As we noted a couple of days ago, conservative Jewish leader Ronald Lauder’s op-ed in the New York Times warning that Israel is delegitimizing itself by its endless settlement project and its rightwing turn into a “semi-theocratic” state has sent shockwaves through the Jewish establishment. Lauder is getting angry pushback in Israel, and a lot of support from the liberal Zionist community in the U.S.
The promise in Lauder’s article is not that it will end the occupation, but that it marks a leftward shift in the U.S. establishment discourse on Israel– and the beginning of a civil war inside the organized Jewish community over Zionism, a civil war that began in the grassroots long ago.
Notice how condescending Israeli minister and settler leader Naftali Bennett, 45, is toward Lauder, 74, at this Israeli government conference on anti-Semitism on Monday night. I don’t know about you, but I would never address someone 30 years my senior in such a familiar, abusive manner. Ma’ariv reporter Yanir Cozin tweeted the clip of the exchange.
— Yanir Cozin (יניר) (@yanircozin) March 19, 2018
Bennett says, “What are you doing? What are you doing, Man? What are you doing?”
Lauder: “You are my inspiration.”
Bennett, angrily: “I’m your inspiration? If you say that, I’ll lose five seats in the Knesset. Shalom–” And he moves away.
This strikes me as reflective of the essential relationship between Israel and the lobby. We Israelis are on the front lines, risking our lives for world Jewry; you have to support us because you lead lives of comfort. (And Bennett often brags of his military service.)
Later Bennett spoke from the podium and attacked Lauder over the assertion in his op-ed that Israeli policies are fostering Jewish assimilation in the U.S. From the Jerusalem Post:
“Ron, I read your piece in The New York Times – not a great piece. I very much respect you, but I disagree. Assimilation in America in not a result of Israeli policies, assimilation is the result of prosperity in America, and it predates the Six Day War, it predates the intifada, and it is an ongoing trend that we have to fight back [against].”
Furthermore, Bennett said, he disagreed with Lauder’s placing Palestinian incitement and Israeli settlement construction in the same basket in his article, saying that there is no “moral equivalence between settlement building, what I call ‘building in our communities in our homeland,’ and Palestinian incitement. It is not the same thing.”
The Jerusalem Post headline on the encounter was, “Don’t blame Israel for U.S. Jews assimilating.” Typically, many Jews are responding to the piece in navel-gazing terms: How does the occupation affect Jews? Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post on twitter:
Ronald Lauder in NYT: Jewish millennials distance themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values, & says assimilation is one result. Really? Jews intermarry in US because Israel is building in Itamar? C’mon, not everything can be dumped at Israel’s doorstep.
(The Jerusalem Post also ran a California Chabad rabbi’s response to Lauder, ascribing assimilation to American sociological trends.)
Liberal Zionists are over the moon about the Lauder piece, hoping that it will spark some real change in U.S. or Israeli policy, thanks to the intervention by “Mr. Establishment,” as Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev calls Lauder: “the closest thing that world Jewry has to a senior statesman who can represent the consensus of the Diaspora as a whole.”
Dylan Williams of J Street:
Bennett can help himself to a piping hot mug of better-get-used-to-it… American Jews across the political spectrum understand the urgency of a two-state solution
Shalev writes that the piece is too little, too late, and also a “mea culpa.” Lauder enabled the Israeli colonization for decades; he “chose to look the other way.”
Lauder and the World Jewish Congress [which he heads] devote time and money to defending [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu, endorsing his policies and tactics and crying out against outside pressure that seeks to get Israel to change its ways.
In a reflection of how polarized the discourse is on Israel, Shalev notes that Lauder is suddenly on the anti-Israel team.
Lauder finds himself standing shoulder to shoulder with dissenters and critics that his former BFF Netanyahu routinely describes as traitors, defeatists and Israel-haters.
Guy Ziv of American University also cites the establishment politics:
What makes Lauder’s NYT op-ed even more interesting is that he was Netanyahu’s patron and ally up until 2011, after which their relationship showed signs of strain. Can’t imagine Bibi is happy about this, esp. since Lauder has Trump’s ear.
BTW, the letters to the editor the Times ran are all by Jewish Zionists, and a couple are sharply critical of Lauder.
Meantime, the Palestinian solidarity community says that nothing will come of Lauder’s intervention; the real battle is not for two states but for democracy in one state. Ali Abunimah pointed out that Zionism and democracy are incompatible:
No way to conceal that Zionism is straight up racism and apartheid when head of World Jewish Congress Ron Lauder writes that equal democratic and civil rights for all is an “unacceptable” outcome.
Simone Zimmerman notes that Ron Lauder has never really been on the side of young Jewish progressives:
Ronald Lauder, who attacks young ppl for speaking out against Israel’s destructive policies, speaks out to lament that young ppl are alienated by Israel’s destructive policies (that he defends &so wont name explicitly: occupation &right-wing extremism)🤦🏻
Again, though, from a Jewish establishment point of view, Lauder’s piece is a complete apostasy. The Jewish Press runs a screed by David Israel against Lauder. Note the vituperation and self-righteousness and racism. It’s as if he came out for boycott. This is Israeli society with its head stuck up its fundament, not a care in the world about how others see them:
The elderly trust fund boy assembled every last cliché ever conceived about the two-state solution in yet another effort by a diaspora Jewish macher to shove this wet sock into the mouths of those pesky Israelis who won’t listen to reason.
It’s a masterpiece of copy & paste blurbs that didn’t make sense back when they began to erode Israel’s safety, in the early 1990s – and they certainly make less sense today.
Lauder’s intervention surely defines the new center in the Jewish establishment. Even AIPAC is a supporter of the two-state solution now; though many rightwing Jewish organizations, and of course the Israeli ruling coalition, are against it.
JTA reports that the liberal Zionist group J Street is battling AIPAC for that centrist turf by inviting Ben Cardin to speak, the Maryland Zionist senator who tried to defeat the Iran Deal:
Ben Cardin, the Democratic senator from Maryland who is among the closest in his party to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will speak at the annual conference of its liberal rival, J Street….
Cardin also is the lead sponsor of a bill that would criminalize some forms of compliance with the Boycott Israel movement. J Street objects to the legislation on free speech grounds, although it opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
So Lauder is the writing on the wall. Chuck Schumer is falling to the right of Lauder in this new discourse; he told AIPAC settlements are not an issue. Count on the senator to amend his position soon.
From a Peace Now petition to Chuck Schumer that has 2000 signatures– the new centrist line, Israel is jeopardizing its own future:
On March 5th, 2018, Senator Schumer stood before 18,000 AIPAC activists and told them what they wanted to hear: Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not an obstacle to peace. This ridiculous statement brought the AIPAC crowd to its feet, but it further damaged the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
As a seasoned politician, Senator Schumer must know the truth: settlements are a chief obstacle to peace. Yet he chose to misrepresent the facts in pandering to AIPAC. Unless settlements stop expanding and unless many are removed, Palestinians cannot have a viable state. That is, in fact, the objective of those who support and advance settlement construction. Without the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel risks becoming either a binational state and losing its Jewish character, or becoming an international pariah in which a Jewish minority rules over a disenfranchised Palestinian majority. As Schumer must know, either scenario jeopardizes Israel’s future. It’s time for him to tell the truth.