I have been a liberal my entire life. Except for one time in the 1980s when I voted for Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives (or rather against the buffoonish John Turner) I've supported Canadian left-of-centre parties and candidates -- Liberal, NDP or Green for more than 25 years. In US politics, of which I am obsessed, I'm a Barack Obama guy, an Elizabeth Warren guy, a Bernie Sanders guy. Tea Party? Ted Cruz? John Boehner? Ew. Sarah Palin? Don't even...
On social issues, whatever you like goes as long as it doesn't hurt others or impinge on my basic rights and freedoms. Live gay, smoke pot, wear a burqa or go topless. It's your business, not mine. On economic issues, I'm liberal too -- I believe corporate bosses should earn more for their leadership and expertise but they currently grab too much for themselves and don't share enough with workers. I believe we pay a reasonable amount in taxes and we should all do more to protect the environment -- even if that costs us more. Ultimately, my moral compass on capitalism is guided by balance -- if I believed unions were out of control and their demands were hurting productivity and growth, I would back corporations. But that's nowhere near the case at the moment so I'm with the average joe.
Bottom line: I'm liberal. A left-of-centre, middle-of-the-road liberal.
But lately, on two related issues, I find myself too close for my comfort with conservatives and at loggerheads with those I consider my political and philosophical brothers and sisters. Those two issues are Israel and the crisis in the Muslim world.
Like a broken record, I have made it crystal clear I oppose Israel's continued military occupation of the West Bank and the Israeli settlements built there. Israel should withdraw from the West Bank as it did from Gaza seven years ago and its borders should roughly match the 1948 armistice lines (a.k.a. the 1967 borders). I think Israel needs new leadership that is serious about making peace with Palestine and moderate leaders like Mahmoud Abbas or Salam Fayyad, based on a two-state solution, some shared arrangement on Jerusalem and mutual recognition of each state's legitimacy. I believe Israel should make peace with Fatah in the West Bank even if that leaves an uncompromising and militant Hamas on the sidelines in Gaza. But I believe that while Palestinians may have a right to return to a Palestinian state, they have no right to return to what is legitimate Israeli territory. Israel is open to all faiths and ethnicities, but it is first and foremost a state and safe haven for Jews. Russians, Germans, Ethiopians, Egyptians and Japanese have states. So too must Jews and I make no apology for this. The recent and continued wave of anti-Semitic attacks by mostly Muslim extremists against Jews, synagogues and businesses all over Europe only underscores the importance of there being a homeland for Jews.
That said, all summer I found myself having to defend Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks and threats of tunnel attacks -- a right that isn't questioned for any other country on earth. What surprised and disappointed me most is that the most vocal critics of Israel's defensive actions were friends of mine with whom I agree on most other issues. The gist of their arguments seemed to consistently be "Hamas rockets aren't really killing anyone, so Israel's attacks against Gaza are disproportionate, illegitimate and genocidal" and/or "while Hamas shouldn't be hurling rockets or putting their own civilians in harm's way, they really have no other recourse to stop Israel's brutal occupation, so its actions are justified -- but Israel's actions to stop them are war crimes."
The weeks of heated debates on Facebook, frankly, left me exhausted and depressed. While I hated what Israel was doing, I felt it was entirely justified given the circumstances. You don't fix the wiring while your house is burning, you put out the fire first and address the causes after. Besides, I found my liberal friends to be entirely hypocritical in the way they condemned Israel -- a progressive democracy with challenges but progressive nonetheless -- but gave a Get Out of Jail Free card to Hamas, an Islamofascist organization that oppresses and endangers its own people and openly calls for the murder of Jews everywhere -- the very definition of genocide.
Even worse, I was told by a friend that my position in support of a two-state solution was no longer the moderate or liberal one. What now masquerades as the liberal position? Apparently a one-state solution where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians live in one country from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, a state in which Jews would once again become a minority. My friend and others appear eager to give Muslim Arabs another opportunity to show how respectful they can be of minorities -- after such a stellar record of success in all other 21 Muslim Arab countries.
How did it come to this? How could people who fight for equality for women, for gays, for workers, for ethnic and religious minorities, oppose a socially progressive democratic state that's elected a female prime minister, recognizes gay marriage and is home to Jewish synagogues, Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Baha'i temples, and side with a regime whose ideology is better suited to the 15th century, not the 21st?
I was not alone in my disappointment. Two liberals I greatly respect -- Bill Maher and Sam Harris -- were nearly exactly where I was. Yes, Israeli policies had to change but when push came to shove, liberals ought to be standing up for the country and society that shares their values.
"[I]n defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies. Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done."
This, it seemed to me, was the truly liberal democratic point of view. Not the one that sides with despots and extremists, seemingly to prove a point.
Even before the Gaza crisis this summer, there have been signs of this misguided left-wing behavior. Activists in front of a Toronto bookstore (presumably because it's owned by a Jew) calling Israel an Apartheid state -- this while Gaza, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other Arab and Muslim countries persecute religious and ethnic minorities or forbid Jews from living there. Similarly, a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid tried for a number of years to walk in Toronto's Gay Pride parade in an attempt to shame the only state in the Middle East where these people could live openly as gays.
Which brings me to my other disagreement with my left-wing brothers: the pass they give extremists in the Muslim world. Over and over, I hear them tell me they are just as likely to criticize the intolerance and crimes of Muslim radicals as Israel's actions toward Palestinians. But it's simply not true, even if you accept the premise that people who hang gays and stone women and people who protect themselves from Hamas or Iranian attacks are equivalent. Where was the social media fury against the Assad regime's murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrians or the ongoing ISIS savagery in Iraq and Syria? Where were the protests at the United Nations or in front of embassies or hurling of rocks at mosques in response to the murder of Yazidi or Christians or beheadings of journalists? Where were the Facebook discussions calling for something to be done to end the torture or killing of gays in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran? In short, where are the accusations of genocide in the face of real genocide? Where are the calls of war crimes in the face of actual war crimes?
Instead, a friend referred to ISIS militants as "terrorists" -- his quotation marks -- as if ISIS wasn't the textbook definition of terror. And the same liberals who called for global action against Israel only a few short weeks before were now criticizing Barack Obama's meager bombing campaign to stop ISIS's slaughter. The message was clear: the world has no business interfering with Muslim extremists murdering Muslims and minorities but a global boycott against a democratic country for defending itself from slightly less extreme extremists than ISIS was entirely justified.
So, I find myself in a very strange place. A dyed-in-the-wool liberal standing arm in arm with conservatives on the issues of Israel and Muslim extremism. The fact is, however, I haven't abandoned by liberal values one bit. Rather, it's my liberal friends who have. They say it's not anti-Semitism and I'll take them at their word. But they appear so blinded by their disdain for the legitimacy and necessity of Jewish nationalism, and so fearful to appear politically incorrect in the face of religious extremist violence, that they are compromising their own core principles.
Israel-Palestine is a mess. The Middle East is a disaster. And people of goodwill must find a way to make things better. But at the end of the day, whether we are Muslim, Jew, Christian or atheist, liberal or conservative, we must take a stand -- against those whose goal is to take us backward and solidly with those whose progressive values we cherish.