Here are three recent stories involving the ongoing American Jewish divorce from rightwing Israel.
First, progressive Daniel Biss is a mathematician and Illinois state senator who is Jewish, running for governor. Biss got his political start opposing the Iraq War, and on September 1, he announced his choice for lieutenant governor, a Chicago alderman who’d worked for Bernie Sanders, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.
Carlos is one of the fiercest progressive fighters I know, serving as alderman of Chicago’s 35th Ward.
Like me, Carlos is the grandson of immigrants and the son of educators.
One pol’s reaction was swift. Two days later, Brad Schneider, an Illinois Congressman, withdrew his endorsement of Biss because Ramirez-Rosa supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Schneider writes:
On August 31, I was surprised to learn through press reports that Senator Daniel Biss had selected Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa as his running mate. I was immediately concerned about some of Alderman Ramirez-Rosa’s past comments about the United States support of our ally Israel, and his affiliation with a group that is an outspoken supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Following conversations with Senator Biss and Alderman Ramirez-Rosa, I have informed the campaign of the withdrawal of my support.
This decision is not taken lightly. I remain hopeful that, as Alderman Ramirez-Rosa learns more about the importance of the US-Israel partnership to both our nations, the unique challenges Israel faces as the only democracy in a very dangerous neighborhood, and the commitment of the vast majority of the Israeli people to peace and a two state solution, he will reconsider his positions.
Biss’s campaign has not released a statement on the de-endorsement yet, but maybe they’ll stick to their guns. Schneider is something of a pro-Israel hack. Though he endorsed Biss last June, praising his “ lead on issues like income inequality, women’s health care, and protecting our environment,” he got his start working for AIPAC. Chicago Tribune, 2012:
Though he’s never held office, Schneider was familiar with politics from working with pro-Israel groups active in Washington. His license plate, TIKUN1, refers to a Hebrew phrase that calls for repairing the world.
Schneider worked to sway legislators as a volunteer with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major lobbying group.
Though a politician would be foolish to take my advice, it’s my belief that Biss/Ramirez-Rosa can withstand this blow and keep going. As Ben Lorber of Jewish Voice for Peace writes in response to Brad Schneider, American Jews are not all with Israel:
Sadly, the article below [showing Israeli Jewish support for ethnic cleansing] shows that it’s not true that ‘the vast majority of Israelis are committed to peace’, as you describe. As an American Jew I support BDS, I support Alderman Rosa and I no longer support you. It’s time for progressive politicians like yourself to put Palestinian rights on the agenda, stop being bullied by AIPAC, and get with the program, or else you’re going to lose the support of the constituents you need to get elected- if not today, then tomorrow.
Ramirez-Rosa was elected to the City Council in 2015 at age 26, one of the youngest ever elected in the city, and was a delegate for Bernie Sanders in last year’s Democratic National Convention.
In an interview with The Real News Network last year, Ramirez-Rosa said U.S. divestment from Israel is “a conversation that needs to be had.” He’s also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which recently passed a resolution supporting the BDS movement.
By the way, another candidate in this race is J.B. Pritzker, from the hugely wealthy Pritzker family, which has tended to be very supportive of Israel.
Next item, Samuel G. Freedman has an opinion article up at the Forward-– “Netanyahu is abandoning American Jews, because he can”– in which he argues that Netanyahu is abandoning liberal American Jews because he is forming a base in the U.S. of rightwing Christian Zionists. I don’t think this is Netanyahu’s game, but Freedman is clinical about the divide. A liberal Jewish community is in “abject despair” about the Israel they loved being swallowed by the occupation.
We have never been further from Israel than we are at this point. And we find ourselves at that distance because, after all the invocations of Jewish peoplehood, after all the salutes to us as a “strategic asset,” we American Jews have never been made to feel less necessary to Israel’s success or survival than we are today.
Freedman, author of Jew Vs. Jew, isn’t even talking about pro-BDS Jews. We’re outside his community (another divide). He celebrates the anti-occupation work of Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon, and takes a shot at two Netanyahu officials: rightwing settler/consul general Dani Dayan and UN ambassador Danny Danon. They do not relate to the “rest of us,” Freedman says. “[T]hese diplomats are emissaries without empathy.”
Dayan was angered by this characterization. He was welcomed by Forward editor Jane Eisner not long ago and is trying to keep up his relations with liberal Zionists. He issued a thinskinned tweet:
A @SamuelGFreedman published something factually incorrect about me. I asked him to apologize. He didn’t. I found he’s a prof. of journalism
As Freedman notes, limited access to the western wall for non-orthodox Jews is driving some of the estrangement. Daniel Gordis has called on American Jews to bring Israel to its knees by boycotting it over the western wall (but no boycott for Palestinian human rights!).
In the latest abuse, the official Cincinnati Jewish community is angered that four female students at the Hebrew Union College studying in Israel were forced to undergo body searches on August 23 before approaching the western wall in occupied East Jerusalem. Two were American. One, Tzvia Rubens, describes her treatment here.
Netanyahu has reportedly called for an investigation. He doesn’t want to lose his strategic asset, American Jewry, anytime soon.