At the height of the Iran debate in the Senate the other day, Californian Senator Dianne Feinstein eloquently defended the deal and then Texas Senator John Cornyn rose to oppose it. Outside there was a big anti-Deal rally organized by the Tea Party, along with some pro-Israel Jewish groups. Ted Cruz and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America stood up for Benjamin Netanyahu.
There you had the argument in a nutshell. At Israel’s most urgent hour, who was there for it? The Republicans and rightwing Jews. Most Jewish Democrats in Congress opposed Israel’s stated desires. So did progressive Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, and J Street.
This was the great domestic accomplishment of the Iran Deal: It has separated Zionism and Judaism, forever. What is a Zionist? Someone who supports Israel to the bitter end. A Republican or a rightwing Jew like Morton Klein or Alan Dershowitz.
But not all Jews are Zionists.
For years anti-Zionist Jews have been trying to make this argument. Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing. We oppose a racist supremacist ideology, but we like Jews.
We have lost this argument again and again. In 2002 Harvard president Lawrence Summers shut down a divestment campaign at leading schools by saying that it was anti-Semitic. Professors who had spoken up for human rights hid under their desks in shame.
Earlier this year, President Obama told the rightwing Zionist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel is the liberation story of the Jews, and so anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
This claim, that to be Jewish means to support Israel, is a core principle of the Israel lobby. You can hear it in the words of liberal rabbi Andy Bachman and rightwinger Abe Foxman too: We were almost destroyed in the Holocaust then we found a raft in the sea– Israel — and now we must bind together to protect that place or we could be annihilated again. We must speak as one to the powers that be. Because they cannot be trusted to support Jews on their own– look what they did during the Holocaust– and if our tiny community of Jews divides, the non-Jews will then feel free to turn on Israel.
There must be no daylight between the American government and Israel; and sealing that space is the job of American Jews. “Israel has three things it must ensure – its relationship with the United States, its relationship with the United States, and its relationship with the United States,” the Israeli president said the other day. And it has ensured those things by calling on American Jews.
But Israel called this time, and American Jews failed it. The Iran Deal began with an open declaration of American Jewish “loyalty” to Israel, expressed in the New York Times.
And it ended with the famous New York Times graphic showing that most Jewish congresspeople were not supporting Israel.
There are many reasons that so many American Jews did not stand up for Israel. The job has been going on for 40 years now, and we are sick of the job. We don’t believe in the Holocaust premise anymore, that we are vulnerable in the west; we think Jews can do fine in the west, in fact we are part of the U.S. establishment. And Israel undermined our appearance of patriotism when its prime minister came over to the Congress to try and submarine the president. Many Jews went to the ramparts over that.
But most of all it is Israel’s behavior that has destroyed this support. The racism, the massacres of Palestinian children, the unending occupation — everything you read on this site in our reports from Israel and Palestine — it is breaking through to American Jews. It’s a dirty job, and young people don’t want to do it. Harold Meyerson had an excellent column on the Iran aftermath in The Washington Post, stressing the break between American values and Israeli values, over the occupation:
One of the most striking, but not surprising, results of the Pew Research Center survey is the disenchantment that many, perhaps most, American Jews feel toward Israel. No nation can control another people and occupy its land for 48 years, as the Israelis have the Palestinians, without brutalizing and coarsening themselves, eroding many of the high moral hopes that American Jews once invested in Israel. Some older Jews are still attached to the Israel of 1948, to the scrappy but long-vanished Israel of kibbutz egalitarianism — one reason, perhaps, that three Jewish members from Florida, home to so many Jewish retirees, oppose the Iran deal. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, Israel’s values have become less universal and more dangerously tribal — appealing to the more tribal and self-segregating sensibilities of America’s Orthodox, and less and less to the more liberal and cosmopolitan sensibilities of the American Jewish majority.
The occupation is also what motivated two Connecticut Jewish leaders to invite supporters of BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions, into their synagogue privately, last month. As the leaders wrote in the Forward, the Stalinist policy of American Jewish unanimity on Israel was actually endangering Jews by convincing other Americans that we always stick together.
[T]he coordinated refusal of mainstream Jewish organizations to entertain debate about BDS may actually hurt us in our fight against rising anti-Semitism. Last year’s ADL study premised a showing of significantly increasing anti-Semitism on responders seeing Jews not as individuals but as a monolithic group. Yet the “excommunication” of supporters of BDS, pressuring others not to dialogue (as our synagogue was pressured) or even throwing out chapters that merely entertain debate on BDS (as Hillel has done) might suggest to the average listener that there is a monolithic Jewish “establishment,” which those of us within the American Jewish community know does not exist.
So Jews considered anti-Semites were invited into a Connecticut synagogue, in part to show the non-Jewish world that we actually have diversity.
But there was a monolith once. We did stick together. That was the premise of the Israel lobby. (And in fact, that sticking together helped produce the Iraq War, inasmuch as Democrats were not compelled to talk about Israel’s interest in 2002-2003, even as Israel pressed its interest.)
Today we are no longer sticking together. Some Jews support the Iran Deal, some oppose it. Some Jews support Israel, some oppose it and even want to boycott it.
Today, Judaism and Zionism are no longer united in the American Jewish mind. This is the great liberation of the Iran Deal.
Soon anti-Zionists and Zionists will be openly arguing inside the Jewish tent; and we anti-Zionists will begin to win, because we believe in a simple principle, equality, which John Brown said was in the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence.
Soon Palestinian human rights will at last count for something in the official American Jewish community. The era of Palestinian freedom is beginning with Jewish freedom.