Let’s start with the human rights/peace camp, which often pays short shrift to advocating for Israel. It frequently argues that the only thing that would make any difference whatsoever in improving Israel’s international standing and combating delegitimization is reaching a peace agreement. Peter Beinart recently argued, for example, that “the only way to do that [stop delegitimization] is to prove that Israel is making a serious effort at ending the occupation.”
In writing off advocacy, human rights/peace supporters ignore the possibility that Palestinian leaders might not be willing to cut a peace deal and that a deal might not end the conflict. They place the entire burden of achieving peace on Israel and ignore abundant evidence of Palestinian intransigence. They also discount thoughtful pro-Israel advocacy, which time and again has, in fact, stopped boycotts and strengthened America’s connections to Israel.
For its part, the advocacy camp often downplays Israel’s very real internal threats. Fanatical right-wing Israelis, especially, want to turn the country into a modern monarchy in the entirety of the historic land of Israel. And, whether or not the traditional advocates admit it, absent a peace deal, there is both a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish majority and a political threat to its legitimacy.
Both camps fear the imagined consequences of acknowledging that the other camp might have a point. The human rights/peace groups worry that lending credence to advocacy gives the Israeli government a free pass on peace and human rights. The traditional advocates worry that calling attention to Israel’s internal problems gives ammunition to its adversaries. Both concerns have merit. And both are overblown.
Both camps underestimate the other. The traditional advocates often regard the human rights advocates as sellouts, and the human rights supporters often regard the traditional advocates as intellectual lightweights.
I can assure the traditional advocates that the human rights/peace supporters are much more committed to Israel — often desperately so — than you realize. They worry that the country is putting itself at risk by not taking steps for peace.
And I can assure the human rights/peace supporters that the traditional advocates are often much more well informed than you give them credit for. They’ve heard all your brilliant arguments, which they may not agree with.
David Bernstein, “Why Dueling Camps On Israel Need Each Other”, The Jewish Week (18 March 2016), 22.