I just returned from two weeks abroad, which included helping co-lead a large law student spring break trip to Israel. This was not my first time there, but each visit is special.
The State of Israel is viewed very positively by most Americans, and for good reason. In a region beset by ever-increasingly vicious strife amongst brutally anti-humanitarian strongmen and fundamentalist Islamists, as well as along traditional Sunni and Shiite sectarian lines, Israel stands out for its tenacious adherence to the core tenets of Western civilization: individual liberty, representative democracy, religious pluralism, and political freedom. A vitally important strategic ally, Israel serves as the West’s “man on the spot”—its frontline warrior against the global jihad. And the rediscovery of a largely-dead language (Hebrew) and restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish people’s historical homeland—a sovereignty sustained over the course of numerous existential wars that the tiny state has had to fight against Arab enemies—is a truly remarkable story and one of the twentieth century’s greatest human achievements.
Being less plugged in to the incessant 24/7 news cycle over these two weeks, right in the middle of a different kind of existential fight for which my preferred presidential candidate serves as a would-be political savior, has allowed for some broader perspective. Sometimes friends ask me why I am a conservative, or, alternatively, which specific issues animate my activism. As a full-spectrum conservative who views the post-Russell Kirk/William F. Buckley American conservative movement as encapsulating a comprehensive worldview of sound governance, I often hesitate to name specific issues. When pressed, though, I usually name five: right to life, constitutionalism, economic freedom, sovereignty, and the pro-Israel cause.
What my recent trip helped solidify for me is that, while I will civilly engage and respectfully debate almost all issues about which I am passionate, there are really two specific positions that I view as so egregiously immoral and beyond the pale that I am completely uninterested in debating them: anti-Israel extremism, and anti-life extremism.
Though the Zionist project served as a point of legitimate intellectual debate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Holocaust—recorded human history’s bloodiest and most systematically executed genocide—ultimately settled the question by proving the need for a secure Jewish state. There is a reason that Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, exits into a particularly scenic overlook of the Jerusalem valley: the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel—Eretz Yisrael, in its biblical Hebrew—by means of the formation of the modern State is an event utterly inextricable from the very horrific genocide that immediately preceded it. In the face of overwhelming odds and numerous defensive wars against hostile enemies on all sides but the Mediterranean Sea itself, Israel has proven to be an incredible success story. Despite its foundational Jewish character, the State’s commitment to religious freedom ensures that it is the single safest place in the region for all Christians and non-sharia observant Muslims alike. Israel has made amends with its lack of strategic petroleum reserves by means of inculcating a thriving venture capital- and high technology-based first-world economy. And while the Palestinian problem today leaves Israel with an eyesore for much of the so-called “international community”—whose leading wretched hive of morally relativistic scum and Western values-hating villainy, the United Nations, routinely condemns Israel more than the rest of the world combined—the fact remains that Israel has repeatedly shown over the decades that it is willing to abdicate land and make serious sacrifices for meaningful peace.
Thus, while criticism of specific Israeli government policies are entirely fair game, questioning its inherent legitimacy and seeking its destruction—be it militarily, economically, or via “lawfare” tactics—are not. “Anti-Zionism,” a legitimate academic debate in the lifetime of Theodor Herzl, now means nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the Jewish state. The far Left’s “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement, popularly pushed by hate groups such as the egregiously misnamed “Students for Justice in Palestine” on university campuses across the U.S., was appropriately labeled plain ol’ anti-Semitism by Charles Krauthammer in a January 2014 column:
And don’t tell me this is merely about Zionism. The ruse is transparent. Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation—is to engage in a gross act of discrimination…And discrimination against Jews has a name. It’s called anti-Semitism…Former Harvard president Larry Summers called the ASA actions ‘anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.’ I choose to be less polite. The intent is clear: to incite hatred for the largest—and only sovereign—Jewish community on earth.
I will happily debate specific Israeli policies with you. I will debate what Israel should do with the Sunni Muslim terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or what Israel should do with the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria. But do not tell me that Israel has no right to exist as a safe and secure, and as a Jewish and democratic, state.
Similarly to anti-Israel extremism, nor will I tolerate anti-life extremism. In our recent Jerusalem visit to Yad Vashem, we visited the adjoining Children’s Memorial—which stands tribute to forever commemorate the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis. For those of us active in the American pro-life movement, it is nigh impossible to experience this and not think of the tens of millions of unborn American lives snuffed out since Roe v. Wade. There is a reason that, historically, pro-lifers have historically more strictly required political candidates to hold their views as a necessary condition to receive their vote than have pro-choicers: when you accept the basic pro-life argument tenets, it is exceedingly difficult to escape the conclusion that the pro-life cause represents the overriding human rights struggle of our time. The annually well-attended March for Life in Washington, D.C. is a powerful visual testament to this. Personally, I was happy to take part in this year in Chicago’s smaller march, proudly holding up one of Students for Life’s (poll-tested!) “I Am the Pro-Life Generation” signs.
I soberly recognize that there is an ongoing moral debate over the proper legal status to be afforded the early-stage embryo. For reasons of both science and intellectual consistency, I find such attempts at legally bifurcating the gestational continuum along trimester or “viability” lines to be wholly unprincipled—but I at least recognize there is an ongoing debate there. However, do not tell me there is a legitimate moral debate over the later-term fetus. Do not tell me that “it” is not a life. With ultrasound technology and modern medicine continually pushing (already morally arbitrary) “viability” dates closer and closer to conception, we simply know better than that. To willfully ignore such basic science, and such basic norms of human dignity—to support the on-demand snuffing out of what is, clearly and undeniably, a human being—is the other stance besides anti-Zionism I consider beyond the pale of civil political engagement.
I am always happy to debate how the Constitution ought to be properly interpreted. (It should be original public meaning.)
I am always happy to debate whether compassion necessitates taking in refugees from jihadi-overrun countries. (It does not.)
I am always happy to debate whether healthcare should be market-based or single-payer government provided. (It should be the former.)
I am always happy to debate whether or not privatization measures ought to be employed to help make Medicare and Social Security fiscally sustainable. (They should be.)
I am always happy to debate whether a more discretionary Federal Reserve or a more rules-based monetary policy regime ought to be preferred. (It should be the latter.)
But if you are an anti-Israel or anti-life extremist who views the “liberation” of “Palestine” or on-demand mid-to-late term abortion to be morally desirable, then do not try to engage me in debate on that topic. I am completely uninterested in doing so. Am Yisrael Chai and #StandForLife.