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Lara Friedman Headshot

The 3 Monkeys of the "Pro-Israel" Right

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Partisans of the hardline "Israel, right or wrong" crowd are overflowing with righteous indignation over comments made in recent days by three Obama Administration officials (see here, here, and here, for example). They are outraged over comments by Secretary of State Clinton -- a staunch defender of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship -- in which she expressed concern about the degenerating status of women in Israel and the anti-democratic trend in the Israeli Knesset. They are dismayed by a speech delivered by Secretary of Defense Panetta -- a longtime central player at the CIA and the Pentagon in U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation -- in which he urged Israel to "reach out and mend fences" with some countries in the region, and called on both sides to "get to the damn table." And they are apoplectic over remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman -- an American Jew whose father spent World War II in Europe hiding from the Nazis -- suggesting that there is a linkage between Israeli policies and the growth of anti-Semitism.

How dare these officials say such things about Israel?

Maybe the answer is this simple: they dare because they care. And because they know that caring about Israel means speaking some hard truths -- not to hurt Israel but to save it.

Hard truths like this: the position of women in Israel today is under assault.

Don't like hearing this from Clinton? Then read instead in the pro-Netanyahu paper Israel Hayom about the increasing attacks on the status of women. Or in Arutz Sheva -- the Israeli far-right's media outlet -- about a new bill being introduced in the Knesset to permit religious soldiers to refuse to be present when a woman is singing -- a position supported by Israel's chief rabbis. Or read in Haaretz about Israel's own "Taliban Women," or about how the number of gender-segregated schools in Israel has tripled during the past decade. Or read in the Forward about how women are increasingly being barred from funerals.

Or this hard truth: democracy and many democratic values -- including free speech and the right to protest -- are under assault.

Don't like hearing this from Clinton? Then read what the ADL's Abe Foxman had to say: "When...laws are passed that stifle free expression, seek to undermine the independence of the judiciary and, in the name of defending a Jewish state, seek to undermine the rights of Arabs and other minorities, then the very democratic character of the state is being eroded." Read about how Netanyahu own government's press advisor resigned over threats to freedom of the press; how Israeli President Shimon Peres said that anti-democratic initiatives "deviate from the basis of democracy"; how Likud MK Dan Meridor threatened to resign from the government over anti-democratic bills; how Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin (Likud) slammed these same anti-democratic initiatives; or how, speaking about one of these laws, Likud stalwart Benny Begin said: "Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Uzbekistan - these are countries that have similar laws to this one. What kind of society are we living in? This law will have consequences on Israel's standing in the world." Or read the piece from the Editorial Board of the not-at-all-lefty Washington Post warning against the muffling of free speech in Israel.

Or this hard truth: the policies of the current Israeli government send a message that it is not interested in peace, and this message has costs for the U.S. and for Israeli interests.

Don't like hearing that implied -- even gently -- by Panetta? Then you can hear it from longtime friends of Israel like former senior Pentagon official Dov Zakheim: "...if you want to keep Israel's most likely closest allies in the region, which are the GCC monarchies, plus Jordan and Morocco, if you want to keep them in the fold -- and by the way, those are the ones that worry the most about Iran -- don't make their lives more difficult. Don't guarantee that they would be overthrown." Or you can read the words of CENTCOM Commander General James Mattis, or the previous CENTCOM Commander, General Petreaus, or the previous Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Or finally, this particularly painful truth: there is a clear and demonstrated linkage between Israeli policies and growing anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment in the world.

Don't like hearing it from the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium? Then try reading the annual report on "Antisemitism Worldwide" from Tel Aviv University's Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, whose 2009 report stated "The year in the wake of Operation Cast Lead was the worst since monitoring of antisemitic manifestations began two decades ago...." The 2010 report states unequivocally: "... 2009 was an extraordinary year in terms of numbers of antisemitic incidents, primarily due to Operation Cast Lead, Israel's war in Gaza, which especially in the first months of the year provoked unprecedented anti-Jewish activity worldwide..." And as the founder and former head of that institute, Dr. Dina Porat, noted in an interview earlier this year, "When there are military operations like Cast Lead against Hamas, or the second Lebanon war, we definitely see an increase in hate crimes against Jews."

All of these hard truths are today undeniable. And perhaps that is the real root of the current hysteria -- a desperate effort by the "see no problems in Israel, hear no criticisms of Israel, speak no hard truths about Israel" crowd to re-assert control over the public discourse.

But there aren't enough monkeys or hands to cover all the mouths that today are speaking this truth, or to cover all the eyes and ears that are hearing and seeing it. Which is good news for all who truly care about Israel and who today recognize that we are in the fight for Israel's soul as a democracy and a Jewish state animated by progressive Jewish values.