Donald Trump is the most disruptive president in anyone’s memory, and that disruption has brought shockwaves to the culture. (Would #MeToo have happened if we had gotten the first woman president, rather than a Groper In Chief? I don’t think so.)
Trump has also disrupted the Jewish community, in a very good way indeed. His extreme pro-Israel policies have fostered a widening split among Israel-lovers. Rightwing Zionists love what Trump is doing. Centrist Zionists who worry that Israel is going off the rails are disturbed by Trump’s actions.
The two groups are now at one another’s throats.
This week each faction sent a letter to the president. The one from a group of centrist/liberal Zionists, including the ADL, implored the president not to approve Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank settlements. The other, from conservative Jewish groups, asked Trump to support annexation of the West Bank!
The centrists clearly reflect the Democratic Party leadership. But the rightwing Zionists still hold the advantage inside the American Jewish community for a simple reason: It has long been a principle of the Israel lobby never to allow daylight between the Israeli government and the American government. So the rightwingers were swift to attack the centrists’ letter for apostasy. Ron Kampeas:
The letter is unusual, if not unprecedented, in mainstream Jewish groups pleading with a U.S. president to take steps to restrain an Israeli prime minister.
Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which signed the pro-annexation letter, seeks to enforce the traditional line, We don’t send our kids to the army there so we need to support everything Israel does:
I’m sure this will get a lot of hate @ me. Amer Jewish orgs should not tell the democratically elected govt of Israel what to do.. They’re a sovereign govt, not a satellite chapter of their group. Just in the same way Israeli orgs shouldn’t tell the US govt what to do.
Jonathan Tobin also savaged the letter as a betrayal of the “Jewish nation.”
American groups and denominations that wasted no time in not merely denouncing a newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but called for the U.S. government to override the will of the Israeli people should reflect on the damage they are doing to the Jewish nation.
And look at the anguish these attacks produce in one of the signatories of the letter, Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum. He is extremely defensive:
The letter did not demand that Trump take any action. It did not ask him to sanction Israel. It did not ask him to threaten or pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu. And it was a letter from Americans addressed to our elected president, not a letter from Americans to the Israeli government or Israeli officials.
Koplow wishes to maintain the Zionist consensus that has dominated Jewish communal life for 50 years now: To be Jewish means to support Israel. That consensus was often enforced by totalitarian proscriptions. You can argue privately but the one thing you must not do is differ publicly over Israel. Because we are such a small community, if we divide, then it will give American politicians permission to debate Israel. And all our efforts must be bent to make sure that supporting Israel is an article of faith for Americans. No debate! So two Jewish organizations that led the opposition to settlements — Ameinu and Peace Now — stayed on the board of the Conference of Presidents even as the Conference was supporting settlements, because– Jews must not divide publicly.
Then came the disrupter-in chief: moving the Embassy, trashing the Iran Deal and UNRWA, and giving campaign gifts to Netanyahu –the Golan Heights — so that Netanyahu could win reelection.
Trump has done everything that his biggest donor, Netanyahu-supporter Sheldon Adelson, would want him to; and that has divided the Jewish community.
Liberal-centrist Zionists are seeing the death of the two-state solution in the Trump/Netanyahu actions, and they’re so panicked that they’re actually taking on the rightwing Zionists publicly.
Leave aside the horrible consequences of Trump’s policies for Palestinians (thousands maimed and 260 killed in nonviolent protests in Gaza stemming from his Jerusalem move). Or for the world (the Iran deal was a tremendous step forward in lowering the temperature of the Middle East). Trump’s extremism on Israel has a, forced American Zionists to choose sides at last, and b, exposed the inherent extremism of Israeli policies.
The result is something that Zionists have long warned us about and that we anti-Zionists have been praying for: an end to the era of Zionism as Judaism, an end to the era of slavish American Jewish establishment devotion to Israel.
As Koplow points out, the mainline Zionist community went hook line and sinker with Netanyahu against the U.S. president when it was Obama’s Iran deal:
It should not escape notice that when an Israeli prime minister came to Washington to publicly and directly lobby against U.S. foreign policy set by a president who had been elected twice by a majority of Americans, that was not viewed by the people who howled the loudest this week as trashing the verdict of American democracy…
So the apparent lesson to be learned is that in hindsight it is perfectly fine for Americans to weigh in with their elected leader on a matter of American foreign policy so long as it only supports whatever Israeli action ….
(Cue Ilhan Omar on allegiance.)
Koplow fears that the Jewish community is going to be divided permanently by “communal boundary markers,” and this looks like an existential question to him.
First, if we allow the Jewish community to be defined by anyone other than the Jewish community, we are setting ourselves up for a tragic and irreversible schism whose trajectory will be controlled by others. Second, the Jewish community’s strength is reflected in the fact that it is not just another interest group defined by politics alone, but that it represents something larger and loftier.
Liberal Zionists should be in crisis. What is “larger and loftier” than bearing witness against persecution? The young Jews of IfNotNow would lump IPF and ADL and the other signatories of that letter against annexation as enablers of occupation inasmuch as they have done nothing to actually put pressure on Israeli occupation for more than 50 years. Even now Koplow protests that we don’t want to threaten or pressure the Israeli government, or God knows, take any meaningful action to get it to change.
And meantime Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is reflecting the progressive base, a good portion of which is young Jews, when she says the U.S. ought to condition aid to Israel in order to put pressure on the occupation and on child detention practices. That’s simple diplomacy, the diplomacy that centrist and liberal Zionists have avoided for half a century.
Koplow says the order threatened here is the order established by the Jewish community itself when it created the Conference of Presidents in order to engage in politics. The Jewish community must “decide the parameters of its own boundaries.” Exactly, and what were the communal boundaries? Israel. The American Jewish community decided that the tent would be, Zionism. That was the only qualification, you must be a Zionist. If you’re anti-Zionist, you’re outside the tent.
That is the real basis of the crisis here. Liberal and centrist Zionists have been going to occupied Jerusalem for more than a generation and seeing a 26-foot wall that reminded them of the Berlin wall on steroids, and seen bright red occupation signs warning Jews against going into Palestinian areas that remind them of South Africa. And they’ve done nothing. Not even said openly what is in their hearts. Any community that participates in such a willful misrepresentation of reality ought to be in moral crisis.
We can thank Trump for the disruption. As well as the fact that the Democratic Party base now includes great numbers of anti-Zionists who are demanding a voice. But the crisis is self-inflicted. A community that cherishes equality and the separation of church and state in our country as the basis of our own freedom has supported exactly the opposite political principles in a faraway land, where people of a different ethnicity are bearing the cruel force of those policies. We should only hope that the Jewish establishment crumbles over these questions.