The former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren says that there’s a “radical… implosion” of liberal American Jewish support for Israel because these Jews associate the country with “oppression.” But as if to reinforce the trend, virtually in the same breath Oren says that Israel faces an “existential threat” from Palestinian polygamy and it should enforce laws against the practice.
Oren, now a member of the Knesset for a centrist Jewish party, spoke to the Times of Israel in Jerusalem Sunday night. He said that while Israel is today less isolated diplomatically than at any time in its history, it is in an international war for its legitimacy and it is losing young liberal American Jews.
On American Jews… my concern is very deep. I saw two polls recently that showed not only a radical reduction in young American Jewish liberal support for Israel but an implosion, something like a 44 percent drop. We’re not doing a good job. We’re just not doing the right job.
He said Israel had failed to show young American Jews that Israel is a progressive society:
Why should the young American Jewish liberal person think that this place isn’t the coolest place on earth? We’re not dong a good job. We don’t sell ourselves well enough…. We only have one Jewish people, and we can’t afford to take any of it for granted.
Israel has failed to internalize that it has been in a serious war for its legitimacy since 2005, and the other side is better at framing the terms.
The other side has a very simple narrative, “occupation,” “colonialism,” “oppression,” and “apartheid.” OK– anybody with a second grade education can recite that.
By contrast, the pro-Israel side uses terms like “Startup nation, beaches, democracy, 3000 years of history, Holocaust,” but they lose out to the simple idea of “oppression” in Israel’s international image.
What resonates with a 19-year-old Jewish kid in the United States? It’s the oppression. He doesn’t know about 1948, he doesn’t know about 1947.
Oren says he has turned to poets and writers to come up with “something beautiful, an eight line mission statement for Israel that will make you cry.” And among the phrases in that mission: “Israel is home. Israel is family. Israel is community.” Good luck.
While Oren is selling Israel as a progressive society, he also railed against Arab birth rates, which are fueled by polygamy, in his view. He said this is one of seven existential threats to Israel.
Number six is what I called the hemorrhaging of sovereignty. The state of Israel does not enforce sovereignty over large segments of its population or large areas of its territory. I had written this [in a 2009 article for Commentary] after spending five years in the Negev and watching the Negev disappear. One reason the Negev disappeared, is Israel doesn’t enforce its laws against polygamy. It just doesn’t. And it doesn’t enforce its land laws. Police will say we can’t enforce this, we need a division to enforce this…
The same thing happened in Galilee. Not as bad as happened in the Negev.
These are existential threats. To say you have a law against polygamy and then not enforce it? What does that say about our–
He said that polygamy was also undermining Jewish Jerusalem. When Oren moved to south Jerusalem 40 years ago, the occupied Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan “had a few buildings,” he said. And there were Jews living there. “I watched Silwan fill up with 700 illegal buildings. We didn’t enforce our sovereignty, we just didn’t.”
In Jewish neighborhoods, there is strict enforcement of building codes, he said.
Oren’s 2009 article for Commentary on existential threats doesn’t mention the word polygamy though it does mention Palestinian birth rates. Oren ought to know he can’t capture young liberal American Jews by railing against another culture’s customs. Oren’s focus is plainly racist: Israeli orthodox communities have some of the highest birth rates in that land and they don’t practice polygamy.
Thanks to James North.