07/30/2014 09:18 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2014

Confessions of an 'Uncritical' Israel 'Booster'

Joseph Palermo's recent posting on the Gaza conflict called me "an uncritical booster of Israel." The redundancy is stylistically awkward - whoever heard of a critical booster? Palermo's rhetorical overkill is an obvious attempt to impeach my integrity and all other Israel supporters by association. Ultimately, the caricature says more about him and his rambling attack on Israel, than about me.

Calling me "an uncritical booster" suggests I am more propagandist than analyst, more cheerleader than thinker. It plays into stereotypes of pro-Israel types as monolithic and blind to any Israeli faults - an absurdity considering the many passionate debates constantly roiling the Zionist community. It legitimizes the delegitimization of Israel through a perverse reverse projection. While escalating every Israeli imperfection into proof that Israel should not exist, delegitimizers project their absolutist all-or-nothing attitudes onto Israel's supporters. Underlying this is an unfair singling out of Israel as a country on probation, acceptable only if it behaves well. The charge also reflects an anti-Zionist prejudice assuming that thinking people can only support Israel by bypassing logic.

Contrary to Palermo's caricature, I have publicly criticized Prime Minister Bibi Netanhyau for failing to lead boldly, charging him with acting like a Chicago ward heeler rather than a statesman. I have said that Israeli leaders should be driving the peace train rather than Barack Obama or John Kerry, tapping Israel's world-famous creativity to find solutions. I criticized anti-Arab violence long before the horrific revenge killing last month. I have criticized the chief rabbinate for being too rigid.

In short, just like a patriotic American criticizes the United States - while still loving it; just like a devoted wife criticizes her husband while still loving him; I criticize Israel - without questioning Israel's right to exist. To support Israel one need not mortgage one's soul or override one's critical faculties. In fact, democratic Israel invites thoughtful supporters, loving critics, ardent advocates for different solutions to the country's various problems.

During the first Gaza war, when I visited an Israel Air Force base, the pilots briefing us repeatedly used what they thought was a Hebrew word: "dilemmot." Even fighter pilots understood that life is complex, their country faces messy challenges, and their awkward situation of fighting an enemy cowering behind its own civilians imposes many dilemmas on Israelis fighting to defend themselves, their families, and their country's integrity.
Similarly, thoughtful critics struggling with Israeli "dilemmot," don't escalate from criticizing to delegitimizing, from questioning a policy or a leader to rejecting Israel's right to exist.

Yes, I am a Zionist who understands that although Judaism is a religion, the Jews also are a people with collective rights to build a nation in their traditional homeland, Israel. Yes, I support Israel's right to exist as a democratic Jewish State - aware that this Jewish peoplehood component enables that Jewish state to be a democracy not a theocracy. Yes, I am proud of the economic, social, political, and cultural miracle Israel has created under tough conditions over the last seven decades. And, contrary to claims that one must check one's liberalism at the door to be a Zionist, my Zionism reinforces my liberal beliefs in democracy, equality, mutuality. I respect Palestinian individual and national rights precisely because I cherish Jewish and American individual and national rights.

Nevertheless, I am sickened by Palestinians' Piranha nationalism, which keeps trying to destroy Israel through terrorism rather than building a Palestinian state through compromise. I reject Hamas's anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist charter calling for Israel's destruction. I condemn Hamas's decision to make Gaza a launching pad for rockets and a staging area for underground attacks via tunnels, rather than using Israel's withdrawal nine years ago to start building a constructive, functional Palestinian State. And yes, I blame fascistic, homophobic, sexist, illiberal, anti-democratic, Islamist Hamas for the current conflict. By the way, I accept Palermo's claim that Israel is fighting this war without any American-style pretense of offering "social uplift" to anyone else; but whereas he twists that into an anti-Israel criticism, I see it more clearly - Israel's fighting a war for survival.

If all this makes me an "uncritical booster," I will plead guilty as charged, provided we impose that same tendentious, misleading characterization on every American president, every American dissident, every nationalist who believes in a country's right to exist. Israel's supporters are not a special breed of fanatic, "uncritical boosters"; but a diverse lot of thoughtful patriots, confronting dilemmas while also affirming Jewish national dreams and Israel's fundamental rights.