I was born in Israel, served six and a half years in the IDF as a pilot in the Israeli air force, hiked many miles in the Negev as Director of the Society for the Protection of Nature’s Hazeva Field School, and completed my BS in physics in Tel Aviv University. My wife and I left Israel when I started my Ph.D. in the US. We live here, but we have deep emotional ties with family members in Israel, with friends, the food, the culture, and the people.
I have always cared about what’s happening in Israel, and now I am terrified about the fate of the state.
This is justification enough for me to act: Because I care.
If my next-door neighbors were in trouble, I wouldn’t hesitate to act on their behalf as well, and for the same reason: Because I care.
But the right to act also stems from other less emotional reasons.
Israel receives $3.8B annually in US government support. Since its founding, it has received nearly $160B. This is financial support that I and other US taxpayers provide. I have a say in where my money goes. It is hypocritical for some Israelis and Israeli politicians to condemn intervention by US citizens, and at the same time lobby the US Congress for billions in annual support.
It is in the US national interest that Israel remain a strong democracy. The shared democratic values of the US and Israel ensure a strong strategic bond, giving US interests a foothold in the middle east. US citizens have an interest in maintaining this strategic bond. A dictatorship in Israel could drift to align itself with Russia, or China. Those of us who see this as dangerous have the right to act.
Over the years, the US has exercised its veto power in the United Nations Security Council numerous times to protect Israel. The backbone for this veto protection is the strategic alliance between the US and Israel. If Israeli politicians vie for this protection, they must expect American citizens to have a say in whether this protection should continue.
Some of the responsibility for the current upheaval in Israel can be traced to two right-wing American billionaires, funders of the Tikva Fund and the Kohelet Forum. The two organizations provided the intellectual basis for the attempted authoritarian judicial coup. It is yet another hypocritical stance to claim that US citizens shouldn’t interfere when they have in fact already interfered forcefully. Millions of dollars have been invested by foreign citizens and organizations to construct the judicial coup in Israel and to support a host of other right-wing causes. If we broke it we get to fix it.
The US Jewish diaspora is about 6 million strong. There are 3 million Jews living elsewhere outside of Israel. Many don’t share my Israeli background, nevertheless, they care about Israel as much as I do because Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. Caring about Israel, for whatever reason, is reason enough to act on its behalf.
Some Israelis argue that if we care we should come to live in Israel and share its burdens. Burdens such as defending the state against outside enemies and resolving internal tensions. While those who reside in Israel naturally have a greater voice in its path and future, those outside who care about the country still have a right to their own voices and perspectives. Or would Israelis prefer that only those non-residents who are against the state have their voices heard around the world? If our actions around the world are appreciated when they are on behalf of the state, then we have a right to act when we disagree with the country’s path.
The consistent message we are receiving from friends, family, and leaders in Israel is that our work in the US on behalf of democracy is dear to their hearts. Like us, they also feel that we are sisters and brothers, fighting to preserve a democratic state. They are elated to see us participate. I fight because I care. I draw strength from knowing that people on the ground care that I continue to fight.
Shaul Hanany is co-founder of USA for Israeli Democracy. In his day job, Hanany is an award-winning professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is a Morse-Alumni Distinguished University Teaching Professor and is a recipient of the Taylor Award for Service for his contributions on behalf of students.
Originally published on Time of Israel Blog.