A month ago, JCC Manhattan, a center for Jewish life on the Upper West Side, provided a stage for an Israeli figure to justify racism against Palestinians, with such statements as “What I would want [in a two-state agreement] is maximal territory with minimal Arab citizens of that territory.”
No one deplored her comments, though when a member of the audience said that the U.S. should cut off all funding to Israel, the moderator quickly shut her down and the rabbi leading the event reminded the audience about showing respect to “the shared enterprise of Jewish community.”
The event was a March 19 discussion of the Israeli elections (podcast here), which had taken place two days before. Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, a director of programming at the center and an outspoken leader on gender questions, feminism and racial justice in the United States who also loves Israel, introduced Batya Kahana-Dror in glowing terms as a member of Israel’s orthodox community who has led “unrelenting battles for women’s rights.” Among others on the panel were Chemi Shalev of Haaretz and Rabbi David Ellenson of Hebrew Union College.
The moderator of the event was Ethan Bronner, a managing editor for international news at Bloomberg and a former Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, operating comfortably inside a Jewish communal space. Bronner referred to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria and described the event as “a largely Jewish audience and a Jewish panel.”
But he also pressed Kahana-Dror on her view of Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial appeal to Jewish voters on election day to counter the Arab voters coming out in droves.
I want to ask Batya to address the Arab question. What you are hearing is people on this panel who were offended by the prime minister telling Jews in Israel, get out and vote because the left is bringing out Arabs. Were you offended by that?
Kahana-Dror rationalized the comments. Speaking in Hebrew, translated by Rabbi Cohen, she embraced the idea of Israel as an ethnocracy and disparaged the Palestinian political contribution to that society as demanding a Jewish “surrender” of identity:
What kind of democracy are we going to be? The Israeli democracy is a democracy which doesn’t identify with the Palestinians. It’s a different peoplehood that we want to give the character of the state. It’s a different situation from the European democracy. The Israeli democracy is an ethnocracy and wants to give precedence to the Jewish ethnicity. So the real problem is what’s going to be our future… What the Arabs want is a different kind of state, a neutral state, not a Jewish state. So are we going to surrender our Jewish identity and our Zionism?
Bronner pressed her for her response to Netanyahu’s appeal.
I can’t say that I felt good about it, that I felt comfortable about it, but on the other hand it represents the dilemma that I was trying to explain.
Bronner said that Netanyahu was “touching something real” in Israeli society, even though one could be critical of him for doing so. And Chemi Shalev then explained how Netanyahu’s comments seemed to many Israelis. They overwhelmingly see themselves as Jewish in nationality, not Israeli, and they see Israeli leftist NGOs working “in collusion” with Arabs to transform the society.
It sounds like some jargon, but the leftist NGOs– it’s become a big issue in Israel… The NIF [New Israel Fund] working on behalf of the Arabs, it’s a very touchy issue. What [Netanyahu] was trying to say and I think successfully was that these people are trying to make Israel less of a Jewish state.
As Shalev spoke, Bronner affirmed his analysis, saying “Of course” and “Right.”
No one said that such racial ideas would be outrageous and out of bounds in American politics.
Later Bronner pressed Kahana-Dror to describe the Palestinian “state” or “entity” that she wanted to live alongside. “Do you want to hang on to all of Judea and Samaria and the people in it. What is it you want?” She said:
What I would want if such an agreement could be achieved, is maximal territory with minimal Arab citizens of that territory.
There was nervous laughter (I hear, listening to the podcast), and Bronner encourages her view: “OK, but I mean, you can get there, there are things you can do to make that happen.”
Kahana-Dror then spoke of the Law of Return, which allows Jews from around the world to move to Israel:
There’s no other way to see it [except as] a law that declares Israel unilaterally as a Jewish state. Even the Supreme Court refused to permit reunification of Arab families because the overriding principle is that ultimately Israel is a Jewish state– and this gives us a problem in our democracy.
Here is a report on Israel’s racist policy against Palestinian family reunification from one of those leftwing NGOs, B’Tselem.
Soon after Kahana-Dror endorsed that policy, the floor was opened for questions and a woman said that she “was outraged when Netanyahu who I regard as a Tea Party Republican thumbed his nose at our president, my president, and spoke to the Congress” — a lot of applause — “and I was furious” when Israel told the “U.S. to go to hell” in the election returns. She went on:
Now I hear this sentiment: Are there any people who feel the way I do, that it’s about time that the United States tells Israel to go to hell and cut off all funding to Israel because obviously they don’t consider what the U.S. thinks?
The woman was booed, and Bronner ruled the question out.
Ok. Alright. We’ll move on to other questions.
Then Rabbi Cohen stepped in to suggest that the woman had been disrespectful.
I just want to remind us again, that the enterprise that we are engaged in is the shared enterprise of Jewish community. I really appreciate that people feel strongly and these are really important and essential issues… I ask you to try and treat one another with respect… to say what you think.. but to do so respectfully of one another.
So Kahana-Dror’s repeated justification of racism against “Arabs” gets a pass, but an American woman’s suggestion that the U.S. should cut off funds to Israel draws a rebuke. And you wonder why the American Jewish community is in a pickle over Israel.