I am a knee-jerk liberal. I am in favor of reproductive rights, universal health care, gun control, protecting the environment, the decriminalization of marijuana, consumer protectionism, gay marriage, immigration, a livable minimum wage, sanctuary cities, civil and equal rights.
I am against the Wall, the deregulation of the banks, defunding Planned Parenthood, the death penalty, the privatization of schools and prisons. I believe that black lives matter, too. You name a liberal or progressive cause, and I’m almost certain to be in favor of it. Like every good knee-jerk liberal, my inclinations are with the underdog, David over Goliath.
I am also an ardent Zionist. I believe the Jewish people have the right to a homeland and that homeland is the modern State of Israel. That doesn’t mean I agree with every policy of the Israeli government, but I support Israel in its struggle for existence.
Before March 26, 1979, it was much easier to be both a knee-jerk liberal and an ardent Zionist because Israel was the underdog. It was little Israel (David) against the vast and powerful Arab world (Goliath). All of that changed when Israel signed its peace treaty with Egypt on March 26, 1979. Since then, Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David.
Some knee-jerk liberals who were ardent Zionists before March 26, 1979 stayed true to their Zionism and became less liberal. That partially explains the increase in the number of Jewish Republicans over the last few decades. Others stayed true to their liberalism and became less Zionistic.
But there are still some of us who have struggled to stay true to both our liberalism and our Zionism. And, frankly, it hasn’t been easy.
To the ardent Zionist in me, they are housing projects in liberated Judea and Samaria. To the knee-jerk liberal in me, they are illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
To the ardent Zionist in me, Israel withdrew its army and forcibly evacuated Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. To the knee-jerk liberal in me, Gaza is still effectively if not physically occupied (by Israel and Egypt).
To the ardent Zionist in me, Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people. To the knee-jerk liberal in me, East Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian Arab country or at least maintained as an international city.
To the ardent Zionist in me, the Law of Return is what Zionism is all about. To the knee-jerk liberal in me, it is a discriminatory policy.
The latest challenge for liberal Zionists is the growing alliance between traditional liberal groups whose core issues have nothing to do with the Mideast crisis and anti-Zionists. Anti-Zionists have done a masterful job co-opting many of my fellow knee-jerk liberals.
As a knee-jerk liberal, I am no fan of conservative political adviser Frank Luntz, the coiner of the term “death tax.” But as an ardent Zionist, I have a newfound appreciation for Luntz, who explained to a crowd at a recent ZOA event that the way to counter the BDS movement is to talk the language of liberals.
Don’t call BDS supporters anti-Semites. Many of them are just my fellow knee-jerk liberals who need to be educated about Israel being the only country in the Middle East that protects free speech and religious pluralism and ethnic pluralism and gay rights and women’s rights. With that information, maybe more of my fellow knee-jerk liberals will understand that knee-jerk liberalism and ardent Zionism are not incompatible after all. JN
Steve Mendelsohn is a patent attorney and a vice chair on the board of the ADL in Philadelphia.