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.

    Leave a Reply