President Isaac Herzog of Israel spoke to a cheering crowd of senators and congressmen on July 19, and delivered a moderate, centrist message of hope for peace in the Middle East. It was one of the best speeches ever made to Congress, for which he deservedly received numerous standing ovations.
But not every senator and congressman was present. A group of radical leftists, who misidentify themselves as “progressives,” boycotted Herzog because he is president of the nation-state of the Jewish people. It was not so much of a boycott against Herzog himself, who in 2015 unsuccessfully ran for prime minister of Israel on a center-left platform, as it was an attack on Israel itself as the legitimate nation-state of the Jewish people. It was not the current Israeli government that they were boycotting. It was the symbol of the entire nation of Israel.
Among the boycotters was the notorious antisemite Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose Jewish heritage cannot save him from the legitimate accusation of antisemitism. He flew to Britain to campaign for Jeremy Corbyn, another notorious antisemite, who thrived on Jew-bashing and Jew-hating. Sanders would have welcomed the leaders of Iran, China and Cuba, because he supports left-wing tyrannies. Back in the day, he probably would have been a Stalinist. Indeed, many of his views echo those of the former Soviet Union.
Sanders grew up in Brooklyn but he decided to go to the Soviet Union for his honeymoon, and then to a place where he could fight against racism. So he chose Vermont, which has among the fewest minorities among all of our states. From his isolated, if not segregated, distance from America’s real problems, he has long preached the message of “do as I say not as I do.” Despite his failings as a human being and as a politician, he continues to garner considerable support from among radical Democrats.
Others who led and/or joined the boycott included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman. These members of “the squad” are often mischaracterized by the media, including The New York Times, as “liberals.” Nothing could be further from the truth. True liberals believe in tolerance, open-mindedness, free speech, due process and racial equality. These anti-liberal radicals advocate intolerance, suppression of opposing views, denial of due process to their political enemies, and support of racial quotas.
Herzog refused to condemn those who boycotted him, thus showing what kind of tolerance the boycotters oppose. The core of this and other boycotts of Israel lies in deep-seated antisemitism, which is often disguised as anti-Zionism, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and even anti-Americanism. The contrast between Herzog’s message of hope and the boycotters’ message of hate was striking.
Many in the media highlighted a handful of boycotters as proof that Israel is losing support in Congress. The enthusiastic reception Herzog received from the overwhelming majority of legislators, however, points in the opposite direction. It is true that Israel is losing support among radical leftist Democrats, especially students who have been exposed to the propaganda of their hard-left professors and teachers, as well as of some elements of the media. But that knee-jerk, often ignorant, opposition to the only democracy in the Middle East is not reflected in today’s elected officials. Perhaps at some future time it will be, but in our ever-changing world, that is anything but a certainty.
Israel is far from perfect. As President Bill Clinton once told this author half-jokingly, “The problem with Israel is that it’s a democracy, damn it!” What he meant was that no one can dictate to the citizens of Israel who they should vote for. Sometimes, such as now, after being hit with thousands of rockets and terrorist attacks in just one year, 2022, the mood in Israel resulted, not surprisingly, in the election of some extreme right-wingers. That rightward swing is, at least in part, a reflection of growing frustration among ordinary Israelis over the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and to make the compromises essential to any realistic peace. This refusal, which goes back to the 1930s, strengthens the hand of those Israelis who are fearful that a Palestinian state will become a haven for terrorists who will be more proximate to the heart of Israel.
The right turn in Israel is also a reflection of changing demographics: increased birth rates among ultra-religious Jews and immigration from formerly communist countries that oppressed their citizens from the left.
The recent election of a right-wing government and the recent protests against its efforts to change the judiciary are reflections of true democracy at work. Democracy does not always guarantee desirable results. As Churchill put it, “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried.”
Israel will always retain its democratic character. As Herzog said: it is in Israel’s DNA. But the political results of Israel’s democratic processes will vary over time. Americans, whatever their political views, should support the concept of Israel as the legitimate nation-state of the Jewish people. They do not have to agree with all of its particular policies at any given time, just the way Americans support the concept of a democratic America while fundamentally disagreeing with some of its policies at any given time.
Herzog’s references to his father, a former president of Israel, and his grandfather, a Chief Rabbi of Ireland and then of Israel who had close relationships with President Harry Truman, testify to the long-term connection between our two democratic nations. Herzog’s hope, and that of most decent Americans, is for the strengthening of our mutually beneficial relationship. Americans should listen to Herzog, who loves America, rather than to Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and the other squad members who disdain their own nation and those strongly allied with it, as Israel proudly is.
Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.