imperative — so that Palestinian refugees and their descendants can return home, in their future state of Palestine. Otherwise, what would become of Israel’s status as the singular true Jewish sanctuary — the reason for its inception?
Let Mr. Barghouti himself clarify: “If the refugees were to return, you would not have a two-state solution, you’d have a Palestine next to a Palestine.” It also begs the question, if we’re truly being sincere about all refugees’ right of return, what about my fellow Mizrachi Jews who were driven out of their home countries not by circumstances of war, but by naked antisemitism? My family? Can they return to Iran?
So in addition to hearing other perspectives, including those of my Palestinian brothers and sisters who have long been dismissed, I encourage fellow progressives to see things from our perspective.
It would be perverse for us — a historically persecuted people, in foreign country after foreign country — to support our own demonization and the destabilization of our ancestral, spiritual homeland.
I also implore fellow progressives to listen to Zionist Jews tell them what Zionism means to them, rather than credulously adopting and propagating a definition that bad-faith actors have projected onto that term in order to manipulate into a pejorative.
Zionism has historically meant the manifestation of the Jewish peoples’ right to national self-determination in a state of their own in their biblical homeland alongside of — not at the expense of — a Palestinian state. It only seeks what other peoples — including the 20-plus nations that have Islam as their official religion, and the more than 10 nations with Christianity as their official religion — have sought, and subsequently obtained.
Nothing less, nothing more.
Let’s be clear: Though we say “Jewish state,” that by no means insinuates Jewish supremacy or theocracy. Jewish, but equally sacrosanct for Muslims and Christians.
Most importantly, we must disabuse ourselves of this false dichotomy that supporting Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state means that we cannot, simultaneously, advocate for a Palestinian state. We can, and we should, do both. It’s critical we approach this sensitive issue with the nuance and empathy that it desperately deserves.
I plan on sincerely listening to other perspectives. I hope others will join me in that endeavor.