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What does it mean to unconditionally love Israel?

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An I love Israel sticker. (zeevveez/flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The vast majority of the Canadian Jewish community professes to love Israel. We hear this both from Jews who are highly supportive of the Israeli government’s policies, as well as from those who are critical of its decisions.

But how can we reconcile our love of Israel with criticism of the Jewish state? And if it is acceptable to be critical, is there a point at which the level of criticism belies that “love”?

It is said that a parent’s unconditional love of a child is essential for raising well-adjusted and happy offspring. A child who is loved unconditionally knows that he will always have allies in the world who will look past his weaknesses and mistakes, and be there for him, no matter what. But unconditional love does not require the parent to accept or support everything that child does. Saying “I love you, but I do not like what you have done” is perfectly acceptable – and often necessary.

On the other hand, one could argue that putting conditions on love is not love at all, or that it is a lower quality of love, as it can be extinguished at any moment by a breach of condition.

READ: THE BEST WAY TO LOVE ISRAEL IS TO VISIT ISRAEL

For Jews and Zionists, the appropriate kind of love of Israel is unconditional love. Conditional love does not have a chance, because Israel and Israelis will usually end up behaving differently than most of us would like them to, whether for reasons of security, or simply because Israel is its own society, with its own values, mores, interest groups and politics. And it exists in a geopolitical situation that presents existential threats that are not faced by most other countries.

But how much can someone who intends to love Israel unconditionally criticize the Jewish state, before that person’s love becomes disingenuous? At what point ought we to question whether that purported Zionist is who he says he is, or whether he is using that label as a way to denigrate the Jewish state?

There are many in the Diaspora who put conditions on their support for Israel. They say that Israel must adhere to a two-state solution, or treat the Palestinians or illegal immigrants in certain ways, in order for them to maintain their support. Professed love in that case can be seen as insincere or dishonest, born out of a belief that the Israel they support must be the Israel that conforms to their values and behaves in ways that they approve of. There is too little tolerance there for different perspectives, too little appreciation for the decisions being made within a vibrant democracy. The message they are sending is: “Behave the way I want and I will love and support you.” That approach is more akin to intolerance and hypocrisy than love.

I encourage you all to love Israel unconditionally, knowing that the Jewish state is a complex mix of ethnicities, Jewish and non-Jewish, that collectively support a vibrant democratic process. It helps to have the presence of mind to “walk in their shoes.” That does not mean that respectful, or even angry, criticism of government actions are unacceptable – in fact, this is to be expected, because along with our love, we engage in the debate because we care and because we wish to help our fellow Jews, not just with money, but with respectful observations. So long as that love is unconditional, and Israel and Israelis know that, our input can be accepted much more readily and, in some cases, help effect meaningful change.