This past weekend, around 40 Penn students joined nearly 4000 campus activists from across the country at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee annual Policy Conference in Washington D.C.
Nearly 20,000 people attended the conference, including more than two-thirds of Congress and 283 student government presidents from all 50 states. Democrats who spoke included Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Republicans who spoke included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Mike Pence. These are only a few of the leaders from both parties who came to express bipartisan support for Israel.
Just as congressional leaders support Israel across party lines, Penn students of all political affiliations should be able to do the same.
Israel’s values are American values. In Israel, minorities such as Arabs have full rights, hold seats in Israel’s parliament and even serve on the Israeli Supreme Court. Women have equal rights and Israel’s first woman prime minister was elected in 1969. Democratic elections are free and fair, and transfers of power are peaceful. LGBTQ rights in Israel are the most advanced in the Middle East, and among the most advanced in Asia. It is hard to say any of these things about Israel’s neighbors.
For the United States to support a democratic and liberal country in a region such as the Middle East is not controversial. And in an age of frustrating political polarization, it is encouraging that support of the U.S.-Israel relationship is the one issue that unites people of all ideologies. It already unites many of us on campus, too.
Take the Penn-Israel Public Affairs Committee Leadership Statement, for example. On what other subject will you see the presidents of both Penn Democrats and College Republicans in support? On what other issue will you find student government leaders of all political stripes coming together? And on what other topic will you find signatures from both Pennsylvania U.S. Senators, as well as multiple PA state senators?
Support for Israel transcends politics.
And with Penn’s Israel Cultural Committee putting on Israel Week from March 30 through April 7, there has never been a better time to learn more about the U.S.-Israel relationship, and why it is important for everyone, including college students at Penn, to learn about Israel.
Public demonstrations which attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel bring no one closer to achieving peace. Campaigns to divest from, boycott or sanction Israel rely on obscuring the truth in order to achieve their agenda of eroding support for the crucial alliance between our two countries.
Penn’s own administration has condemned such campaigns, saying that the University “does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel.” When confronted by extreme anti-Israel activists, I urge you to do your research. Reach out to a pro-Israel friend to learn more about it. It is a complicated country in a complicated region, but Israel’s supporters do not shy away from the tough questions; in fact, we embrace them.
You can be pro-Israel, but not support Benjamin Netanyahu. You can be pro-Israel, but not support settlements. You can be pro-Israel but not support Donald Trump. You can also be pro-Israel and support these things.
Support for Israel transcends politics.
As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has said:
“I unequivocally support the right of a Jewish, democratic state of Israel to exist, and to be safe and secure. The U.S.-Israel relationship is rooted in shared values and common interests ... To me, it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel.”
Supporting Israel does not mean you support everything Israel does. Just like believing in America does not mean you support every action it takes. We ought to express our disagreements with the status quo and advocate for change.
If you are pro-Palestinian, believe in justice for the Palestinian people and yearn for a fair and equitable solution to a complicated conflict, you are welcome as a supporter of Israel.
If you believe women’s rights are human rights, that minorities should be equal members of society and that both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples have a right to self-determination, you are welcome as a supporter of Israel.
And if you believe that the United States should support the only democratic nation in the Middle East, you are welcome as a supporter of Israel.
If you want to learn more about this issue, come to an Israel Week event. If you are a student leader and are asked to sign a statement of support for Israel, do so with pride!
Israel is a positive good in the world, and the Penn community should affirm this.
TAYLOR BECKER is a College senior from Lebanon, Ore., studying political science. His email address is email@example.com. “Right Angles” usually appears every other Wednesday.
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