As readers know, I am focused on the coming American Jewish break with Israel. A community that has prospered because of equal rights and the separation of church and state here cannot continue to support the nullification of those very same ideals there. (Roger Cohen in the New York Times sees the same split coming.)
The spontaneous speech by a New York art gallery owner (video below) is compelling evidence for the trend.
Let me set the scene. On Thursday night, the New Israel Fund held an event at the Ronald Feldman gallery in Soho featuring photographs of the conflict, including the destruction of Gaza, and comments by Haaretz’s US editor Chemi Shalev, who said that Israeli society had turned its back on the world’s good opinion during the Gaza war of 2014.
At the end of the presentation, host Ronald Feldman, who had given his commercial space over to an exhibit that is not going to make him any money, was invited to speak, and he did so with real feeling.
The speech was off the cuff. Feldman began by saying how devoted his mother was to Israel– and he inherited that devotion. He has supported Israel “no matter what”. He was at the White House when the Oslo accords were signed in 1993. But now he is perplexed.
Now I look at Israel and I don’t know what it is. I can’t figure out what Israel is. So seeing this show, Israel becomes so much more complex, and so different from what I thought. And not a good thought. I still support it wholly and completely, but don’t agree with many of the things that are going on there. I hope it can hold on to its value.
Feldman segued to President Obama’s relationship to Israel. Before Obama ran for his second term, Feldman said, he was among a group of concerned Jews who met with the president at a New York restaurant to discuss his policy on Israel. No one ate anything for hours, Feldman said, as the president answered their questions. (I believe Feldman might be talking about this meeting on the Upper East Side in January 2012.)
[Obama] stood and he answered any questions you had. And he started out like this: “I know who you are.” Everybody was like Huh! What? He said, “I know what you stand for. I know you support Israel. But I also know that you love and support the United States. I know that you love America. And I know what interests you. These are your main interests: your interests are that you want fairness and you want equality.”
And everyone sat there and said, Finally someone non-Jewish who is in political office, very high up, understands who we are and where our hearts are at.
And Haaretz is that. And I’m sure that everyone else in Israel whether they’re on the right or the left have the same kind of thoughts. But it’s not quite exactly the same.
At this point Feldman explained the way that Israel is alienating some of these big American Jews.
What I’m seeing and what I’m hearing from many of my Jewish friends across the country: they’re very upset with Israel. They’re very angry, they don’t quite understand it. When you see this show, you will understand that there are two sides to this story, not the one side we hear normally….
Feldman said that the dark side of Israel is in this show– meaning, its treatment of Palestinians– and that American leaders must engage that truth.
Without healing those sides, which many American presidents have tried– hopeful presidents including Hillary have tried, no one can get through, no one can make this happen… We want Israel to live on, we want it to have a long life.
Then Feldman explained when the break occurred between Israel and American Jews: when Israel “stood against the president.” During the Iran deal, “a wealthy Jewish individual,” pictured in the next room (meaning Sheldon Adelson), arranged for Netanyahu to speak to Congress against the president’s plans– “the first time that was done that way with an Israeli”–
And it broke a code we had between us. The code was: Israel do or die, no matter what we support Israel and we want it to live, we give it everything we have, everything we can if they’re in trouble, and we ask our legislators to help Israel.
All of a sudden Israel was politicized, right against left, in signing the treaty.
His Jewish friends are now angry at Israel under Netanyahu:
And I have spoken to many friends again across the country, who say, I’m not sure I’m ever going to now, as long as he’s in office [meaning Netanyahu], support this country. That is a really terrible thing to be hearing, because it’s not what we want and not what we need and not what the future should bring. It’s like an alarm bell.
Feldman tried to resolve these feelings by citing Haaretz’s work and Chemi Shalev, who he hopes will run for office back in Israel, and redeem the place.
A few comments. Feldman is a romantic about Israel; and it’s amazing how long it’s taken for him to wake up to even a tiny portion of the oppression of Palestinians. He supports Democratic candidates; but you can appreciate that there is little that separates him from a neoconservative when it comes to policy. He’s perplexed by Israel; he can’t accept how rightwing it is. But as Shalev indicated in his own remarks, Netanyahu represents the broad center of Israeli Jewish society. That society is reactionary and Jewish, and it must change fundamentally in order for there to be peace. Feldman’s feelings of disillusion in his mother’s dream are sure to continue a long slide down, and the divorce will ultimately entail American Jews diming out the Israel lobby as a dual loyalty operation. Feldman’s speech is very similar to Senator Chuck Schumer’s speech last year saying that the Iran deal raised sensitive questions of dual loyalty inside the Jewish community.