As we head into this critical election year, it’s worth pausing for a moment as we begin to assess the candidates to ask ourselves a fundamental question: what makes a politician pro-Israel?
Too many candidates are happy to play the game the way they think we want them to play it. They check the AIPAC website on their smart phone on the way to the local synagogue and then memorize a few key talking points before they get out of the car. Then they praise the unique U.S.-Israel relationship, promise to move the embassy, and say vaguely menacing things about Hamas and Hezbollah. And then they’re gone, at least until they’re up for re-election.
It’s time we set a higher bar for what “pro-Israel” really means. Should it include support for sanctions against Iran? Military engagement in Syria? A detailed description of the boundaries of a two-state solution? It’s time we asked the more difficult and more specific follow-up questions, not to establish absolute litmus tests but to better understand how the men and women who want to represent us define their relationship with the Jewish community and homeland.
The ongoing struggle to achieve peace in the Middle East takes place on many fronts. It happens every day in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem, in Gaza and on the West Bank, in Washington and New York and Geneva. But that struggle takes place much closer to home as well. Threats to Israel’s safety and security emerge regularly in Berkeley and in Riverside, in Davis and in Irvine and in Westwood. And this is the arena in which our state political leaders can make a real difference.
On college campuses across California, the fight for Israel’s future has opened on a new front, forcing Jewish students and their allies to defend thinly veiled attacks that are anti-Zionist at best and anti-Semitic at worst. An international propaganda campaign works to deceive our next generation of leaders by pressuring them to support a morally inexcusable boycott against Israel and calling on university officials to withdraw their investments from companies that operate in West Bank territory.
The proponents of the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement have based their campaign on a fundamentally inaccurate premise. They assert that Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens, a peculiar charge against a nation that includes Arabs in its Cabinet, Supreme Court, Knesset, civil service and defense forces and whose robust free press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and human rights protections are virtually unique in the Middle East. Meanwhile, BDS leaders ignore horrendous civil and human rights violations in neighboring countries such as Syria, Iran, and Egypt, leading to the unavoidable conclusion that in their eyes, Israel’s transgression is not one of conduct but rather crimes of religion, heritage and existence.
Israel’s assailants know that the chances that California universities will divest their holdings are negligible. Their own materials (http://www.bdsmovement.net/files/2011/02/divestguide.pdf) make it clear that their objectives have less to do with policy than with propaganda. But BDS leaders understand that college campuses are an ideal environment in which to spread untruths about Israel and have adeptly used the debate over divestiture as a platform from which to mislead young Californians and attempt to turn them against a Jewish state.
In a battle for public opinion such as this, it becomes critically important for the state’s politicians to commit themselves to speak out – forcefully and regularly. Our political leaders must stand with the brave young men and women who defend Israel’s right to exist against an ongoing onslaught.
I will take that stand. I am currently running for the office of California Secretary of State, as an independent No Party Preference candidate who believes that California’s chief elections officer should not be a member of either political party. I believe that we can restore sanity to an out-of-control campaign fundraising arms race, expand voting opportunities and civics education and begin to rebuild the state’s political center. (www.4schnur.com)
But long before I was a candidate, I was a Jew. So I believe even more strongly in the safety and security of the state of Israel. I believe that the BDS movement represents a potentially catastrophic threat to peace in the Middle East. If elected, I will commit myself to protecting the rights and safety of Jewish and other pro-Israel students from the invective and hate speech that too often accompanies the divestiture argument. I will use the bully pulpit of a statewide office to bring public and media attention to the argument against BDS in order to ensure that their propaganda is met with accurate and truthful response.
That is the standard that I believe should exist for determining whether a candidate is a friend of Israel. I applaud the recent formation of the Jewish Legislative Caucus and promise to work with their members to develop a policy agenda that protects against the next rounds of divestiture efforts. I hope candidates of all partisan and ideological persuasions, for the office I seek and all others, will step up to meet this same standard. Our students – and our homeland – deserve no less.
Dan Schnur is on leave from his position as the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, where he serves as the faculty advisor of SC Students for Israel.