Can a Human Rights Lawyer Be Pro-Israel?

by Jason Dzubow on July 31, 2014

If you talk to people working in the human rights field, many will tell you that they view their work as an expression of their political and moral beliefs. More often than not, those beliefs are grounded in religious faith.

Dare to dream...

Dare to dream…

That is true for me. I am Jewish and I am an asylum lawyer. I view my work as an expression of my Jewish values. These values are derived not just from our sacred texts–which encourage discussion, debate, and self reflection–but also from our experience as a people who lived in exile and faced centuries of persecution. For me, Jewish values include respecting the life and dignity of all people, trying to understand “the other,” trying to understand myself, and sympathizing with the powerless. All this is a good fit with asylum law where I represent foreign people who face harm or death from governments or terrorist groups. But how do these values align with support for Israel?

There was a time when I felt that my values were largely consistent with supporting Israel. After all, it is a small country, created by refugees and surrounded by enemies. But more recently, it has become harder for me to be “pro-Israel,” as that term is generally understood. It’s not that I don’t support Israel and believe it should exist as a Jewish state. I do. But I have found that in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile the values that guide my life and career with being “pro-Israel.” There are several reasons for this.

For one, it is difficult to accept the dishonesty of the pro-Israel side. Of course, this is not a problem confined to supporters of Israel. If anything, I see more dishonesty from opponents of Israel. But since I am Jewish and concerned about the behavior of my side, it is difficult to square my Jewish values with the pro-Israel propaganda that I daily see in the news. An example of this is how Israel’s supporters consistently put forth a narrative that exonerates Israel for any blame in the current conflict. It is true that Hamas initiated the recent fighting, but that is hardly the beginning of the story. Israel seems always to have an excuse for failing to make concessions or reign in settlers. As a result, moderate Palestinians are undermined (since they cannot show progress to their constituents) and extremists are empowered. A more honest evaluation would include self criticism–what have Israel and its supporters done wrong? How have their actions contributed to the cycle of violence? How have Israeli policies encouraged Jewish extremism? This type of analysis, I have never heard from the pro-Israel camp.

Also, I have great difficulty accepting the alliance of pro-Israel Jews with Neo-Conservatives and Christian Zionists. I find the Neo-Conservative’s view on the use of force to be immoral and anti-Jewish, not to mention cynical, short-sighted, and ineffective. Exhibit No. 1 in that regard is our war in Iraq. As for the Christian Zionists–people like John Hagee of Christians United for Israel–their purported love of Israel seems a thinly veiled proxy for hating Muslims. If there ever came a time when Israel was actually able to make peace with the Arabs, the Christian Zionists would be opposed: Peace with Muslims is not compatible with their world view. The values of Neo-Conservatives and Christian Zionists are profoundly contrary to my own. And while I understand that the enemy of my enemy is sometimes my friend, for me, certain alliances are beyond the pale. 

I also have trouble with the knee-jerk defensiveness of the pro-Israel camp, which is eager to label any expression of anti-Zionism as Antisemitism. Sometimes anti-Zionism is Antisemitism, and sometimes it is not. But there is a flip side to that coin: For many years, Jews have made the State of Israel an integral part of our religion. Synagogues have Israeli flags and signs supporting Israel, we celebrate Israeli Independence Day, we send our young people to Israel to study, we raise money for Israel. In other words, we have made Judaism and Zionism synonymous. In that case, it is hard to fault our enemies for confusing the two concepts. Frankly, I think our attachment to Israel is a good thing. What I oppose is the assumption that all criticism of Israel is made in bad faith, which allows us to avoid the difficult task of self examination.

Linked to the issue of defensiveness is the on-going effort by Israel supporters to stifle speech that they view as anti-Israel. They threaten funding sources, ban (or attempt to ban) disfavored speakers from Jewish events, label leftist Jewish groups “traitors,” and they rejected the dovish J Street’s attempt to join the Presidents Conference, an umbrella organization of Jewish-American agencies. If the pro-Israel camp sought to counter the ideas they find offensive, that would be one thing. But instead, they seek to eliminate those ideas. I am a believer in free speech and in the (very Jewish) idea of debating issues. To me, these efforts to squelch speech and avoid engagement on difficult issues is offensive.

Finally, I do not appreciate the effort of Israel supporters to deflect attention from Gaza by comparing it to the much more deadly situations in Syria or Iraq. While I think it is legitimate to ask non-Jews and non-Palestinians why they are more concerned about Gaza than Syria, I do not think that question is appropriate for Jews (or–obviously–Palestinians). As Jews, we should be concerned about the behavior of other Jews. We should question Israel’s policies that we disagree with. The fact that others are behaving worse than us does not seem a valid justification for our own actions.

I remember an incident from when I lived in Israel–way back in 1990. I was visiting the Jewish settlers in Hebron, a large Arab town in the West Bank. We went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is considered the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a holy place for Jews and Muslims. We were in the Jewish section when the settlers started singing “Jerusalem! Jerusalem!” and dancing. They danced into the Muslim part and interrupted a dozen old Muslim men who were praying. At the moment, I felt I had to choose sides–with the settlers or with the Muslims. I am sorry to say that I chose to dance and sing with my fellow Jews. The old Muslim men stopped their prayers and watched us quietly, humiliated.

I still believe that there is a choice to make, but it is not a choice between Jews and Muslims or Israelis and Palestinians. It is a choice between right and wrong. I am pro-Israel in that I believe Israel should exist as a Jewish democratic state and that it has the right to defend itself from terrorists’ missiles and tunnels. But if “pro-Israel” means persecuting, humiliating, and de-humanizing Palestinians, refusing to make concessions for peace, demonizing opponents, stifling speech, and making alliances with morally bankrupt groups, you can count me out.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Fernando August 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Many people can be ashamed of the actions of their government, but still love their country. I’m guessing many of your clients are in that camp. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it doesn’t make you anti-Israel either. I agree, the Israeli government and its supporters could use a little self-criticism every now and then.


Jason Dzubow August 19, 2014 at 10:09 pm

I wouldn’t even go that far. I don’t know that I am ashamed of Israel’s actions, I just disagree with them. That, unfortunately, is not tolerated among many in the American Jewish community.


KLV August 10, 2014 at 5:58 am


The problem is that you fundamentally do not understand Islam, not “Muslims” but Islam. Muslims are human beings just like everyone else, but when professed Muslims are devout, they are emulating the Prophet Muhammad.

The Quran states over 90 times that Mohammad is the ideal Muslim who all devout Muslims are to emulate, i.e., in Islam Mohammad is known as al-Insan al-Kamil (the perfect human) and uswa hasana (an excellent model of conduct).

Qur’an 33:21
Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.

Qur’an 68:4
And most surely you conform (yourself) to sublime morality.

Therefore, Muhammad is the standard, the norm and any Muslim who emulates him is by definition of Islam, NOT an “extremist” or a “radical.

It is documented in the Qur’an, the Hadith (Traditions of Muhammad) and the Sira (Sacred Biography of Muhammad), that Mohammad was a warlord, a thief, a slave holder, a torturer, a rapist, a pedophile and a mass murderer.

He taught peace in Mecca for 13 years and gained all of 150 followers. He was forced to move to Yathrib (later renamed Medina), where he became a politician and a warlord.

In Medina he evicted 2 of the Jewish tribes through force and slaughtered the 3rd Jewish Tribe that lived there because they rejected his “religion” (he also took their possessions, which made him rich). Muhammad and his men beheaded the 800 men and boys (if they had one pubic hair) of the last tribe, the Banu Qurayza, which he had taken prisoner. Muhammad took their women and children as slaves (the women probably as sex slaves). Ibn Ishaq (693) says some of the women were taken to Najd and sold for weapons and horses. Muhammad made Medina Judenrein (Jew free).

Year 1 in the Islamic Calender is 622 AD, which marks Mohammad’s Hijra (immigration) from Mecca to Medina and also marks the switch from preaching peace to waging war. In Medina he spread Islam through subjugation and violence for the last 9 years of his life and conquered all of Arabia and gained approximately 100,000 followers. The success of Islam is based on politics and violence, not on religion and peace.

In Islam, the conflict between the earlier peaceful Meccan Quran and the later violent Medinan Quran is handled through the concept of “Naskh” or abrogation (Quran 2:106, 13:39, 16:101, 17:85-86, 87:6-7, & many Hadiths). The last significant chronological Sura of the Quran, is Sura 9 (the first Sura is 96 and the last Sura is 110 but contains only 3 verses as the Quran was reordered from the longest to the shortest chapter in the 7th Century by Caliph Uthman).

Sura 9 contains practical instructions for future wars and how to wage them (rules for warfare). It is the only Sura that does not begin with “bi’-smi’llahi’r-Rahmani’r-Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful”). It is the harshest and most violent Sura and being it was the last significant Sura, it is not subject to abrogation. It requires the believers to slay the unbelievers where ever they are found if they oppose conversion.

Based on the words and deeds of Mohammad, Islam is Jihad, i.e., War against the Kuffar (non-believers).


Jason Dzubow August 10, 2014 at 8:05 am

I normally accept all comments. However, you have made 12 or 13 comments, all of which seem to be information that was cut and pasted from other sources, and which basically repeats the “information” you include here. I have concluded that this is spam and it has been erased. If you care to comment on what I actually wrote, you are welcome.


Cata Manooch August 10, 2014 at 4:26 am

I find this very disturbing. I’m sorry to say that the question itself is obscene. It is almost too absurd to respond to. “Can a human rights lawyer be pro-Israel?” — How could anybody who cares about human rights NOT be pro-Israel?

The anecdote the author tells about joining Jews dancing at Hebron is very telling. THIS is what he feels ashamed about? Jews dancing–at a place that for Jews is second in holiness only to their ancient capital Jerusalem; a place that has been Jewish for 6000 years; which was co-opted late in the game by Islam–less than 1500 years ago?

What blind, double-standard against oneself is operating on this writer?

For him, the big ‘offense’ of the Jews was DANCING and disturbing some Muslim men at their prayer. Do you know what Muslims do to Jews and Christians who attempt to pray at their own holy sites? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t dancing.

To ask this question–when Israel is patently the single greatest upholder of human rights in the world at this time (and this includes the US, Europe, etc); the most humanitarian at the greatest cost in danger and the blood of its own citizens to itself of anyplace on earth–is to betray a bias so deep that it isn’t surprising that the writer is unable to hear or respond to any of the excellent material that has already been printed here, above.

And he asks this at a time when Israel is, once again, facing an existential threat, from an enemy so brutal and hate-filled that it raises its children from earliest infancy to serve the sole goal of extermination of all Jews (while at the same time living off Israeli largesse in providing it food, building materials, and medical treatments)…

Well, I’ll end with someone else’s words–I can’t give the credit, as I don’t remember her name; but these words are clearly true:

Israel wants peace. Hamas wants genocide. That’s the fact.

There’s nothing ambiguous about it.


Jason Dzubow August 10, 2014 at 8:03 am

I think you miss the fundamental point of the article – which is the values associated with liberal Jewish thought vs the values embraced by the “pro-Israel” camp.


Patti Lyman August 7, 2014 at 1:51 pm

1. Jason, you do not at all understand why serious Christians are largely pro-Israel, and vociferously so. The roots of that alliance are deep and have nothing to do with Muslims. You have really missed the mark.

2. I enjoy your posts on asylum law far more than those of this type.


Jason Dzubow August 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Thank you for # 2. As for # 1, I admit that generalizations are always dangerous, but my observations of the Christian Zionist movement–and CUFI in particular–is that they are anti-Muslim. Not anti-Muslim extremist, but anti-Muslim. Not only do I find this contrary to my own values, but it is counterproductive to reaching a peaceful conclusion to the conflict over there. Of course, my opinion matters little in this regard. The Jewish American “pro-Israel” camp has made its choice, but that choice is excluding many committed Jews, including me, who used to feel at home being called pro-Israel.


Truth Teller August 5, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Sorry, but your information is not accurate. Islam is committed to the elimination of Israel, it teaches it in every venue available. It has poisoned the population, intimidated the media, and instilled a hatred beyond all reason.

Shulavet Pas was two, sitting in her stroller, when the Arab sniper shot her in the head. The home invasion of the Folger family saw throats cut on all of them- including the 3 month old. Arabs use the bloody “victory photos” to claim the children were Arabs killed by Israelis!! Mrs. Hauteul was driving her car with her 4 children when rocks hit the windshield and forced her off the road. The Arabs shot her and her children, point blank. The young father on the beach with his 4 year old daughter was shot to incapacitate him. His daughter was picked up by her feet and twirled around to smash her head on the rocks as her Dad watched – before he was killed.

This is hate – instilled by constant reinforcement. These are some of the stories that you DON”T hear………. Hamas is a terrorist organization – check other sources than your usual – don’t be “Useful Idiots” for the EVIL of the world. Here is one:


Jason Dzubow August 5, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Actually, I deal every day with people who are victims of extremist Muslims. My clients, and millions like them, are working hard to overcome the extremists and create a more egalitarian and modern Islamic society. In fact, many of my clients’ strongest advocates are members of the US military who have worked closely with them. I am sorry, but the idea that hating all Muslims is somehow “realistic” or tough is ridiculous. It is intellectually lazy and cowardly, and it will only result in more death on both sides. We need to be working to empower moderates, not undercut them. Unfortunately, I don’t see that goal as one that Israel or the mainstream American Jewish community has much interest in pursuing.


Jeff Crisp August 4, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Jason’s article is as usual brilliant, and it is profoundly depressing to see the threadbare nature of his opponents’ prejudices. Go Jason…


Jason Dzubow August 4, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Thank you, Jeff – It does mean a lot coming from you.


Jason Dzubow August 4, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Someone emailed me this comment, which they asked me to post:

I read your well thought out commentary. The complexity of the situation makes the path to a solution very difficult. I have one question, though. After the three Israeli youths were murdered, a Palestinian youth was murdered. Then rockets, literally thousands of rockets, were launched from Gaza into Israel. At that point, if you were in charge, what would you have done?

If Israel gets what it wants, there is peace and defined territories. If Hamas get what it wants, there is peace and there are no more Jews in Israel, and possibly in the world.


Jason Dzubow August 4, 2014 at 9:53 pm

My post is more about the moral dilemma that I face when attempting to support Israel, but of course that is related to the issue of what Israel should be doing. My opinion is that Israel must destroy the tunnels, as they clearly exist for only one reason: To target Israelis, and in particular, Israeli civilians. Israel must also respond to rocket fire with military force. That said, your question presupposes that this conflict began when Hamas started launching rockets a few weeks ago, and that is not the case. Had I been in charge, I would have frozen settlements long ago, pressured certain settlers to leave, and attempted to create a Palestinian state. Of course, these efforts might have failed, but we will never know. As to the idea that Israel only wants peace, I think that if Israel gets everything it wants (i.e., all the territory it currently controls), it would be satisfied. On the other hand, if Hamas gets all it wants (i.e., all of Israel), it too would be satisfied. However, if there were progress towards peace, perhaps support for Hamas would lessen, and maybe we would move in a positive direction. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening now.


Cynthia August 4, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Thank you for this.


Truth Teller August 3, 2014 at 4:40 pm

This article reflects the success Islamic propaganda has had in painting Israel / Jews as usurpers, oppressors, Human Rights violators. Fortunately for Muslims, the need to be “more Catholic than the Pope” does not permeate their society as it does the Jewish one. Case in point: dismissing Islamic “dishonesty” in one sentence, then railing against perceived Jewish actions. I dispute the source and substance of the basic information used. It is flawed and flat out false.
Contrary to this article’s assertion, almost universal media criticism of Israel occurs ( see Krauthammer article “ World’s Anti-Semitism Reaction to Gaza is ‘Orwellian” ). In Gaza innocent people have been harmed or died, but the exaggerated statistics the PA gives are quoted as authentic, not verified. Israel is constantly accused of a “disproportionate response” ignoring the fact that the Iron Dome has saved the lives of thousands of Israelis. Hamas keeps sending in rockets– why should Israel “stand down?”
Reporters repeat Arab statements which are later proved false – but the damage is done. Just as in Jenin, the PA accused Israel of causing “ 500 mostly civilian deaths” yet later it was proved that 50, mostly fighters, was the accurate number. The moral equivalency between Hamas (once designated by the US as a terror organization) and now its Elevation as appropriate partner (US to give Hamas $47 million; Kerry “Give Hamas a truce” – even though FIVE times the Israelis agreed to a truce and Hamas broke it- and Nancy Pelosi : “Hamas is a Human Rights organization” ) all so false, so sickening……….
The success of the Arab Blame Game against Israel is reflected around the world. In the US, MSNBC is one of the constant critics of Israel – an unending apologist for Hamas. Attacks on Jews in major European countries reflect this media instilled anti-Israel bias, and US college campuses are awash in “pro-Palestinian justice” – reflecting the skewed news they receive.
The Arab re-named “West Bank” ( Judea and Samaria in the Bible), hosts Jewish communities on only 3% of the land. Abbas publicly stated that “I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land ” but it is Israel that is labeled “Apartheid.” Over exaggeration of “Settlers” actions stokes the hatred instilled in media, mosques, schools, camps. The falsely named “cycle of violence” is the absolute Rejection of Israel by Islam and is the result of Muslim attacks. Israel is in the bullseye of Islamic hatred. When it acts to defend itself, it is colored “criminal.”
It is very good that the Christian group of Pastor John Hagee supports the rights of Israel because so many big organized groups work against it. Protestants, Methodists, Anglicans, Muslims, the Ford Foundation, the holier- than- thou “Peace” People, the Boycott, Divestment Sanction campaigns, Iran, Turkey, Quatar, Syria, Iraq, Hamas, Hezb’Allah, and on and on including Leftists in the US and overseas. J Street is NOT a supporter of Israel, its major funders include the Nazi collaborator George Soros and several very wealthy Arabs. Every decent person, every friend of Israel whatever religion, is welcome and so needed.
Islamic fanatics are committed to Israel’s annihilation and the subjugation or death of every Jew. Islamic terror attacks against Jews in Israel, India, France, Turkey, Casablanca, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia, Argentina, etc. all prove that Israel and Jewish Human Rights are on the line. Absolutely, a Human Rights Lawyer should always be pro Israel.


Jason Dzubow August 3, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Please see the response to the previous comment…


Lisa Ra August 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

To say that this article is riddled with falsehoods, inaccuracies, biases and leftist propaganda would be a complement.

How can the author say Israel refuses to make concessions? Israel is the only partner in the so-called peace process that has made concessions – giving up land and relocating settlers in return for terrorist bombings, kidnappings, Infatadas, slaughtering of civilians and having thousands of rockets targeting at its population centers.

Israel DOES operate at a higher moral standard! What other country in the world, during war, gives advance warning of enemy targets so civilians can evacuate. What is Israel to do if Hamas forces them to remain in order to build up casualties to increase support for the “Palestinian” plight. Palestinian is in quotes because they actually do not exist. They are a fabricated people invented by Arafat to manipulate world opinion against Israel.

The author makes a number of unsubstantiated assertions. For example that CUFI is a hate Muslim group and J-Street is pro-Israel. Christian Zionists support Israel primarily because for Christ to return as the messiah, according to scripture, Israel has to exist. As for J-street being a supporter of Israel, a number of articles have been written about George Soros being a prime supporter of the organization (see The Atlantic May 2010) and Soros definitely has anti-Israel tendencies.

The author dismisses any comparison of the 1,500 deaths in Gaza versus the 200,000 deaths in Syria. In his opinion there should be no comparison. Israel should hold itself to the highest standard. Taking to absurdity Israel should continue to turn the other cheek and not retaliate if there’s a possibility innocents may die. Of course if they took that path Israel would be destroyed. And, why do you think the world is more concerned with Palestinian deaths than Syrians? Because the world has become more and more openly antisemetic!

Obviously the author is confused. He says that he is a supporter of Israel and then spends the bulk of the article saying why he cannot support Israel. It also seems that his article is based more in academic “ivory tower” idealism than in harsh reality.

While I’m familiar with the term Jewish guilt, the author takes it to the extreme. He quotes a situation 24 years ago when he was singing and dancing with a group of friends and presumably interrupted Muslim men in prayer. First of all, remembering the fact that they appeared humiliated is remarkable. Secondly, maybe the men were singing, discussing politics or where they wanted to go to eat, and not praying. His comment is reminiscent of stories I’ve heard of adults who never have been molested but talk themselves into having memories of abuse.

Finally, to answer the authors question – Can a human rights lawyer be pro Israel – apparently not this one!


Jason Dzubow August 3, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Got it. Israel has never done anything wrong vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Jews who support J Street actually want Israel destroyed, and hatred of other people is “reality” whereas people who believe in coexistence live in an Ivory Tower. Perhaps this is the reason that so many young Jews are alienated from our religion – when it comes to support for Israel, our Jewish values go out the window.


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