I've been called "anti-Semitic" and a "right-wing Zionist," both on the same day. It's inaccurate, but it's a startling political reality. The debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become so polarized in recent decades that it has bought reasonable conversation to a stand-still. And it's time for it to stop.
In reality, I define myself as a Zionist Jew -- meaning nothing more than I support the right of Israel to exist -- who opposes the current Israeli leadership. Just as a Republican who viciously condemns President Obama should not be, and is not, labeled "anti-American," a person who opposes the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu is not "anti-Israel."
On the other side, it is not radical to support Israel's right to exist despite the violence and human rights violations they have arguably been responsible for. The U.S. is historically one of the most violent nations on earth, and notably the only country ever to drop a nuclear bomb -- would the same Zionist-bashers claim that the U.S. should therefore not have a right to exist?
I find myself in the middle of what has become a conversation dictated primarily by extremes. At a time when Congress can agree on absolutely nothing, setting records for the lowest amount of bills passed and the highest amount of filibusters, you still never hear them question one thing: support for Israel. The one U.S. policy that has remained stagnant for decades, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, is that Israel has always received its few billion dollars in aid every year.
It extends to all four corners of the country. Republicans and Democrats alike strongly support Israel, with 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively, holding favorable views of the country, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. I challenge you to find any other conceivable issue where Americans on both sides of the isle are in such strong agreement.
It's not hard to see how we got here. Organizations such as the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the Emergency Committee for Israel have effectively dictated the conversation surrounding Israel, as extremely well-funded groups with no serious competitors. As Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer write in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, "AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress."
And whenever one extremist group has so much power over the conversation, naturally extremism will rise on the other side in opposition. That is why we have gotten movements such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and why someone like me can be deemed radical for Zionist views.
This situation leaves us with two costly problems. First, it stifles reasonable dialogue. The two opposing sides are so far from one another on the ideological spectrum that they can scream and still not hear each other. Second, it makes people in the so-called center, such as myself, unrecognizable. Instead of those individuals being taken seriously, they are pushed by one side to the opposite extreme -- leftists thing I'm a right-winger and right-wingers thing I'm a leftist.
It's an enormous disaster, and it's time to break the impasse. Lives are being lost, rights are being denied, and all for no good reason. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved tomorrow, but not without an open, rational discussion.
Unfortunately, we are still at a place where "standing with Israel" means supporting its right to exist. Thus, we hear President Obama outline his policy as "standing steadfast with Israel," as he said at his recent State of the Union Address. But Israel is here to stay, and we need to become comfortable with questioning and criticizing Israel strictly on policy, without thousands of years of history and conflict hanging over every little word that's said.
I am not an anti-Semite or a radical, right-wing Zionist. I'm a grown-up willing to have a discussion, and I'm waiting for everyone else to catch up.