Why Many Progressives Are Unsure About Israel

Increasingly, liberal-progressive politicians such as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) are under fire by their supporters for even minimal support of Israel in its self-defense against Islamic terrorists.

Warren, in defending her vote to send funds to Israel in the middle of its war with Hamas, said she thinks civilian casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.”

“But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” she said.

This should be obvious. But it’s not so obvious to many of her supporters, which is why she feels the need to defend herself.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another favorite of progressives, has also come under fire from his base for his defense of Israel. A recent town hall got testy, with constituents and the senator exchanging harsh words, and Sanders ending on a note of resignation. “This is a very depressing and difficult issue. This has gone on for 60 bloody years,” he said. “If you’re asking me, do I have a magical solution? I don’t. And you know what, I doubt very much that you do.” [Source for these quotes: huffingtonpost.com 8/29/14]

In a way, Sanders’ and Warren’s supporters are right to criticize them. The progressive/leftist viewpoint assumes many things at odds with support of Israel. Progressivism views the United States (and its allies, such as Israel) as victimizers. The stronger and more capable side, in this view, is automatically and always the wrong side — precisely because it’s stronger and bigger.

The implicit assumption is that precisely because someone is bigger and stronger, they must be bad — and therefore imperialistic exploiters of some kind.

That’s how progressivism operates with other issues unrelated to foreign policy. Health care, for example. If insurance companies, doctors or hospitals make a lot of money, it must be because they’re in some sense greedy, exploitative or bad. We must therefore use government authority to curb, or even extinguish, their freedom. Never considered is the possibility that government laws, policies and programs have created inflation which would not otherwise exist in a free market for medicine.

Ditto for other areas, such as lending and mortgages. When the real estate bubble burst in 2007-08, it was automatically assumed that “greedy and exploitative” lenders, in their quest for survival and profit, ruined people’s lives for no reason. Never considered was the possibility that the federal government created this bubble by authorizing/incentivizing the private sector to provide loans to people who plainly could not afford them — with federal assurances (FDIC, and all the rest) that government would pick up the tab for any bubble popping. All so politicians in both parties could run for office and say, “Every American ought to own a home.”

Neither Senator Warren nor Senator Sanders have any problem blaming the bigger and stronger entities in these cases, without reference to all the facts. Yet oddly, when it comes to Israel, they seem to manage to salvage some remnant of objectivity and justice (however accidental or unintentional) when looking at all the factors involved.

The deeper issue here, including with the many progressives who probably wouldn’t mind Israel being wiped off the map, involves the psychology (and underlying ideology) of victimization.

Many anti-Israel progressives look at Israel’s success and achievement at creating a Western civilization — not unlike our own in the United States, Western Europe, Australia, Japan — in the midst of centuries-long stagnation and medieval fanaticism in many of its neighbors ruled by supernatural tribalism. The contrast is stunning; almost magical. It isn’t magical, of course. It shows the immense power of rationality, productivity and freedom (even inconsistently applied) over faith, submission and superstition.

In short, Israel makes other nations in the Middle East look bad. And some of them are really, really angry about it.

The people in those other nations (at least those who support Islamic and Palestinian terror), instead of being inspired by that accomplishment, become angry, resentful and envious. In the United States, progressives who like to identify with people as victims — ignoring crucial facts — immediately identify with that emotion, since it’s the emotional reaction consistent with antipathy towards any form of success or achievement under capitalism and (relative) economic freedom.

The underlying assumption here — expressed as an emotion — is: “They’re bigger and stronger. That’s mean. Cut them down a notch.” Hence, the demand of some progressives that their heroes in Congress, such as Warren and Sanders, stop sending funding or aid to Israel, despite obvious American interests in that region.

I recognize that some people oppose all foreign aid, even when in defense of a nation in a region where we arguably have strategic interests. Many individuals with this view are not necessarily progressives. But the progressive mindset, when applied to domestic matters, is plainly one of “always defend the little guy,” precisely or only because he is little.

Bigger is not automatically and always better. Sometimes big entities got that way for unjust reasons. (Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia come to mind.) But bigger and stronger is not automatically bad and wrong, either. Many entities become big and strong  because of their sustained rationality, honesty, productivity and non-coercive determination over time.

Rushing to side with Islamic terrorists in the Middle East conflicts involving Israel exposes the absurdity of this fallacy more plainly than about anything else to date.

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