The coming divorce: US Reform Jewish orgs ignore memo from Jerusalem re Palestinian statehood

Israel/Palestine
on 27 Comments

I often write about the inevitable divorce between American Jewry and Israel: because Israel is not good for the Jews, because Israel is giving Jews a bad image, (as warmongers and special interest lobbyists, replacing our traditional role as social justice liberals). David Remnick epitomizes the trend; he got off the bus angrily in the last couple years. And many other liberals are following him.

Here are three more pieces of evidence. The middle item is the strongest: the Reform movement’s objection to penalizing the Palestinians for their uppitiness at the U.N., breaking with AIPAC but more importantly, ignoring the memo from Jerusalem. The last one is mostly for laughs. 

First, at Haaretz, Bradley Burston asks, “Will this be the year American Jews secede from Israel?” and says Israel’s rightward shift and stiffnecked position on settlements will alienate Americans. He says so spitefully; when you smallminded rightwingers alienate Americans, there goes the franchise! Burston:

[M]any American Jews are already distancing themselves in word and deed from a government it sees as arrogant and short-sighted, enslaved to a runaway train of settlement, dismissive of the rights of Palestinians and other non-Jews….

Now, as Israel’s election campaign nears its home stretch, the heavily favored Likud-Beiteinu party, which encompasses the principal authors of nearly all of the anti-democratic legislation of the last four years, offers fresh voices and perilous new avenues for alienating American Jews from Israel….
Last week, an opinion piece by Yair Shamir was headlined, “In Israel-US relations, settlements are entirely beside the point.”….
Shamir attacked Obama’s nomination of John Kerry as secretary of state – over settlements. In essence, Shamir made acquiescence to settlement construction a condition of Israel-U.S. ties: “Many are liable to feel that his nomination will deter Israel from implementing its decision to build thousands of apartments in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and will be viewed as an obstacle to Israel-U.S. relations.”
American Jews want to know what is being done in their name. In the name of Judaism. And if they think that it is self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop.
American Jews are tiring of being told that opposing Israel’s policies puts Israelis in danger. Blackmail is not persuasion. If the hard right is so certain that it can get along without American Jewish support, it may all too soon get the chance to find out.
 
It’s about time that American Jews speak up about settlements. I was told that this would happen four years ago, when J Street came along, but it didn’t. Maybe it will happen now?
Bear in mind that Burston once bought the Zionist dream completely. He moved to Israel from the United States, and became a kibbutznik. And the next Knesset will likely have no former kibbutz members in it, but plenty of settlers. (A downer, yes; but the kibbutzes were segregationist; they didn’t accept Palestinians as members.)
Next, the JTA reports that the lobby organization AIPAC and Reform Jewish organizations in the US are divided over whether to retaliate against Palestinians for obtaining observer state status at the U.N. 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in recent weeks has backed two congressional bids to at least shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington in the wake of the November 29 United Nations General Assembly’s overwhelming vote that granted Palestinians non-member observer state status.

Conversely, the Reform movement has emphatically urged President Obama not to retaliate against the Palestinians, JTA has learned. The Reform movement also has resolved to oppose the shuttering of the PLO office…

[This] could portend a split within the pro-Israel community’s center.

Notice that the Reform movement is bucking the call from Jerusalem:

Israel has made clear that the Palestinian’ UN moves should have consequences. It has announced a flurry of new building projects in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, and diverted millions of dollars in taxes earmarked for the Palestinian Authority to Israeli utilities providers that have been dunning the Palestinians for payment.

There is even some suggestion in this piece that the Reform Jews would give Obama backing to oppose settlement construction, if he had any political nerve:

In a December 14 letter to Obama, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and the CEO of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Steve Fox, noted a December 3 resolution jointly approved by the boards of a number of Reform organizations [that] … opposes funding cuts to the Palestinians, to the United Nations and “any reduction in the currently recognized Palestinian diplomatic presence.”

The resolution also “opposes” Israel’s retaliatory plans to build Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank..

That Reform resolution of December 3, by the way, warns the Palestinians not to go to the International Criminal Court. Once again: opposition from the American Jewish community to punish Israel in any way for its illegal behavior. When will they ever learn? 

Back to the divorce. This is entertaining. Here is Gil Troy, scolding American Jews for their bad attitudes in the Jerusalem Post:

Many American Jews, especially on the left, are falling into a bad habit. When discussing America, say, during the 2012 campaign or after the Newtown school massacre, they acknowledge America’s divisions, chaos, confusion, and mess. It is, after all, a country of 300 million with 320 million guns, 1.6 million homeless children, 40 percent rate of babies born to unwed mothers, and voter turnout rates usually below 50 percent. Yet when discussing Israel, they suddenly present America as this model democracy, fully resolved, completely evolved, and superior to the Jewish mess we imported to the Middle East.  This condescension feeds a growing ideological phenomenon. Whereas most Israelis have moved beyond shlilat hagalut — negating the Diaspora, assuming all Jews should live in Israel – growing numbers of American Jews, especially some elite rabbis, professors and their students – are perpetrating shlilat tzion – negating Israel….

How many American Jews understand those Hebrew words? I believe Troy, who was born in Queens (and whose bio brags that he “has appeared on most major Canadian and American television networks”) is fighting a rearguard action. Jewish Voice for Peace is tweeting Bradley Burston’s piece above; and JVP represents the next wave of Jews, Jews who care about accountability to international standards.

But here is the best part of Troy’s piece, where he says that Israel and the U.S. are twin miracles but Mexico sucks. What blindness! There is not a word about Israel’s constitutional maladies, apartheid on the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of enfranchised Jewish colonists living next to people who can’t vote, etc. Troy:

rather than dueling about whose democracy is more flawed, let’s get a reality check. America and Israel suffer from many similar ailments, with red-blue polarizations, shrill confrontations, increasingly disengaged populations.  But democracy is about disputing values and resolving dilemmas. Citizens in both countries have to balance competing goods, including majority rule versus minority rights, passionate politics but enlightened governance, strong religious values amid strong secular values and commitments to openness, tolerance and freedom. Ultimately, both America and Israel remain miracles – success stories in a world more defined by Russia and China, Syria and Egypt, Mexico and Pakistan, than these two flourishing but imperfect, frustrating yet heroic, prosperous, stable, safe, free, democratic nations which crave great, qualified, leaders.

 Gil Troy has a column at the Daily Beast at the behest of Peter Beinart, who would boycott the settlements. Troy obviously represents a good segment of American Jewry– or an empowered one. 

Thanks to Annie Robbins.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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27 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 2, 2013, 11:13 am

    The good news is the first two.

    Gil Troy is the continuation of “there is no daylight between American and Israeli interests”. Yes we’re both flawed, both militarist imperialist, both quasi democratic, both horribly violent internally as well as externally (imperially), both international scoff-laws. All this is true at the level of governments.

    But the people of the USA, including the Jews whose thin fringe has joined JVP and J-St., do not wholeheartedly support what their government does (the empire, the drones and torture, the war-without-end), and the Israeli people do seem to support their government. The USA (Obama) may well ignore the liberals, progressives, Latino/as, laborites, blacks, etc., who helped elect him, but Israel will not ignore the settlers and religious zealots who’ve got the bit in their teeth (like USA’s Tea-Partiers) and are running like lemmings into a future that American Jews, like most of the world, know about and abhor.

    So there IS daylight, Gil Troy, and you insist on denying it.

  2. sardelapasti
    January 2, 2013, 11:22 am

    Too little, too late. And unconvincing: if they did “warn” Obama, why wasn’t it done in public? So it would remain deniable? Are some rats jumping ship or is it more of the same fraternal dissensions about how to do business? When did they divorce from AIPAC and who heard of it?

  3. seanmcbride
    January 2, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Diaspora Jews are beginning to figure out that Israel and Zionism are severely damaging the Jewish brand (and the Judaism brand) — and that is intolerable. It’s “bad for business,” “bad for the Jews” (as the line goes), and just plain wrong from the standpoint of basic human values.

    Diaspora Jews are getting tired of trying to defend the behavior of Israel to their non-Jewish neighbors — truly, it must be exhausting and personally non-rewarding.

    So: what’s next? How do the leading likely scenarios play out?

    One thing is for certain: Reform Judaism may need to think seriously about jettisoning Zionism altogether and write it off as a mistake. Reform Judaism’s core values are in conflict with aggressive and sociopathic ethnic nationalism. Reform Jews will need to take a strong stand on these issues for the sake of their sanity, not to mention their self-interest and self-esteem.

    By the way, Markos Moulitsas and Rachel Maddow could never produce a piece of writing like Phil’s essay above — they lack the vision and courage. They follow the crowd and the party line. They are not leaders — rather apparatchiks for stodgy neoliberalism and liberal Zionism, basically.

    • piotr
      January 2, 2013, 2:15 pm

      There is also an issue how Israelis are treating Reform Jews. My impression is that they are barely tolerated as useful idiots. Israel is partially theocratic, and to the theocrats, Reform are heretics.

    • Mooser
      January 2, 2013, 2:58 pm

      I’m sorry, Sean, I didn’t know you exempted Reform Judaism from “Judaism’s core driver: messianic ethnocentrism and ethno-religious nationalism organized around a particular physical territory (Eretz Israel and Jerusalem).” But then, so much has changed since Dec. 5th, when you made that comment. And Reform Judaism’s abhorrence of and disdain for Zionism is well known.

      “Diaspora Jews are beginning to figure out that Israel and Zionism are severely damaging the Jewish brand (and the Judaism brand) — and that is intolerable. It’s “bad for business,” “bad for the Jews” (as the line goes), and just plain wrong from the standpoint of basic human values.

      Diaspora Jews are getting tired of trying to defend the behavior of Israel to their non-Jewish neighbors — truly, it must be exhausting and personally non-rewarding.”

      Sean, I apologise for the glitch in the Mondo comment system which deleted your links to the scholarly journals and peer-reviewed papers substantiating your sweeping claims. And without those links, it just seems like so much malicious fantasy. Of course, I have never in my life heard one of my non-Jewish neighbors do anything except praise the skill, toughness and courage of the Israelis, and they also commonly expectorate at length on our mutual values.
      I try and break the bad news to ‘em, but they don’t want to hear it.

      But then, they see their “white protestant culture” “attacked” by “leftists” “gays” and “Jewish players” and headed by a “poster boy for affirmative action ” and they can’t help but admire, as you would, the effort to keep Israeli culture pure. Maybe the Zionists could give “white Protestant America” lessons in fighting off diversity and “leftism”

      I think Sean’s glass is too dark for him to decide whether we’ve got an “innie” or an “outie”. I await his pronouncement.

      • Dan Crowther
        January 2, 2013, 3:10 pm

        Mooser, White Prostestant Culture in America is and always has been a force for good, as Sean will surely let you know.

      • seanmcbride
        January 3, 2013, 11:25 am

        Dan Crowther,

        Mooser, White Prostestant Culture in America is and always has been a force for good, as Sean will surely let you know.

        This is an example of why I think you are a person of relatively low intelligence and someone with poor reading comprehension. It’s either that, or you are an intellectually dishonest and malicious personality.

        I have criticized White Anglo-Saxon Protestant imperialism on many occasions — probably more often than you have. I have been exceptionally tough on the contemporary iteration of this cultural pattern that has been promoted by Christian evangelicals, Christian Armageddonists and Christian Zionists.

        You really don’t know me at all. And you don’t understand the argument that has opened up between Mooser and me — it’s all about the role of Judaism in Zionism and the role of the Jewish lobby in the Israel lobby and how to approach those two important issues. You have gone off on weird and irrelevant tangents that have nothing to do with this debate.

      • seanmcbride
        January 2, 2013, 3:18 pm

        Mooser,

        To cut to the quick of this so far (on your side) non-analytic non-debate:

        1. What are your thoughts on the role of Jewish religious Zionism in contemporary Israeli politics? 2. How serious an issue is it? 3. To what degree has the Jewish establishment (including the leaders of Judaism) enabled this development? 4. What books do you recommend we read on the subject to get a handle on it?

        There are four separate questions there.

        Feel free to inject any off-topic and distracting witticisms in your reply, but I will be looking for the substantive points.

    • Mooser
      January 2, 2013, 3:21 pm

      “Reform Judaism may need to think seriously about jettisoning Zionism altogether and write it off as a mistake.”

      That’s an excellent idea! Why don’t you work up a statement, we’ll get bunches of people to sign it and I bet we could have it voted on at the General Reform Convention! If passed, it’ll be binding on all Reform Jews!

  4. American
    January 2, 2013, 12:14 pm

    “Once again: opposition from the American Jewish community to punish Israel in any way for its illegal behavior. When will they ever learn? ..PW

    They won’t learn I don’t believe until something horrific happens that explodes their belief that some or most sins of Israel are ‘justified’ by the greater good for the Jews/Israel.
    As in the ..”That Reform resolution of December 3, by the way, warns the Palestinians not to go to the International Criminal Court. ”
    On the scales of justice, no one counts but them……and they are unaccountable to anyone else for what they do.
    Can there be a country, group, movement accountable to no one for their bad actions toward others…forever?…I don’t think so.
    Even the US is now losing by degrees and paying in many ways for it’s part in Israel and it’s own ME aggression and meddling, sinking deeper into the abyss.

    • American
      January 2, 2013, 1:45 pm

      Humm…as I sit here I am listening on c-span to Charles Krauthammer at the Munk Convention on Iran that is set up as speeches on a for or against ‘motion’ on bombing or stopping Iran.
      Kruathammer is saying Iran is insane and that is why they can’t have nukes.
      It must be a very I- first audience cause when he said 6 million Jews wouldn’t stand for it…the crowd roared.
      I’m gonna listen and see if any counter arguments are made and by whom and if they get any applause.

      Nasr from the John Hopkins Inst. is on now as ”against the motion” with facts about Iran’s past history of non agression and etc..
      He got a lesser smattering of applause.

      Now we have a Israeli on “for the motion” talking about Hitler and holocaust and how evil Iran is and how they imprison people and how Iran is againast all the human rights and Israel stands for…rotflmao
      Roars of applause.

      O.K. heard enough, heard it all before.

      • American
        January 2, 2013, 2:52 pm

        Oh well, still listening….Kissinger let the cat out of the bag on Iran nukes…..it’s all about balance of power and hedgemons….we knew that already of course.

        So where is the person who will delineate the exact ‘issues’ by saying for Israel it is about being their being the regional hedgemon and they can’t be if Iran also has nukes.

        And for the US where is the person who will ask what difference does it make to the US who is the regional hedgemon if our only interest is oil availability?

        Would Iran quit selling oil, would it prevent others from selling their oil, would it nuke someone and itself and upset the ME oil cart and improvish and destroy themselves any more than the supposedly bat shit insane nuked up Korea has or would?

        Israeli now back on…..Iran threat to the world, more Iran with nukes would Germany in 1940’s holocaust for the Jews, Hitler…..etc.,etc.,

        Interesting how no matter what the Israelis argue about the Iran threat ”to the world”…..90% of what they say, the arguments they make, is still about Israel and the Jews, not ‘the world’……..it is all about Israel…they can’t help it, that’s what their brains are locked on, it just comes out over and over. They seem to insert the ‘world threat’ when they catch themselves taking about the holocuast and Germany too much and remember they are suppose to make the world feel threatened also.

  5. atime forpeace
    January 2, 2013, 1:01 pm

    Very very nice Mondo. The time has come the walrus said…for the jewish community,and just in time too. What shall they do with Israel now that there is no excuse for not knowing.

  6. Tzombo
    January 2, 2013, 2:01 pm

    Please don’t use ‘Jerusalem’ as a synonym for Israel’s political centre.

  7. Shmuel
    January 2, 2013, 2:04 pm

    the kibbutzes were segregationist; they didn’t accept Palestinians as members

    And in the vanguard of the “redemption of the land” (i.e. from non-Jewish ownership), not to mention major beneficiaries of the theft of Palestinian land by the Israeli state, following the Nakba.

    Troy:

    Whereas most Israelis have moved beyond shlilat hagalut — negating the Diaspora, assuming all Jews should live in Israel – growing numbers of American Jews, especially some elite rabbis, professors and their students – are perpetrating shlilat tzion – negating Israel.

    “Negation of the diaspora” is not about where “Jews should live”, but about denying the value of the bulk of Jewish history and insisting upon political Zionism as the only valid form of Jewish expression. Most Israelis have definitely not “moved beyond” this ideology, expressed with deepest conviction and contempt by figures such as A.B. Yehoshua, but ever-present in Israeli society and consciousness – even among Israelis who express a desire to leave the country.

    Troy’s invented “negation of Zion” on the other hand, neither seeks to determine where “Jews should live” nor promotes a single vision of Jewish expression, but merely fails to treat Israel with the appropriate (according to Troy) degree of respect and admiration. A very bad habit indeed.

  8. Les
    January 2, 2013, 2:34 pm

    Also from Haaretz Jan.01, 2013

    In a fundraising letter, J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, counted the 239 signatures on the AIPAC-backed congressional letter sent Dec. 21 as a victory for his movement, noting particularly that only 67 Democrats signed.

    “We’re seeing the impact in Congress where two-thirds of the Democratic Caucus refused to sign AIPAC’s latest letter calling for closing the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington,” Ben-Ami said in the letter. “Such letters used to be signed by 4 out of every 5 Members of Congress. Not any more.”

    link to haaretz.com

    • Nevada Ned
      January 3, 2013, 1:15 am

      Israel and the US have been grooming the so-called Palestinian Authority* to play the role of the Vichy government in Occupied France: a collaborator who helps disguise the occupation.
      If the PA collapses because Israel confiscates the funds of the PA, then the Israelis will lose their sub-contractor and enforcer, and Israel will have to enforce the occupation herself.
      This will be a very big burden on Israeli military manpower.

      This accounts for the US opposition (and some Israeli opposition) to de-funding the PA.

      But I think the PA (=PLO) is so discredited by now among Palestinians that it will collapse anyway (i.e., even if funds are not cut off).

      *A bitter joke among Palestinians is that the Palestinian authority has “no power, no sovereignty, and no authority.”

      • Avi_G.
        January 3, 2013, 4:02 am

        Israel and the US have been grooming the so-called Palestinian Authority* to play the role of the Vichy government in Occupied France

        I wouldn’t say “have been grooming”.

        From the very beginning (1993) the US and Israel designed the PA to be a subcontractor.

        Most of the funding was aimed at creating, training, arming and deploying a sub-contractor force to replace the Israeli IOF.

        The PA paramilitary force (not quite an army, but crtainly a glorified police force) was receiving training in Jordan courtesy of the US.

        At the time, most of those PA police/military recruits came from various Arab states. Israel vetted them and cleared them before they could enter the west bank.

      • Avi_G.
        January 3, 2013, 4:19 am

        The rationale for bringing recruits from the pool of Palestinians in the diaspora was that for this force to be “effective” (read: Israel friendly) they had to have not experienced life under the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

      • Les
        January 3, 2013, 12:13 pm

        The US paying for the PA military force supervised by Abbas, should remind us who paid for Hitler’s Judenrat, then as now, to maintain the peace.

  9. Mooser
    January 2, 2013, 3:03 pm

    “It’s about time that American Jews speak up about settlements.”

    You’ll make some lucky woman an excellent ex-husband one day. I thought we were getting a divorce, not volunteering to take care of them without even getting bed privileges?

  10. DICKERSON3870
    January 2, 2013, 6:06 pm

    RE: “But here is the best part of [Gil] Troy’s piece, where he says that Israel and the U.S. are twin miracles but Mexico sucks. What blindness! There is not a word about Israel’s constitutional maladies, apartheid on the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of enfranchised Jewish colonists living next to people who can’t vote, etc.” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: It sounds as though Gil Troy was channeling his hero, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the constantly bloviating, über-pompous ass of yore who once advocated a policy of “benign neglect” for America’s (black) urban areas!

    SEE: “Hagel Is The Wrong Choice”, by Gil Troy, The Daily Beast, 12/14/12

    [EXCERPT] . . . The great Senator and American Ambassador to the U.N., Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who crossed the aisle gracefully, sought a muscular idealism in foreign policy, finding McGovern’s approach too apologetic and Kissinger’s approach too utilitarian. We must ask “how much does freedom matter to the United States today?” Moynihan preached. We must learn to recognize and confront totalitarian evil which will employ any tactic to advance particular goals, he advised. And he sought, his colleague Leonard Garment noted, “to generate excitement,” to “dramatize the ideology of the West.” That is not the skill set or track record Chuck Hagel brings—nor is that the skill set or track record John Kerry would bring to the State Department.
    The cynic in me cannot wait to watch all the Obamaniacs who pitched the President as Israel’s BFF, shoehorning the Hagel appointment into their boosterish worldview. I love watching Washington partisans grovel, backpedal, and spin. The idealist in me hopes that this “likely” appointment will be deep-sixed somehow and that Obama will fill his second-term foreign policy team with American visionaries who have the moral clarity of a Moynihan, the shrewdness of a Kissinger, and the pragmatism Obama himself articulated in his Nobel acceptance address.

    • Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

    SOURCE – link to thedailybeast.com

    P.S. Gil Troy – link to en.wikipedia.org

    P.P.S. FROM THE WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE: In [his book] Pandaemonium, Moynihan described himself in his UN capacity as “something of an embarrassment to my own government, and fairly soon left before I was fired.”

    • lysias
      January 3, 2013, 2:51 pm

      I liked Moynihan’s book Secrecy.

      • DICKERSON3870
        January 6, 2013, 4:06 pm

        RE: “I liked Moynihan’s book Secrecy.” ~ lysias

        REPLY: Yes, that was one of Moynihan’s more thoughtful endeavors.

        FROM WIKIPEDIA [Daniel Patrick Moynihan]:

        [EXCERPT]
        Commission on Government Secrecy
        Main article: Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy

        In the Post–Cold War Era, the 103rd Congress enacted legislation directing an inquiry into the uses of government secrecy. Moynihan chaired the Commission. The Committee studied and made recommendations on the “culture of secrecy” that pervaded the United States government and its intelligence community for 80 years, beginning with the Espionage Act of 1917, and made recommendations on the statutory regulation of classified information.
        The Committee’s findings and recommendations were presented to the President in 1997. As part of the effort, Moynihan secured release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation of its classified Venona file. This file documents the FBI’s joint counterintelligence investigation, with the United States Signals Intelligence Service, into Soviet espionage within the United States. Much of the information had been collected and classified as secret information for over 50 years.
        After release of the information, Moynihan authored “Secrecy: The American Experience”[34] where he discussed the impact government secrecy has had on the domestic politics of America for the past half century, and how myths and suspicion created an unnecessary partisan chasm.

        SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

  11. MRW
    January 2, 2013, 11:08 pm

    For starters, the US “miracle” has the separation of church and state (1) in its constitution (2). The Israeli “miracle” has neither. It goes downhill from there.

  12. ritzl
    January 3, 2013, 5:33 pm

    Very positive.

    Taking this development a small step further, perhaps it’s now possible for these folks, as a bloc, to reach out to the mainstream Christian denominations that are struggling with the very same issue(s) and have been impugned by the “organized” (sorry Mooser) Jewish community.

    Amplify the message and mutually expand and empower the messengers.

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