‘Little Jewboy’ moment highlights coming divorce between US Jews and Israel

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You’ve surely seen the coverage of the “Jewboy” insult aimed at the US ambassador to Israel by a former aide to the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Aviv Bushinsky was speaking on television about Ambassador Daniel Shapiro’s criticism of Israeli settlements. “To put it bluntly, it was a statement typical of a little Jew boy,” Bushinsky said. What did Shapiro do wrong? Reuters:

Shapiro’s supposed misstep was to observe in a speech to a security conference that Israel applies the law differently to Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank. “There seem to be two standards…”

Shapiro was raised in Illinois but speaks Hebrew and studied at Israel’s Hebrew University. Yet his criticism is the most direct so far by an American official. Indeed it has led some to wonder whether the US is giving up on Israel.

The flap demonstrates an important sociological trend: American Jews, even mainstream ones indoctrinated to love Israel, are breaking more and more publicly with the Jewish state. The Netanyahu government is proving to be embarrassing to American Jews; they do not want to be associated with rightwing apartheid policies.

The Netanyahu documentary on PBS was very mild, but a shot across the bow. The divorce that we have long predicted on this site is now on the horizon; and in years to come this separation will yield an even bigger reward: mainstream American Jews will declare themselves anti-Zionist.

But let me put away the crystal ball and list the new evidence for the divorce.

Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week
Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week

First, Gary Rosenblatt is a hard-core Israel supporter. But in the Jewish Week ten days ago, he reveals that Jewish leaders say it’s getting impossible to sell Israel to young Jews:

American Jewish leaders confide that generating support for the Jewish state is becoming increasingly difficult these days — even within the Jewish community, and especially among younger people.
The hard fact is that Israel’s leadership is moving in a direction at odds with the next generation of Americans, including many Jews, who want to see greater efforts to resolve the Palestinian conflict and who put the onus for the impasse on Jerusalem. It is not only President Obama who feels that way… Whether or not it is fair, the strong perception today is that the Israeli government is moving further right, and intransigent, at a time when the rest of the world is fed up with the Israel-Palestinian impasse
And this political change will be licensed by fundraisers.
Federation executives worry privately that when the generation of major funders who vividly remember Israel’s struggle for statehood and the anguish of the 1967 and 1973 wars passes from the scene, raising substantial dollars for the Jewish state will be that much harder.

Next, and again in the Jewish press — this trend is not very visible in the American mainstream yet– Haaretz has a Q-and-A with an Israeli leader describing her frustrations in getting U.S. Jews “to engage and support” Israel. Liran Avisar Ben Horin is head of Masa, a pro-Israel group, and she says that US Reform Jews tell her, “I will never set foot in Israel.” Did you hear that?  Ben Horin:

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his “silence” stunt in the United Nations [last October], I thought to myself maybe he was complaining about the world. But we are really entering an era in which the young Jewish people in North America are partners in this silence….

Anger and disagreement isn’t that bad, because it comes from concern. I’m worried not about Iran but those who are silent. They’re checking out from our discussion. We must ask ourselves how it will look in 30 years. The traditional Jewish leadership is aging, the young leadership is depleted and silent – that’s the story in a nutshell.

About all the anti-Israel stuff and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. They say to themselves, “Israel isn’t a brand I want to identify with, so I’ll just quit the discussion.” We haven’t been able to develop a sense of belonging. All the battles of Birthright, Masa and others come down to this fight…

I met Reform Jews who told me, “I will never set foot in Israel.”

I always tell them, “Come and be part of the story, help find a solution.” I invite them to participate in the largest enterprise of the Jewish people.

[Once] they would have turned to youth movements as part of the Zionist discourse. Today, we tell them it will improve their résumé. They come here for half a year or a year, and intern at Google, Check Point, Waze, and in startups too.

Another item from Haaretz. Kathleen Peratis is a liberal Zionist, a former J Street board member who has been very clear-eyed about the occupation. In Haaretz, she authors a piece that is highly favorable to the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) because it is the only thing that puts pressure on Israel. Her piece invokes an American civil rights struggle as a guide to Jewish response to Israel:

Progressive American Jews are generally not reluctant to criticize the occupation, but few in the “mainstream Jewish community” (those who get invited to the White House Hanukkah party) will advocate serious measures to hold anyone accountable. At the HaaretzQ conference in New York in December, for example, not a single Jewish speaker advocated any kind of BDS. A few vaguely referred to putting “pressure” on Israel (Colette Avital, former Israeli consul general to New York City; and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum) or to making sure there were “consequences” (Lara Friedman, legislative director Americans For Peace Now), but no one got too specific. BDS is high treif and they know it. Calling for it explicitly would be illegal in Israel and the kiss of death in America.

Too many progressive Jews think criticizing Israeli policies on the occupation is enough, but it’s not working. Challenging settler businesses to shut up shop is the new frontier for BDS……While the Jewish world dithers, the world is moving on, developing more consequential tools to hold accountable those who commit or are complicit in occupation-related abuses…

Does ending the abuse of Palestinian rights need to wait for the Israeli political elite to be convinced to change government policy?

As we have just celebrated Martin Luther King Day and Shabbat Tzedek, who thinks Palestinians and the rest of us should put justice on hold?

Right: if not now, when?

Next, even Todd Gitlin sees the writing on the wall. A religious liberal Zionist who is dedicated to opposing the BDS movement, Gitlin nonetheless makes an important concession in his latest assault on BDS in Tablet. He says that filmmaker Bruce Robbins of Columbia  is “right” about the growing international appeal of BDS. And not only that, Israel is undermining its “right to exist.”

He’s right, too, if he means that, outside Israel, belief in the nation’s right to exist has been undermined by Israel’s dreadful national policies and flagrantly illiberal direction.

Questioning Israel’s “right to exist” used to be a radical position. No more.

Again outside the US mainstream: Al Jazeera has published a piece focusing on several Jewish critics of Israel, including Brant Rosen, Tami Gold, and Henry Herskovitz. The piece cites the disquiet inside the Jewish community over Israel.

A study released in 2013 by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs found that almost half of the rabbis surveyed refrained in the preceding three years from publicly expressing their views on Israel. Nearly 40 percent of them sometimes or often avoided expressing “true feelings about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians” for fear of offending their listeners or those around them, according to the study, entitled Reluctant or Repressed? Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis.

Tami Gold, documentary film maker
Tami Gold, documentary film maker

The article contains a crushing anecdote, about a conflict within filmmaker Tami Gold’s family on the right way to memorialize her late mother in 2012:

Her uncle arrived and approached Gold to give her an envelope. It contained a formal letter acknowledging that he had donated money in the name of her mother to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a New York-based group that channels donations to the Israel Defense Forces.

“I was honouring my sister,” Raymond Rickman, the uncle, said of his action.

But for Gold, 66, that was a “horrible” gesture.

“My sister wrote a handwritten letter and sent it to him, saying what he did was a violation of my mother’s spirit and commitment in life, and that he sabotaged our memorial for my mother,” she said.”It is these kinds of grotesque atrocities against the Palestinian people that motivates me to speak out as a Jew,” she said.

Finally, there is this oblique report from England that suggests the brand is toxic all over.

The national pro-Israel rally supported by all major communal organisations has been cancelled because the venue has pulled out.

The “Say No To Terror: Stand With Israel” event was due to take place in Manchester’s Sheridan Suite function rooms on January 31, with around 2,000 people expected to attend.

But it will now happen in March at another location, after the venue in the north-east of the city decided against hosting the event.

Things are changing fast. Gosh when will the U.S. press catch up? We are pleased to be in the thick of this movement, as advocates and journalists, and pleased to see statements that were heretical a couple years ago come into the mainstream. Israel has no right to exist? Reform Jews refuse to set foot in Israel? Here is another prediction. This crisis will not end until American Jews declare, Zionism is racism. And one day they will.

Thanks to Dorothy Zellner, Max Blumenthal, Annie Robbins and Terry Weber.

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I am traveling to Dublin on Friday 22nd to see Gideon Levy give a lecture at the Abbey Theater.I will try to pass on this article to him–somehow.It should help to raise his spirits.It certainly did raise mine.

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