At the time of my visit, I was a recovering ultraleftist who was open and generally sympathetic to the issues of Palestinians. But what is seared in my mind is the experience of sitting with a young woman during a lunchtime visit to a kibbutz near the Syrian border. On her lap sat her 3-year-old son and an automatic rifle was casually slung over her shoulder.
After a bit of polite chitchat, I asked her, "How are you going to be able to guarantee your son's future with that weapon?"
She said guns could never do that. "Only a true and lasting peace with our neighbors can insure my child's future" the woman told me.
I was thinking about that young Israeli as I watched rockets slam into Israel's cities over the past few weeks.
Israel is getting lots of bad press these days. Easily influenced reporters from the BBC to CNN have made the argument -- in one way or another -- that this tiny Jewish state responded "disproportionately" to attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah -- raids that killed Israeli soldiers and kidnapped others.
Parroting Hezbollah spokesmen, Israel's Western opponents tell us that Israel has targeted civilians and United Nations personnel intentionally. This charge mimics the age-old anti-Semitic slur of Jewish blood lust, since those making this charge are hard pressed to explain how indiscriminately killing Arab civilians would serve Israel's interests.
War is always a nasty affair -- in this case complicated by terrorist operations that intentionally launch missiles from crowded urban neighborhoods, where innocent Lebanese civilians live. In other words, Iran-sponsored Hezbollah fighters cynically know that their actions will draw an immediate and deadly response, a reply that may mean death for innocent Lebanese civilians near the launch site. The resultant photos of death and destruction provide an all-important public relations advantage among willing Western media sources, as well as for the Al Jazeera network.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz points out that in various wars with enemy forces, Israel has killed far fewer civilians in proportion to the number of its own civilians than any country engaged in a comparable war. Yet, Israel is cited by the merlot-sipping set as the prime example of human rights violations.
Arguments of this kind are made with vigor and conviction in places like France and in the capitals of other European Union countries, where anti-Semitism is rampant, but are made, as well, by many here at home. It is part of a larger and disturbing pattern.
In a recent open letter, Noam Chomsky, the high priest of America's crypto-Marxists, argues that Israel is at fault for the current warfare and that the kidnapping of Israeli military personnel should not have been the cause of a war of this intensity (the overreaction argument) since Israel supposedly holds "approximately 10,000 [Palestinians] in Israeli jails." According to this view, all Palestinians held in Israeli jails, whatever the number, are innocent victims of the Jewish state -- therefore judged by Chomsky and his ilk to be "political prisoners."
On the heels of this, top human rights officials at the United Nations have said that Israel's bombing in Lebanon "might constitute war crimes," while generally avoiding comment on the indiscriminate shelling of cities in northern Israel by Hezbollah rocket fire -- intended only to kill and maim Jewish civilians.
Some argue that the views of America's hard left are marginal, and others see the United Nations as the emperor with no clothes. However, there is an undeniable influence here that cannot be disregarded. Chomsky -- along with Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible -- is one of the 10 most-quoted sources in the humanities, and despite ongoing scandals, the United Nations remains to be considered by many Americans to be a voice for peace.
The United Nation's unsavory role in places like the Congo, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Iraq remains unknown by many, although evidence from these places tells us that the United Nations may well be the world's prime example of corruption, conciliation of dictatorships and moral timidity.
Giving new meaning to the word chutzpah, the United Nations has singled out the State of Israel for human rights condemnations more than any other nation in the world. This is more than a bit odd -- since the world includes nations such as North Korea, Sudan and Cuba, among a host of others that ignore the concept of human rights.
Since 2000 in the United States, there has been an active and organized campaign by the radical left to promote divestment of city government, university, church and other investment portfolios from Israel and the companies that do business with that nation. The idea is to punish Israel for its policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- claimed to be oppressive and racist. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been embroiled in its own internally controversial plan since 2004 to "divest from Israel" -- all the while declaring uncritical "solidarity with Palestinian liberation."
And if all of this were not enough to test one's patience, the Southern California chapter of the ACLU has decided to honor Salam Al-Marayati with its Religious Freedom Award at the group's upcoming garden party.
Just this past week, Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, condemned the president for referring to "Islamo-fascism"; previously he had admonished journalists to "cease the use of Islamic terminology to explain this very clear political narrative" (referring to terrorist acts). He recently opined in the Los Angeles times that Hezbollah "is not just an army" and should be understood as a "massive political party and social welfare network."
Terrorism with a smile? For this brand of "tolerant" thinking he gets a religious freedom award.
Obviously, it is not just leftists and Muslim or Arab American advocacy groups that blame Jews for almost everything. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, Iraq's parliament speaker, recently accused Jews of financing acts of violence in Iraq. He said, "These acts [random killing and kidnappings] are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew."
This kind of high-level bigotry raises questions about the future of Iraqi democracy and should -- if Sept. 11 didn't adequately do that -- raise our antenna to the deadly serious nature of the international struggle against radical Islamism. The warfare in the Mideast reverberates close to home.
Is this simply Israel's war to win or lose?
As William Kristol has pointed out, "Better to say that what's under attack is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States." Israel can't afford to lose this conflict, nor can we. Here at home, those who chip away at American's resolve to support Israel are chipping away at our own freedoms.
Joe R. Hicks is a social critic, the vice president of Community Advocate. Inc. and a talk radio host in Los Angeles.