This happened a month ago in occupied Palestine, but it’s important in my view. So here’s a slideshow.
May 24 was Jerusalem Day: when ideological Jews marched through occupied Jerusalem in a parade of flags to demonstrate Jewish sovereignty over the city. I walked through the Muslim Quarter with the crowds, and watched feverish dancing in the plaza of the western wall. That’s where I caught up with the man in the picture above: Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Hoenlein has been a rightwing apologist for the settler movement. You can see the Al Aqsa mosque over his right shoulder.
Meantime, at the Damascus Gate, the young Jews of #IfNotNow, which calls itself the “Jewish resistance,” was bodily opposing the occupation, as Jews. A dozen and more of them sat down at Damascus Gate and locked arms that afternoon. They were hauled away by border police, as hecklers chanted, “Send them to Gaza.” One of them suffered a broken arm.
#IfNotNow is aimed at Malcolm Hoenlein himself: it calls out the “American Jewish establishment” for its support of the occupation.
Three days after Jerusalem Day, I went to Tel Aviv for a demonstration against the occupation in Rabin Square, organized by Peace Now with other groups. Here’s Peace Now’s placard: “50 and Enough!”
In this next picture, you can see Peace Now’s booth, in the background. Galia Golan, a founder of Peace Now, expressed the urgency of the action when she told me that fascist currents have entered Israeli political culture.
There’s just one problem with this demonstration. Peace Now helps pay Malcolm Hoenlein’s sumptuous salary ($422,000 in 2015).
Americans for Peace Now is a member of the Conference of Presidents. It pays $9,400 per year of membership dues to the Conference, per Ori Nir, who justified Peace Now’s membership in the Conference to me last year:
As you know, APN has decided, years ago, to become a part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. We stand behind that decision. And, as we have discussed in the past, our participation in the Conference does not mean that we agree with statements made by other member- organizations or by its executive officials.
It’s a legitimate point. Groups with an overarching agenda may put aside strong differences to build coalitions (it’s why I’ve worked with conservative Republicans to take on the Israel lobby, which I believe is the root cause). But what could be more important to Peace Now than fighting the occupation? Peace Now has done noble work in that vein, documenting the settlements. But at the same time it’s willing to help pay the salary of a leading settler advocate.
Why? My sense is that there are two factors. Access. The Conference is a powerful organization that has access to the White House and was in fact ordained by President Eisenhower because he didn’t want to deal with a bunch of discordant Jewish voices. The Conference has its origins in Gentleman’s Agreement USA, when Jews felt themselves to be outsiders who had to band together to marshal what power they had.
But even more important, Peace Now and the Conference share a commitment to Zionism: the Conference is “in the vanguard of engaging America’s leaders…. [to] advance the U.S.-Israel special relationship, bolster Israel’s security and prosperity,” as the Conference puts it.
The young Jews of #IfNotNow surely see the politics of the Jewish establishment differently. They are the vanguard.