As we often proclaim on this site, a historical divide is now occurring between American Jews who feel that their obligation to support Israel is a “sacred” mission (as Dershowitz put it) and American Jews who want no part of that. As Israel approaches the 50th anniversary of the occupation, more and more American Jews are discovering that they do not share values with the Jewish state. And Benjamin Netanyahu is driving the divorce by making racist, Islamophobic rightwing statements at every turn.
As we also say, the mainstream media are ignoring this trend, in some measure because older editors are in the tank for Israel. So here are a few recent news items that are evidence of the divorce. Notably, two are anguished statements from rightwing ideologues, Yossi Klein Halevi and John Podhoretz. It’s just what Peter Beinart said, the crisis of Zionism.
First, here is a Times of Israel report on Zionism 3.0, a conference at a Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto aimed at rekindling the love affair between American Jews and Israel. Yehuda Kurtzer, a liberal Zionist, was blunt about the way that Israel has gone from being a binder of American Jewry to being a disrupter. Emphasis mine:
“Two generations ago, the State of Israel was probably the strongest organizing force for the American Jewish community,” he said. “Today, there is no stronger disorganizing force in Jewish life, no single greater source of tension in the American Jewish communal politics than the State of Israel.”
Yossi Klein Halevi, the author and Jerusalem settler, also spoke at this conference and said it was imperative that American and Israeli Jewish communities remain a family, sharing “Jewish citizenship”. Then he lamented the many divides between those communities. For one thing, American Jews are white collar while Israeli Jews are blue collar.
Israelis are tough, American Jews are not.
Each community has devised an opposite strategy for coping. Our strategy is to be tough, the American Jewish strategy is to be flexible. Our dilemma in Israel is that the strategy that works for us in the Middle East– the tougher we are the safer we are– that that same strategy backfires for us in the liberal west.
We are a militarized society… American Jewry is a demilitarized society. This is an American Jewish generation that does not know the military experience.
Klein Halevi said it’s not healthy if American Jews don’t have the right to criticize Israel. But only to a point.
Criticism is not a substitute for a healthy relationship. If criticism becomes the sole basis for an American Jewish relationship with Israel and we are seeing signs of that developing in certain circles, where the only relationship is, we oppose you…. What I need from American Jewish critics is a sense of understanding of the agonizing complexity of Israel’s dilemmas, not to trivialize our dilemmas.
But when Klein Halevi described those dilemmas– well, very few young American Jews can relate to this dilemma:
Most Israelis feel today that we have exhausted our options on the Palestinian issue, which is why there is virtually no debate in Israel today about the Palestinians.
And “a deep divide… opened between us” with the Iran deal. Here comes the scolding. How many young American Jews would sit still during this lecture?
I have to tell you how profoundly disappointed I was–and that’s an understatement– in last year’s Iran vote…I wasn’t disappointed in the administration, I was disappointed in the American Jewish community. I felt deeply let down. Ninety percent of Israelis, according to polls, opposed that deal. For many of us, this was an existential threat. And I always felt that at an existential moment, for all of the differences between us, I could depend on the American Jewry. And I don’t know where to take that. I really don’t know where to take that because I am now living in a completely different reality. I am living in a Middle-East that has the shadow of a resurgent conventional power emerging in Iran with the threat down the line as soon as this deal expires for an almost certain nuclear Iran. And the American Jewish community as a whole, there were heroes in this community, AIPAC was extraordinary… But I feel let down by the American Jewish community.
Klein Halevi appeals to American Jews not to make any more “apocalyptic” pronouncements about Israel. They have become a “constant soundtrack”; and “it is debilitating.” Exactly what BDS said it would do.
Let’s move on to neoconservative John Podhoretz. The following is from his Facebook page. A friend passed it along to me. It reflects the tremendous divide among American Jews about Israel.
“I had this red-diaper baby high school teacher whom I loved, a history teacher who taught AP classes… He left my school and went to another, where he’s still teaching, I guess in his early 70s. I noted with great discomfort the other year that he was writing for a vicious anti-Zionist website, which would fit his politics. The other month I met someone in his 20s who went to the school where he teaches now, and we discussed this teacher. Later I was sitting at Barney Greengrass with my son and I decided to email him to say I was remembering him and our time at Greengrass together fondly almost 40 years ago. I found his email on the school’s website. The 20 something guy ran into the teacher the other day and said, “hey, I was just talking to John Podhoretz about you.” And the teacher said, “He does the devil’s work.””
I hear all the young Jews out there asking themselves: I’m supposed to do so much for Israel, what’s in it for me? A bad reputation.
Now here is Rabbi Brant Rosen’s message about livestreaming progressive High Holidays services, from Jewish Voice for Peace. Rosen celebrates the same divorce that the others are lamenting:
Something very exciting is happening in the borderlands of Jewish life. Across the country, we’re seeing the emergence of congregations and havurot (fellowships) grounded in a commitment to justice and human rights.
Communities where we are invited to bring our whole selves: our Jewish selves, our political selves, our queer selves. Communities where all are welcome as equals: Jew, Jew-ish, or none of the above. Communities that do not require allegiance to Israel or Zionism as a prerequisite.
It is not an accident that Jewish Voice for Peace is at the forefront of this new emergence. I’m so proud of my colleagues on the JVP Rabbinical Council who are creating and celebrating Jewish community transformation from within, and from without…
I am thrilled to announce that for the first time, through the miracle of livestreaming, JVP is making it possible for you to virtually attend these three very special Jewish communities for the High Holidays. We will also be streaming live from a powerful interfaith service that will take place at the militarized U.S./Mexico border during the School of the Americas Watch Convergence.
These plans represent a crucial strategic part of our work at JVP. Together with the JVP staff, members and my visionary colleagues on our Rabbinical Council, we’re proving that a Jewish communal transformation is truly possible. As you can see from the schedule above, Immigrant justice, the Movement for Black Lives, and Palestine solidarity will be interwoven through our services along with this season’s themes of reflection, return and renewal.
To be continued….