In a recent column, Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward, argued that Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech to the Knesset on Monday is evidence of an attempt by Republicans to “redefine what it means to be pro-Israel.” According to Eisner, Pence put forward a pro-Israel vision grounded in religion and the Bible that cannot win the sympathy of secular Democrats who believe the primary role of the U.S. in its relationship with the Jewish state is to upbraid it for its failings; furthermore, claimed Eisner, Pence’s words would have even alienated Israel’s founders. Jonathan Tobin disagrees:
[Eisner is] wrong about Democrats and liberals being unable to identify with Pence’s language. That would be a surprise to former President Bill Clinton, who often spoke of the way his religious background compelled him to support Israel. The same is true of other liberal Democrats who, whatever their differences with Pence about fiscal or social issues, share his ideas about America’s biblical heritage and the moral imperative for backing a Jewish state.
But Eisner’s lack of perspective isn’t confined only to Americans. She’s just as wrong about Israel’s founders, whom she claimed wouldn’t care for their achievement to be praised by Christian Bible-thumpers. But as much as those socialists didn’t share the faith of evangelicals, they did have an equal appreciation of the Bible. According to David Ben-Gurion, the Bible was the founding document of Jewish statehood and its history. He and other Labor Zionists were largely irreligious, but they wanted Israelis to be knowledgeable skeptics about the Bible, not its opponents or disconnected from it. And, unlike contemporary liberals, they were smart enough to know that the Jewish people needed to embrace its friends wherever they could find them. The contempt for Christian conservative defenders of Israel often heard these days on the left would have appalled them, not Pence’s emotional embrace of Zionism.
The Forward editor is also wrong about the definition of friendship. . . . [T]he problem with many on the left is that . . . they have come to believe that the only way to express friendship for Israel is to attack its government. . . . [T]he notion that it is the U.S. government’s duty to override the judgment of Israel’s voters and, in effect, to save Israel from itself is neither respectful nor particularly friendly. . . .
Trump, Pence, and their evangelical supporters haven’t redefined the term “pro-Israel” in an effort to exclude liberals. The opposite is true. Liberals have sought to change [the term’s] meaning in order to justify support for policies that undermine Israel’s self-determination and to delegitimize the Jewish state’s conservative friends.
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