Israel isn’t good for the Jews anymore

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Israel isn’t good for the Jews anymore. That’s the news from New York.

It happened in the last week, or the last two years. A feeling has taken root deep in the American Jewish community that Israel is hurting us, hurting our standing in the world and our future. The restrictions on democracy, the curbs on women, the intransigence vis-a-vis the Palestinians when Obama has demanded movement, the indifference to the Arab Spring– Israel is a society we no longer recognize as Jewish like we’re Jewish, and worst of all, its militarism is exposing American Jews to the accusation that we are dually loyal. And we don’t like that: We’re Americans.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was clearly the oafish ad campaign that targeted Christmas and intermarriage– the ad campaign that Netanyahu cancelled. Even rightwing Israel lobbyists were stunned by how clueless the ad campaign was. But it was an expression of genuine Israeli attitudes. And that is what’s so scary: American Jews are waking up to the fact that Israeli society is nothing like ours. Hillary Clinton could only launch her criticism of religious restrictions on women in Israel because she knows that American Jews feel this way. Ambassador Howard Gutman was speaking for many sensible American Jews when he said that Israeli policies are hurting Jews by fostering anti-Semitism. 

We are integrators. We live in America because we want to be Jews in a diverse society. That is the spirit of American Jewish life by and large. And now these Zionists–separatists whom we never completely trusted when we were arguing with them in Eastern Europe–are quietly understood to have hijacked Jewishness and taken it to a dark ugly place. And their cake is cooked; Israel has produced “apartheid on steroids,” as a Jewish leader in the Nation wrote this fall; he wanted no part of it.

Still, the separatists, the neoconservatives, including Elliott Abrams–who said that Jews must stand apart in every society they live in except Israel, the very opposite of the integrationist creed– are trying to take our country even further, to an attack on Iran! On Friday the Secretary of Defense said emphatically this is not in America’s interests:

[Attacking Iran] would only, I think, ultimately not destroy their ability to produce an atomic weapon, but simply delay it – number one.  Of greater concern to me are the unintended consequences, which would be that ultimately it would have a backlash and the regime that is weak now, a regime that is isolated would suddenly be able to reestablish itself, suddenly be able to get support in the region, and suddenly instead of being isolated would get the greater support in a region that right now views it as a pariah.  Thirdly, the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases.  Fourthly – there are economic consequences to that attack – severe economic consequences that could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States.  

            And lastly I think that the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret. 

Could anyone be more clear? And still the hard right Israel lobby pushes for us to attack Iran. But we Jews are Americans!

A hundred years ago Louis Brandeis’s dubious achievement was to mingle American Jewish identity with Zionism. Brandeis converted to Zionism (in order to get a Supreme Court seat; Wilson wanted a representative Jew, not a rich German Jew), and declared that to be a good American Jew was to be a Zionist, that love for two ideas of homeland was just fine.

And now Brandeis’s achievement is being reversed. Who can love that “homeland”? Israeli values are incompatible with American Jewish values. Even Jeffrey Goldberg says the occupation is a “moral disaster.” Well guess what, it’s been going on for 44 years! In its segregated buses and roads, in its ad campaigns that targets intermarriage and Christmas, in the refusal to end the occupation– Israel is a different society than ours. 

Here our children marry non-Jews and even celebrate Christmas, and it’s all good. Here intolerance is definitely not cool.

J Street saw this coming a couple of years ago–Our staff is all intermarried and they have Buddhist seders, said Jeremy Ben-Ami. Now that consciousness is taking hold in the larger Jewish community. We’re integrators, we like our privilege in American society and understand that it carries obligations. And the petulant rage of the neocons at Leon Panetta’s statement is merely a reflection of the neocons’ growing isolation. Norman Finkelstein has been saying this for months now: American Jews are liberals, they will part ways with Israel out of profound differences. Donna Nevel has said it too: American Jews believe in social justice.

Years ago Walt and Mearsheimer described the profound risks of the Israel lobby to the Jewish presence in the U.S. The neocons smeared them as anti-Semites, as they are smearing Howard Gutman now. But take heart, Gutman, today Walt and Mearsheimer’s view is common place, and echoed in the heart of Jewish life. David Remnick bristles that the American Jewish community is no longer going to be a patsy to rightwing Israel: “Sorry, it can’t go on this way. The  Jewish community is not just a nice breakfast at the Regency.” Tom Friedman says that Obama is being held “hostage” by the powerful Israel lobby. Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken says that the “Jewish lobby” in the U.S. is standing by apartheid. At the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations in Denver, a woman from Encounter admitted that all that pro-Israel history they fed the children was a “snowjob.”

Ben Smith’s piece in Politico today, “Israel rift roils Democratic ranks,” is an announcement that these disturbances are now reaching the political establishment. The American Jewish community, which is the backbone of the Democratic Party, is breaking in two over support for Israel, and the presidential election campaign this year will at last bring that support out into the political battlefield, with Jews on both sides of the question, and non-Jews invited to speak their minds.

And the best Americans will speak up for Palestinian rights. When Jews Say No! came out against the Gaza slaughter that massacred 400  innocent children in 22 efficient days, when Jewish Voice for Peace endorsed the boycott, they did so as members of a Jewish community, participating openly in a diverse society. 

Hannah Arendt predicted this 60 years ago, when she wrote that by launching its existence violently, Israel was on its way to becoming a small warrior tribe like Sparta:

“Their relations with world Jewry would become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment with those of other countries where large numbers of Jews lived. Palestinian Jewry would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into an entirely new people.”

That separation has now happened. Because more and more of us who care about Jewish life, as an integral part of western society, need to separate ourselves from an ethos of separation. We understand, Israel isn’t good for the Jews.

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