The news on our issue from the midterm elections is that the center of gravity in the Democratic House just shifted a few degrees to the left. Progressives can boast that they’re driving this change, but the Congress remains solidly pro-Israel, and the big beneficiary is J Street, the liberal Zionist Israel lobby group.
“Overall, at least 50% of the new House majority will be made up of J Street-backed candidates,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, crowed yesterday. Today J Street says, “more than half.”
Some of J Street’s endorsees are very progressive. Betty McCollum in St. Paul, MN, has called Israel an apartheid state. Newcomer Antonio Delgado in NY at one point said that Israel is not a Jewish democracy, though he walked that back later, and noted that he’s raising two Jewish children and cares deeply about Israel.
They will be up against more mainstream Democrats, such as Eliot Engel for whom Israel can do no wrong. And Sean Patrick Maloney, the ambitious Clintonite from the Hudson Valley. Both have appeared at AIPAC events, the centrist Israel lobby. Neither was endorsed by J Street.
And so yesterday nervous pro-Israel stalwarts said that a war has begun for the soul of the Democratic Party, between centrists and the left.
In that battle, J Street– which wants to keep giving Israel $3.8 billion a year– can say that it is the new Israel lobby. It represents U.S. Jews. Yesterday J Street published a poll on Jewish attitudes and argued that it represents Jews on foreign policy. Jews are Democrats (by nearly 4 to 1), Jews are for the two-state solution and the Iran deal:
The president is also completely out of step with American Jews on key foreign policy issues. The poll found that 71 percent of Jewish voters support the Iran nuclear agreement, a notable increase of 8 percent from Election Night 2016. 67 percent oppose Trump’s abandonment of the agreement. The president’s refusal to back the two-state solution is also deeply out of step with the Jewish community. When presented with a detailed explanation of its likely contours, 78 percent support such an agreement, a significant increase from 2016 (70 percent). 75 percent want the US to play an active role in helping to resolve the conflict.
That brings me to the ideological crux of this story. Whatever you think of the two-state solution (I think it’s long-dead and the goal is democracy), the two-state solution is an article of faith in the American Jewish community and the US establishment– and something Benjamin Netanyahu opposes, with the abetting of the Trump administration.
We are seeing growing evidence that the destruction of the two-state solution is fostering American Jewish alienation from the Israeli government.
“The vast majority of American Jews are frustrated and confused and anxious about the lack of even any interest in the two state solution which has really been such a core part of our dialogue for decades,” Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL warned Israelis earlier this year.
Samuel Freedman, a liberal Zionist, issued the same warning yesterday in Haaretz, saying that Netanyahu was the biggest loser of the election because American Jews are against Trump and for the two-state solution, and Netanyahu is alienating them:
Support for Israel in Congress and the White House had been one of the rare bipartisan exceptions until Netanyahu went all-in with an increasingly extremist version of the Republican Party. Now he owns the predictable result, which is that Israel is a partisan issue here and is bound to become ever more of one…
In tethering Israel to just one political party and one ideology in an America that is profoundly split between two, the prime minister has evidently never allowed for the turn of events indicated by the midterms: the realistic prospect that the political majority will swing back to Democrats and that the evangelical right will be outvoted by a burgeoning movement of multicultural progressives, including the vast majority of American Jews.
The Pittsburgh massacre only made the divide worse. According to J Street’s polling, 72 percent of Jews hold Trump’s comments and policies responsible for the Pittsburgh massacre. The Netanyahu government has stuck with Trump despite those attitudes, and American Jews notice.
Those Jewish attitudes now include concern about Palestinian persecution. The Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians is “coming home to roost” with U.S. Jews in the aftermath of Pittsburgh, Mitchell Plitnick wrote in Lobelog. “Americans are increasingly unable to look the other way when it comes to Israel’s long-term dispossession of the Palestinian people.”
Plitnick cited last week’s Economist/Yougov poll showing that the number of Americans who describe Israel as an ally is plummeting from 47 percent to 37 percent over three years. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz makes it clear that Jews are among the defectors:
Although the polls indicate a slight increase in support for Israel among Republicans/conservatives, it does not offset the sharper drop in support among Democrats/liberals.
David Halbfinger reached a similar analysis in The New York Times. Pittsburgh had set American and Israeli Jews “at one another’s throats,” with Jews beginning to notice Palestinians’ treatment:
Politically liberal American Jews have been repelled by Mr. Trump’s solid support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and by Mr. Netanyahu’s effusive embrace of Mr. Trump and his granting of a wish-list’s worth of political gifts. They range from scrapping the Iran nuclear agreement to repeatedly punishing the Palestinians and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Norman Finkelstein sees a “chasm” growing between U.S. Jews and Jews in Israel. As does Allan Brownfeld of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, who says that in the destruction of the peace process, more and more American Jews regard Israel as a site of intolerance and racism– “not part of my family.”
An opinion poll published in June shows deep divisions between Israelis and American Jews. The survey of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found that 77% of Israelis approved of President Donald Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, while only 34% of American Jews did. Eighty five per cent of Israelis supported the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, upending decades of U.S. foreign policy and an international consensus that the city’s status should be decided through peace negotiations. Only 46% of American Jews supported the move.
The poll also found that 58% of American Jews favor the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but only 44% of Israelis supported the idea….
In another recent survey, only a minority of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians. When 18-34 year olds were asked if they were “very attached” to Israel, only 11% said yes, compared to 45% of those 50 and older. Only 40% of the young said they were “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.”
Part of the reason for this alienation is Israel’s retreat from democratic values, its 51-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and intolerance and racism which is growing in the Israeli society.
Anti-Zionists are clearly a beneficiary of these trends: young Jews who believe in the right to vote for all people under a government, no matter their race.
But in mainstream politics the big beneficiary of these trends is J Street. It can now claim to be the address for Jewish pro-Israel voters and donors in the Democratic Party. Maybe it will even take stands to punish the settlement enterprise, knowing that it has a lot of new Congresspeople, and American Jews, at its back.
Netanyahu just keeps playing into J Street’s hands. Mairav Zonszein:
Netanyahu, in closed door Party meeting: “the occupation is nonsense, there are plenty of big countries that occupied and replaced populations and no one talks about them”
That most powerful force in Middle East foreign policy-making, the Israel lobby, is shifting and splitting like a glacier. Too bad it only moves at glacial speed. But it looks like we will finally be getting an open debate over Israel support in Washington. Progressives have a lot to say about that.