Illiberal Support for Israel: Antithetical to Jewish Values and Israel’s Interests

Steve Bannon

by Lara Friedman

In the beginning, “pro-Israel” meant something clear and uncomplicated: supporting Israel’s miraculous establishment as the homeland of the Jewish people, on the heels of the horrors of the Holocaust, and defending Israel’s very right to exist and thrive, in the face of violent rejection of that young country by its neighbors.

After the 1967 War, the definition of “pro-Israel” began evolving. It gradually came to mean – for much of the American Jewish establishment – defending Israel from all criticism and pressure, even if this meant in effect supporting policies designed to cement Israeli control over the lands Israel conquered in 1967, and even if it meant turning a blind eye, especially in recent years, to an escalation in illiberal policies targeting Israeli civil society itself. And it came to mean demanding that American political leaders and elected officials adopt this same approach to “pro-Israel,” or risk finding themselves labeled “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.”

A direct line exists between this “pro-Israel” illiberal orthodoxy and the positioning of too many in the Jewish establishment today.

America is witnessing the dawning of a dangerous new political order, encompassing the President-elect, his top advisors and surrogates, and his vocal “alt-right” supporters. This new political order is unabashedly extremist and illiberal in coloration: anti-democratic, anti-immigrant, racist, Islamophobic, misogynist and often anti-Semitic – characteristics that are antithetical to Jewish values and to the safety and security of every vulnerable minority in the United States, including Jews.  In the face of this new political order, many Jewish establishment organizations and their leaders are remaining silent or standing up in support. Why? Because they believe this new political order is aligned (for its own reasons) with the same “pro-Israel” illiberal orthodoxy that they endorse.

Make no mistake: for too many in the right-wing Jewish establishment, “pro-Israel” has developed into an illiberal ideology in its own right. That ideology – sympathetic to a worldview that prioritizes land over peace, settlements over security, and permanent control of the West Bank over democratic norms – has more in common with American racists and proto-fascists than with Jewish or American values. There is little distance to travel, politically, from defending racist reactionaries in Israel and making common cause with their American equivalents.

Growing up in the post-Holocaust era, many of us are taught that Jews, in every country, are the canaries in the coal mine. We are taught that demanding zero tolerance for anti-Semitism is not just about what is good for the Jews. Rather, it is about never forgetting – and never allowing the world to forget – what anti-Semitism augurs. Likewise, we are taught that we must never stop fighting for all manner of civil rights, because coded into our DNA, as Jews, is the sure knowledge that if such rights are not protected for all, they are protected for none.

The credibility of a large part of the American Jewish establishment is now collapsing under the weight of these contradictions.  As synagogue congregations and rabbis across the country are struggling with how to respond to the hatred unleashed by the results of last week’s elections, too many Jewish organizations and leaders are choosing to ignore the lessons of thousands of years of Jewish history. In doing so, they are desecrating the memory of every Jew who has suffered at the hands of anti-Semites. They are betraying Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the Jewish values expressed within it. And they are complicit in the growth of a political movement that today endangers the safety and survival of vulnerable people – including Jews – everywhere.

The American Jewish and Israeli pro-peace Left – the embodiment of what it means to be genuinely “pro-Israel” – has long said that supporting Israel means opposing settlements and the occupation. Perhaps now people will begin to realize that this was never merely a slogan. Jewish values are incompatible with occupation. Defending human rights and civil rights is incompatible with normalizing settlements. Supporting civil liberties is incompatible with delegitimizing non-violent activism against Israeli policies.

And as we are witnessing today, compromising core Jewish values in order to absolve Israel of responsibility for bad policies comes at a high cost, both for Israel and for American Jews.

Most American Jews see the truth. That is why polls consistently show that most American Jews don’t support settlements and the occupation, just as most American Jews are no doubt appalled by the new political order taking shape and are outraged at the positioning of some Jewish leaders today.

To be clear: some Jewish leaders, from across the spectrum of Jewish organizations holding different political views and carrying different missions, have taken a stand against this new political order. For this they deserve credit and support. But nobody in the Jewish establishment can be permitted to make common cause, in all of our names and for the sake of a vision of Israel’s future that we reject, with the enemies of everything we hold dear. We must fight for our Jewish and American values and apply them consistently, both with the respect to what is happening in the United States and what is happening in Israel. The silence of too many in the right-wing Jewish establishment today underscores how, for American Jews, the two are inextricably linked.

Reprinted, with permission, from The Times of Israel. Photo: Trump advisor Steve Bannon

Lara Friedman

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew.



  1. I really wonder what the reasonable and peaceful US Jews like Lara think of the completely fawning and even vicious (for Palestine) statements and actions of Hillary Clinton right up to the recent election.

  2. An excellent analysis, and one with which many liberal Jews and non-Jews can wholeheartedly agree. Extremism is wrong whether it is advocated by the Jews, the Muslims or the Christians. Violence is wrong no matter who exercises it. Surely after the unbelievable tragedy of the Holocaust, the Jews have an eminent right to protection and to a place that they can call home. Unfortunately, the establishment of the state of Israel came about at the cost of the Palestinians who had lived in those lands for hundreds of years. It should not be too difficult for decent Jews to have a feeling of sympathy for the “catastrophe” that befell the Palestinians and a condition of statelessness and occupation under which they have been living ever since. Surely, the solution is not to satisfy the maximalist views of either side, but to learn to share a land that has been home to both communities and that is dear to both. Those who oppose this vision will only prolong the suffering of both communities and may even drag the world into more unnecessary wars.

  3. Illiberal support for Israel may indeed be antithetical to Jewish values, but any and all flavours of support are declared by the Israeli political class as in keeping with Israeli values — and moreover, that Israeli values are identical with America’s.

    It is often said that America suffers from EDD — Enemy Deficit Disorder — yet with friends like Israel, who needs enemies?

  4. I don’t quite understand what “jewish values” are. Are they humanistic/liberal values that were developed in the West? If so there is nothing jewish about them. They are universal values cherished by every enlightened person in the world regardless of the religion.
    In addition, I don’t understand the phrase “miraculous establishment of Israel. What was miraculous about it. A country had the material help of the entire western world materially and politically, needed not miracle for its establishment. And given all the tremendous help that the western governments and jewish diaspora has showered it with, it has little to show for it .

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