Israel is in the news again. As is so often the case, the debate appears to have degenerated into a competition of talking points. What's particularly tragic (in the true sense of the word) is that it does not seem that there is a real ideological rift between the two "sides" of this rhetorical war.
Take the Israeli Apartheid controversy at Pride Toronto. Apologists for the Israeli administration argue that the group is a breeding ground for anti-semitism, aimed at delegitimizing the State of Israel's very existence and all together too cosy to extreme groups like Hamas. Israel, they point out, is the closest to a modern liberal democracy in the Middle East.
Palestinian partisans are appalled by the interception of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. They are outraged that Palestinian workers are walled into a third world zone from which they must make a half-day's commute through deliberately humiliating conditions in order to find work. They point to arbitrary and bureaucratic regulations about spices in the embargo and the underprovision of the residents.
Yet both positions are selective. Both seek to uphold rights of national self-determination and democracy. Both, it is true, have unsavoury supporters in some quarters. Yet mainline political parties in both Israel and Palestine support a two-state solution at least in principle. Having met members of the contingent in question at last year's parade, I can vouch for the fact that most of them were themselves Jewish. Most supporters of Israel, similarly, are not Bush Republicans. They are people whose love of freedom and national pride causes them to be loyal to the cause of Israel's independence just as Palestinians are theirs.
These positions are not inconsistent. Liberally-minded people of all ethnic and religious communities should realize we are common allies against extremism. Under Mr Netanyahu's government, Palestinians live essentially in Bantu townships or indeed First Nations reserves. Citizens and friends of Israel cannot profess surprise when the "A" word rears its head. Countering this talk with censorship rather than refutation (for apartheid is a defined legal term and can be answered on its own merits) is self-evidently suspicious.
Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza participate in the reinforcement of their own oppression by electing a government dedicated to opposing Israel's enjoyment of the same rights they seek for themselves. The State of Israel was founded by international consensus in response to an urgent need for a safe haven for Jews. There was no seriously viable alternative, Uganda notwithstanding. And Partition, as noted, has broad cross-community support.
Some have been known to proclaim themselves "anti-Zionist, though not anti-semitic." The truth of the latter will of course vary from person to person, but on the former point they seem commonly mistaken. Only a few interlocutors have tried to persuade me that Israel's existence is not legitimate. More often, they seem to be using "Zionism" as a sort of metonym for imperialist elements within the Western bloc, including the United States and Israel. Yet defenders of Israel are usually, again principle, prepared to concede the possibility of legitimate criticism of Israel.
So then, why cannot moderates in both communities come together in support of mutual recognition and co-operation, unafraid to be critical wherever it is necessary and supportive wherever possible. I realize this is probably necessarily a naïve view, but I am not a political scientist, and my understanding is primarily driven by theological anthropology and what I read in the news. But it seems to me unfortunate to align based on ethnic chauvinism rather than mutual compatibility for the purpose of achieving a path to peace. To use the analogy, it seems rather like the Social Democratic & Labour Party allying with Republican Sinn Féin rather than participating in the governance of Northern Ireland on a cross-community and democratic basis.