Last week I was in Jerusalem as Israeli snipers shot 1360 people on the Gaza border, killing 60 of them; and even as the horror mounted, I was of the opinion that the historic atrocity would change American opinion and allow Democratic candidates to run against Israel. Indeed, in the hours that followed, many celebrities spoke out in outrage, joining brave Natalie Portman; Jeffrey Goldberg the Atlantic editor (and former Israeli army prison guard) acknowledged that a divorce between the American Jewish and Israeli Jewish communities is coming; and the Onion captured the mood with two savage headlines.
“IDF Soldier Recounts Harrowing, Heroic War Story Of Killing 8-Month-Old Child” [link]
“Netanyahu Announces Day Of Mourning For Fence Damaged In Yesterday’s Conflict.” [link]
By the way, The Onion is largely owned by Haim Saban, Israel lover…
Well this week some of the dust has settled, and the question arises, What changed? Nothing, some say. They note that Bernie Sanders is virtually alone in his condemnation of Israeli actions. They point to Thomas Friedman’s commentary that Hamas was responsible for a “human sacrifice,” killing the “flower of [Palestinian] youth” by ordering them to run up to Israeli guns.
But Thomas Friedman is notoriously insensitive; and what seems clear is that Gaza has fissured the Jewish community. What follows is a rapid survey of the field of Jewish opinion. I’m going to leave out the knuckle-draggers, and show that Gaza has fostered the progressive defection on Israel inside Democratic Party ranks. I focus on Jewish opinion because I think Jewish groups are the gatekeepers of the official discourse.
The young nonZionist group IfNotNow are leaders: “Israel’s violence against protesters in Gaza last week was completely inexcusable, and yet so many Jewish leaders and institutions tried to excuse it,” it writes. IfNotNow hails a Gaza tribute at a New York public school that has alienated a lot of establishment Jews, commenting “The kids are alright.”
Right alongside IfNotNow’s witness is Jewish Voice for Peace, calling on Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Dianne Feinstein (and all other senators) to condemn the killings on the border. “The massacre last week in Gaza was a horrific event for Palestinians and for everyone who supports the right to peaceful protest,” JVP writes.
Ian Lustick was unequivocal in The Nation, in a piece that has been widely shared:
There are many words for what this is. Palestinians speak of heroism, resistance, dedication, and martyrdom. The Israeli government calls the shoot-to-kill and shoot-to-injure policies “self-defense.” Individual soldiers call it “following orders.” Israeli human rights groups, meanwhile, call the policy ordered by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “grossly illegal.” My grandmother would have called it a shanda (Yiddish for a “disgrace”). But whether it is heroism or self-defense; whether the orders to shoot are legal or illegal; the mounting Israeli gun violence the world has been forced to witness along the Gaza ghetto wall is, without a doubt, disgusting. For any human being, no matter what their political views or ties to Israel or to Palestinian Arabs, the continuous mass shooting of Palestinian civilians is, or should be, emotionally and spiritually intolerable.
(PS Even more people shared Saree Makdisi’s piece in Counterpunch, “Kill and Kill and Kill”— but that’s outside my survey.)
Eli Valley exposes Thomas Friedman and the rest of the NYT apologists-for-Israel in this amazing cartoon about the world’s indifference to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. And John Judis announces that he will tell his Jewish friends who try and deflect criticism by citing China and Russia’s human rights record, that Israel is just as bad: “troops firing on and killing Palestinian demonstrators who posed no mortal threat.” And Jews Say No argue that now is the time for the Jewish community to reckon with the Nakba, which crowded Gaza with refugees from the Jewish state.
Establishment Jewish groups have been very weak. This statement from Reconstructing Judaism (formerly the Reconstructionist Movement) was the strongest. Though it refused to blame Israel, at least it said this:
First and foremost, we feel shock and sorrow over the killing of approximately 60 Palestinians and the wounding of over 2000 during demonstrations near the border fence between Israel and Gaza….
one thing that’s clear is that hopelessness in the lives of Gazans is driving people to desperation. Whatever uses Hamas or other groups have made of the protest marches, they began as a nonviolent demonstration by people living in intolerable conditions, trying to raise awareness about their situation and to exert a new kind of leadership.
Ethan Miller of IfNotNow says it’s heartening that at least one major American Jewish religious movement recognizes “the devastating nature of the killing of 60+ Palestinians” and “the legitimacy of Palestinian protest in Gaza.” But he says that the mainstream Jewish groups are failing to represent the “increasing numbers of American Jews [who] vocally oppose the actions of the state of Israel and call for an end to the Occupation.”
AIPAC has of course toed the Israeli army’s line. If you read its analysis of Israel fighting a “defensive” war against Arab and Iran-backed terrorists, keep in mind that liberal Zionist groups are on AIPAC’s board.
Yossi Alpher adopts a neutral stance at Peace Now: “Monday… witnessed attempts by masses of Gazans to breach the Israel-Gaza boundary fence. Israeli efforts to rebuff them resulted in heavy Palestinian casualties.”
But many liberal Zionists appear to be sickened by the Israeli shootings. Ori Nir of Peace Now has noted that lethal force is only justified as a “last resort.” Daniel Seidemann asks why didn’t Israel use a water cannon? Gershom Gorenberg has retweeted B’Tselem’s view that the killings are illegal.
Debra Shushan is Peace Now’s new director for policy and, being about 40, is closer in age to IfNotNow activists than the old guard; and she writes in Haaretz that Israeli actions are indefensible. Gaza is occupied: “the open-air prison which Israel continues to occupy (through its control of air, sea, and land routes out of Gaza and even of its population registry).” And the killings were immoral:
While some Gazans were heeding calls to breech the separation fence, the use of live rounds against unarmed protesters is an offense against both law and morality.
You’d think that’s obvious; but again, the official Jewish community is reactionary on the Israel issue.
Shushan’s predecessor Lara Friedman, now at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, has been excellent. So has David Rothkopf, the foreign affairs eminence who is turning more and more sharply against Zionism. He called the killings immoral, and refused to give ground.
For those seeking to defend Israel’s actions on the Gaza border, some questions: –What is the acceptable ratio of terrorists to innocents killed? –What is the acceptable ratio of Hamas members protesting to Hamas members posing an imminent deadly threat to be killed?
–Do you think Israel has any responsibility for the conditions in Gaza that helped trigger the protests? Should that weight in the decision about how to deal w/protestors? –Should morality or doing what is best enter into the equation when deciding when snipers should fire.
–Would it be acceptable to you if Palestinians used the same criteria on Israelis crossing into Palestinian territory? –Given that the main argument made to justify the shooting is Israeli security do you think the actions on the Gaza border made Israel more secure?
Again, these are obvious questions, but not in the official Jewish community. J Street has been equivocal, trying to channel outrage but not point too much blame– except at Donald Trump.
From one day to the next, the Trump administration’s actions are sowing chaos… [W]ith Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a boiling point, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. The world watched American and Israeli officials celebrate while, miles away, over fifty Palestinians were killed and thousands more were injured on the Gaza border.
Jeremy Ben-Ami was less equivocal on April 29. He blamed Hamas for fomenting violence, but said “there is no way to justify the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters.”
Though J Street ran a morally-empty piece by Israeli Bar Heffetz, saddened by the deaths but angry at Hamas and the radical left. The Israeli army are good guys in his post.
I am angry at the radical left that remembers Gaza only when Palestinians are killed and the army can be blamed for murder.
There’s been some thuggishness in the liberal Zionist community. Andy Bachman, a leading liberal Zionist rabbi on the J Street “cabinet,” blames the protesters for the violence:
Imagine thousands of protestors in Gaza marching on the Hamas leadership, demanding peaceful negotiations and recognition of a shared capital with shared legitimate claims. Would the response be hugs or bullets?
The Brooklynite also doesn’t like Natalie Portman’s refusal to appear at an awards ceremony with Benjamin Netanyahu:
For years I have been waiting for the right opportunity to say I have never seen a Natalie Portman movie. The time is here.
This is even worse. Eric Goldstein of the Jewish Federations knows that the killings are alienating a segment of his community. “Regrettably, I would say that Israel is the single most divisive issue in the American community, pitting American Jew against American Jew,” he said last fall. But he tries to straddle the divisions with a statement on Gaza that fails to acknowledge the anger among Jews:
Then there is the loss of life in Gaza. As one person said to me, encapsulating her own internal conflict (and recognizing there are many other views), “I can’t abide those who blame Israel for what’s taken place in Gaza, and wholeheartedly defend Israel’s right to protect its borders. Yet, I find myself despairing over the number of lives lost, the bleak existence in Gaza, and wishing this wasn’t happening. How could I not?”
That’s utterly deceptive. IfNotNow is blocking Chuck Schumer’s office doors over the killings.
Our publisher Scott Roth gets at the true dimension of the moral crisis in his weekly newsletter:
Judaism is in crisis over Israel. Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians would not be possible if mainstream Jewish organizations weren’t okay with it. As of this writing I haven’t seen one major mainstream Jewish organization condemn Israel’s latest slaughter, not J Street and not the Jewish Federation, the large group that likes to consider itself a philanthropic and humanitarian organization. As the festival of Shavout begins Saturday night, it is incumbent upon all Jews to ask themselves if the costs required to maintain the Zionist project in the Levant is worth it. How many dead Palestinians must there be before the great collective of the Jewish community says, ENOUGH! The Jews have a tragic history, one of the most tragic to befall any people, but we have become mighty and the nation-state that acts in the name of all Jews is downright giddy at the prospect of using that awesome might to spill the blood of those it oppresses. On Shavout we celebrate receiving the law – the Torah, but is this what that law teaches? Has millennia of cherishing that law culminated in the worship of a rogue apartheid state that commits murder in an almost flippant manner? I don’t believe that it does but far too many of my co-religionists apparently do.
A lot of young Americans, regardless of their background, feel the way that Roth does about the Gaza slaughter. They’re going to have to drive the wedge, if there are going to be political consequences.