Listen to the protesters camping out on college quads nationwide, and you will hear one clear message: They hate the “fascist, genocidal, apartheid” state of Israel. How could anyone, particularly any liberal, support it? Let me explain.

Like many Jews, I am proudly liberal. I believe in grand liberal ideals: freedom, democracy, equal opportunity. I have spent my life living out those ideals, from addressing racial inequality in Mississippi to my current work helping refugees integrate in central Maine.

And, like many Jews, I love Israel, which celebrates its Independence Day on May 14. I have been fortunate enough to visit three times, most recently a year ago, when my wife and I took our kids to visit their cousins in Tel Aviv.

Israel has many significant shortcomings, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s atrocious leadership deserves serious criticism. But the world would be a much poorer place if Israel’s critics succeed in destroying it.

Israel is the inspiring story of an Indigenous people reviving their language and reclaiming their homeland in a land embedded in countless Jewish prayers and rituals. It’s the realization of a people’s 2,000-year-old dream of living as “free people in our land,” as proclaimed in the Israeli national anthem. It’s like a real-life Wakanda (the fictional home of Marvel’s “Black Panther”), a country that somehow survives despite repeated attempts by surrounding nations to crush it.

Israel has not just survived, it has thrived – particularly in areas dear to liberals. Investing heavily in education, Israel has nurtured top-notch hospitals, research universities and tech companies, many of which are developing innovative solutions to climate change, including drip irrigation, solar power and desalination. All Israeli citizens can vote, including those of Arab descent, and it has a strong record on women’s equality.


Israelis embrace freedom of expression (“Two Jews, three opinions,” as the saying goes), and anti-government protests are a common sight on Israeli streets, even during wartime. Israel is far more diverse than its critics claim – more than half of Israeli Jews have roots in Asia and Africa rather than Europe – and (unlike its neighbors) it supports and celebrates its LGBTQ community. As a small, scrappy nation, Israel requires military service for both men (three years) and women (two years), an experience that creates an unusual sense of common purpose.

Most importantly, Israel is clearly, proudly and powerfully Jewish, the one country that runs on the Jewish calendar. It’s a place where Jews don’t have to explain for the umpteenth time what Yom Kippur is, where silence descends each Friday night for Shabbat, where you don’t hear people yelling, “Jews will not replace us!” There are 157 Christian-majority and 49 Muslim-majority countries, including 22 in the Arab world alone. But there’s only one Jewish state.

And that’s what is at stake in this war.

The war in Gaza has been devastating. Nearly 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, and entire cities have been leveled. I understand why people are angry, even if the number of casualties is dwarfed by the civil war in Syria (more than 600,000 dead) and other ongoing conflicts. But I also understand why Israel has responded so aggressively.

Oct. 7 was not just a massacre of more than 1,200 people. It was an existential attack on the world’s sole Jewish nation. Though many protesters overlook it, Hamas openly proclaims that its goal is genocide: to kill Jews and destroy Israel. Its charter is unequivocal, and its leadership has steadfastly maintained that Oct. 7 was simply a prelude to further attacks “until Israel is annihilated.” So when I hear protesters echoing Hamas’ rhetoric and yelling, “We are Hamas!” I don’t ponder the academic distinctions between “anti-Zionism” and “antisemitism.” Instead, I recognize the threat for what it is: Israel, once again, is fighting for its very existence.

I am horrified by the suffering of Palestinian women and children – and I want Israel to survive and thrive. Protesters who embrace Hamas’ rhetoric and both implicitly and often explicitly support Hamas’ goal of destroying the world’s only Jewish nation are not helping to make the world more just.

Israel is unique. The world is immeasurably better because it exists.

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