The American political sphere is more polarized than ever – and the discourse around Israel is no exception.
The issue has recently become a popular talking point on both the far-left and the far-right, while centrists of both parties are pushed to the sidelines. While the far-left cries of a non-existent, Israeli-committed genocide (see Aljazeera’s “Moderate or zealot on Israel: No Real difference), the far-right portrays Palestinians as a backwards people undeserving of statehood. Both sides hold and promote extreme views, leaving no room for the middle path I – and other American Jews – wish to walk.
On one hand, the American political right undoubtedly demonizes the Palestinian state – and Muslims as a whole. In doing so, they both alienate liberal Jews and electorally attract the swarms of Americans who hold anti-Muslim views. Israel is also not fully innocent or unflawed. Settlements, for example, regardless of their potential (il)legality, are unethical and should not be pursued. There is no reason for the Israeli state to antagonize the Palestinian people in this manner. To paint Israel as perfect with Islam as its enemy is problematic.
Yet, while the right’s assertions about Islam are undoubtedly false, the left makes equally obscene claims about the Jewish state. The American left, in its anti-Israel fervor, has bent over backwards to align Palestine with liberal values. Although Israel is currently governed conservatively, the nation as a whole is socially progressive in a way no Muslim or Arab countries have arguably emulated.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern democracy and the only state in the region where women and LGBT people, among others, have such a degree of equality. Israel, with Golda Meir, was the third country in the world to have a female leader. In 2010, women made up 18 percent of the nation’s parliament. Although that number seems low, female representation in the U.S. Congress only hovers around 20 percent. For reference, female political representation in the Arab world is only 4.8 percent.
While LGBT Israelis are allowed to adopt and serve in the military, homosexuality is illegal in the Gaza Strip. (Homosexuality is officially legal in the West Bank, although the territory offers no discrimination protections.) Over 100 Palestinian gays have fled to Israel as a result of discrimination and hostility. Speaking anonymously to Vice, a gay Palestinian man, first name Saif, stated that “local Palestinian Authority police are aware and keep files on him and other other homosexuals, blackmailing them into working as spies and informants.”
Millennial liberals often misunderstand the concept of liberalism and what it stands for. We believe in human rights, equality, and respect for diversity. But somehow respect for diversity has turned into defending even cultures that trample upon the rights of groups we claim to protect. There are therefore few things more frustrating than watching well-meaning, Democratic-voting millennials complain on social media about Israel’s supposed human rights violations while painting Palestine as an inherently pure progressive cause.Ultimately, the middle path means fighting on two fronts. Defending Israel to clueless liberals is exhausting. Defending Islam to equally clueless conservatives is similarly tiring. Although I believe in a two-state solution, this doesn’t mean I have to give Palestinian values and policies a blanket endorsement. Similarly, although I believe in Israel’s liberalism and its right to exist and not capitulate in negotiations, I do not see the nation as sin-free.
I expect nothing less than for liberals to deem Israel as the true oppressor, while conservatives paint all Muslims with a broad brush. But the breadth of that divide has real consequences. For example, polarization and a misunderstanding of this conflict on both sides has culminated in Donald Trump’s recent abandonment of U.S. policy on Palestinian statehood.
America needs a middle ground in which Americans can acknowledge the flaws of both sides without accepting Islamophobia or ignoring Palestinian human rights abuses. We need to allow for a political position that acknowledges two difficult truths: Israel is a flawed democracy – in which women, LGBT people, and others are well treated while ethnic minorities need defending – and Palestine is illiberal, undemocratic, and in need of much deeper reforms.
This middle ground – which currently doesn’t exist in American discourse – is the only rational path forward. Although I expect today’s political polarization and extremism to continue, I can idealistically hope that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum will educate themselves and be ready to listen to centrist voices when we inevitably take on this conflict.
Charles Dunst is a pursuing a degree in World Politics at Hamilton College, where he will graduate in 2018. His work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Hill, and Paste Magazine, among others.