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How Can You Defend Israel?

How Can You Defend Israel?

Why I'm proud to stand up for Israel.


I was sitting in a lecture hall at a British university. Bored by the speaker, I began glancing around the hall. I noticed someone who looked quite familiar from an earlier academic incarnation. When the session ended, I introduced myself and wondered if, after years that could be counted in decades, he remembered me.

He said he did, at which point I commented that the years had been good to him. His response: “But you’ve changed a lot.”

“How so?” I asked with a degree of trepidation, knowing that, self-deception aside, being 60 isn’t quite the same as 30.

Looking me straight in the eye, he proclaimed, as others standing nearby listened in, “I read the things you write about Israel. I hate them. How can you defend that country? What happened to the good liberal boy I knew 30 years ago?”

I replied: “That good liberal boy hasn’t changed his view. Israel is a liberal cause, and I am proud to speak up for it.”

Yes, I’m proud to speak up for Israel. A recent trip once again reminded me why.

Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things, the things that many may not even notice, or just take for granted, or perhaps deliberately ignore, lest it spoil their airtight thinking.

It’s the driving lesson in Jerusalem, with the student behind the wheel a devout Muslim woman, and the teacher an Israeli with a skullcap. To judge from media reports about endless inter-communal conflict, such a scene should be impossible. Yet, it was so mundane that no one, it seemed, other than me gave it a passing glance.  It goes without saying that the same woman would not have had the luxury of driving lessons, much less with an Orthodox Jewish teacher, had she been living in Saudi Arabia.

It’s the Friday crowd at a mosque in Jaffa. Muslims are free to enter as they please, to pray, to affirm their faith. The scene is repeated throughout Israel. Meanwhile, Christians in Iraq are targeted for death; Copts in Egypt face daily marginalization; Saudi Arabia bans any public display of Christianity; and Jews have been largely driven out of the Arab Middle East.

It’s the central bus station in Tel Aviv. There’s a free health clinic set up for the thousands of Africans who have entered Israel, some legally, others illegally. They are from Sudan, Eritrea, and elsewhere. They are Christians, Muslims, and animists. Clearly, they know something that Israel’s detractors, who rant and rave about alleged “racism,” don’t. They know that, if they’re lucky, they can make a new start in Israel. That’s why they bypass Arab countries along the way, fearing imprisonment or persecution. And while tiny Israel wonders how many such refugees it can absorb, Israeli medical professionals volunteer their time in the clinic.

It’s Save a Child’s Heart, another Israeli institution that doesn’t make it into the international media all that much, although it deserves a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Here, children in need of advanced cardiac care come, often below the radar. They arrive from Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza, and other Arab places. They receive world-class treatment. It’s free, offered by doctors and nurses who wish to assert their commitment to coexistence.  Yet, these very same individuals know that, in many cases, their work will go unacknowledged. The families are fearful of admitting they sought help in Israel, even as, thanks to Israelis, their children have been given a new lease on life.

Israel is a good country and seeing it up close never fails to remind me why.

It’s the vibrancy of the Israeli debate on just about everything, including, centrally, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. The story goes that U.S. President Harry Truman met Israeli President Chaim Weizmann shortly after Israel’s establishment in 1948. They got into a discussion about who had the tougher job. Truman said: “With respect, I’m president of 140 million people.” Weizmann retorted: “True, but I’m president of one million presidents.”

Whether it’s the political parties, the Knesset, the media, civil society, or the street, Israelis are assertive, self-critical, and reflective of a wide range of viewpoints.

It’s the Israelis who are now planning the restoration of the Carmel Forest, after a deadly fire killed 44 people and destroyed 8,000 acres of exquisite nature. Israelis took an arid and barren land and, despite the unimaginably harsh conditions, lovingly planted one tree after another, so that Israel can justifiably claim today that it’s one of the few countries with more wooded land than it had a century ago.

It’s the Israelis who, with quiet resolve and courage, are determined to defend their small sliver of land against every conceivable threat – the growing Hamas arsenal in Gaza; the dangerous build-up of missiles by Hezbollah in Lebanon; nuclear-aspiring Iran’s calls for a world without Israel; Syria’s hospitality to Hamas leaders and transshipment of weapons to Hezbollah; and enemies that shamelessly use civilians as human shields.  Or the global campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy and right to self-defense; the bizarre anti-Zionist coalition between the radical left and Islamic extremists; the automatic numerical majority at the UN ready to endorse, at a moment’s notice, even the most far-fetched accusations against Israel; and those in the punditocracy unable – or unwilling – to grasp the immense strategic challenges facing Israel.

Yes, it’s those Israelis who, after burying 21 young people murdered by terrorists at a Tel Aviv discotheque, don the uniform of the Israeli armed forces to defend their country, and proclaim, in the next breath, that, “They won’t stop us from dancing, either.”

That’s the country I’m proud to stand up for.  No, I’d never say Israel is perfect. It has its flaws and foibles. It’s made its share of mistakes. But, then again, so has every democratic, liberal and peace-seeking country I know, though few of them have faced existential challenges every day since their birth.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, it’s said. Israel is a good country.  And seeing it up close, rather than through the filter of the BBC or The Guardian, never fails to remind me why.

January 1, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 44

(43) Darrell, March 14, 2011 2:19 AM


I think it is the media and especially in the US, I can remember as recent as 5 years when missiles landed in Israel it was on the News, now I hear only that what Israel is doing is wrong by American and some western media. I really don't think Obama is good for Israel and I get my information in Canada from the US mainly. Of more recent via Pro Israel sites, that a family was slaughtered did not make the news except for a news feed I get on FB. I think American Jews who have such ability with in the media must make a better job when such things happen, With the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and before Libya I have not heard much in a month on any major TV network about Israel. It is sad but I believe until the US takes a different position and Israel is valued as the great country and friend to America, Canada and many more you can not win the media battle. IMHO anyways Shalom!

(42) Anonymous, January 23, 2011 10:18 PM

excellent! Very well written.

I loved the article. I enjoyed seeing a "liberal" who sees the truth and admitting to the __ good and greatness of this tiny country.

(41) katungi vincent, January 9, 2011 5:28 PM

in defense of israel

i just dont understand how on earth seemingly educated and intelligent people hate israel to the extent of demonizing any jew any where? can some body help me by telling me why israel is hated so much? When Hamas unleashes bombs and missiles randomly to kill and maim innocent civillians, the world keeps quite. When israel retaliates the whole world condemns israel. Iran has openly called for a world without israel; and yet we go around dining with iranian leaders and couring them instead of condeming them. I may not be able to do much as an individual but will continue spreading the truth concerning israel and for sure Israel will coninue to exisist as a nation as long as the world continues to exist. In any case we have seen many who have vowed to destroy israel and the entire jewery but none has succeeded but the Jewish nation will continue to exist. LONG LIVE ISRAEL

(40) sr, January 7, 2011 5:24 PM

not sure if if #38 is right

actually there were thousands of arabs who called themselves Palestinians in Israel in 1948. they came to Israel when aliyah alef and bet came and Jews needed workers and the pilachim, low class arabs who were already there weren't enough. thousands or arabs came and so by the time it was the 1920 there were thousands of more arabs then jews which is why you had all the problems with the Arabs and the British. i am very pro-israel just before you make claims rying to support th country make sure they are 100 percent correct so no one can knock the down . and if i didnt address what you were talking abut then i am sorry

(39) Avigail, January 7, 2011 5:20 AM

I'm afraid it's not just marginalization of Copts in Egypt

Thank you for an excellent article, Mr. Harris. How ironic is it that the term Zionism is racism is used by Israel's enemies. It is the exact opposite. All her neighbors are racist, except for Israel. Maybe we should even call Barack Hussein Obama a racist since he does not wish to allow its Jewish citizens to settle on its own land, including African Jews from Ethiopia. Unfortunately, another tragedy perpetrated by Israel's neighbors against its minority population can be updated to your list. The New Years Day terrorist bombing of a Coptic Church in Egypt, killing 21 and wounding many others. It's not just "marginalization" of Copts now, it's outright murder. Funny how our mainstream media spent so little of its time mentioning that attack. I'm sure many Americans, who are predominantly Christian, never even heard of the attack. Most bizarre is that the radicalized Egyptians blame this attack on Israel! Nothing could be more ludicrous. Virtually the only place in the Mideast where Christians don't feel terrified is in Israel. Any Christians reading this should check our Brigitte Gabriel's website, ACT for America. She is doing so much to spread the word about global terrorism,(and also what it was like to be a Christian living in an Arab-dominated society in Lebanon) it wasn't pleasant. Also check out, another courageous man, Walid Shoebat (a previous terrorist) who is trying to help Christians in Arab lands.

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