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Trump has the Jewish establishment at each other’s throats (and that’s a good thing)

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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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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12 Responses

  1. Citizen on April 20, 2019, 2:15 am


  2. RoHa on April 20, 2019, 2:21 am

    “the Jewish community… represents something larger and loftier.”


    • Citizen on April 20, 2019, 8:49 am


      • MHughes976 on April 20, 2019, 3:50 pm

        I always think that the idea of divine donation of the Land – the inheritance of the children of Israel in the Land of Canaan – is always there half an inch below the surface even in the most secularly presented arguments for Zionism.

      • eljay on April 20, 2019, 6:48 pm

        || MHughes976: I always think that the idea of divine donation of the Land – the inheritance of the children of Israel in the Land of Canaan – is always there half an inch below the surface even in the most secularly presented arguments for Zionism. ||

        No valid secular – or, more importantly, moral – argument supports the Zionist notion that the presence of some people in geographic Palestine who had chosen to embrace the religion-based identity of Jewish:
        – grants to any citizen of any homeland all over the world who has also chosen to embrace that religion-based identity the right to “return” to a region to which he has either only the remotest of tangible connections or no tangible connection at all (and, once in it, to establish and/or to help maintain a colonialist, (war) criminal and religion-supremacist state); but
        – denies to any non-Jewish person with actual, tangible connections to that region (refugee, expat, descendant up to n-generations removed) the right to return to it and to live as an equal with other people in and up to n-generations removed from that region.

    • JWalters on April 21, 2019, 9:32 pm

      “something larger and loftier”

      The oil up in the Golan Heights.

  3. davisherb on April 20, 2019, 8:26 am

    It is articles like this and this author that speaks for me so often that gives me any hope for the future. Thanks

  4. Misterioso on April 20, 2019, 9:51 am

    Greetings all.

    Although not directly connected to the article above, I think you will find the following lengthy Guardian article of interest, especially its references to Trump.

    “‘Whimsical, uninformed’: French ambassador’s parting verdict on Trump” – The Guardian, April 19/19

    Exclusive: “[Ambassador] Gérard Araud compares regime to court of Louis XIV and warns UK over post-Brexit trade.”

    “The outgoing French ambassador to the US has compared the Trump administration to the court of King Louis XIV, filled with courtiers trying to interpret the caprices of a ‘whimsical, unpredictable, uninformed’ leader.

    “Gérard Araud, who retires on Friday after a 37-year career that included some of the top jobs in French diplomacy, said Donald Trump’s unpredictability and his single-minded transactional interpretation of US interests was leaving the administration isolated on the world stage.

    “’When they say ‘America first’, it’s America alone,’ Araud said in an interview with the Guardian. ‘Basically, this president and this administration don’t have allies, don’t have friends. It’s really [about] bilateral relationships on the basis of the balance of power and the defence of narrow American interest.’

    “He cautioned the UK against expecting any special treatment from Washington in post-Brexit trade talks, predicting that the administration would force London to accept US imports on US terms, such as looser standards for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

    “’They [the Trump administration] are not thinking in terms of multilateral cooperation first. And secondly, they don’t have any affection towards the Europeans. They treat Europeans the way they treat the Chinese,’ Araud said. ‘And when the British come for a free-trade agreement, there will be blood on the walls and it will be British blood. It will be GMOs breakfast, lunch and dinner.’

    “Araud has been France’s ambassador to Washington since 2014, and before that was the country’s envoy to the UN and to Israel, and the foreign ministry’s director for strategic affairs, security and disarmament.

    “In Washington he stood out among the diplomatic corps in part because he lived with his partner, the photographer Pascal Blondeau, at a time when the administration is increasingly inhabited by conservative evangelical Christians hostile to gay marriage.

    “The couple threw spectacular parties at the chateau-like French residence. The invitation to their last winter bash featured them posing with a stuffed white tiger, and guests were welcomed on the night by Blondeau reclining in a lumberjack shirt on a large illuminated Christmas tree tipped on its side in the main hall. There was also a stuffed polar bear and ballet dancers.

    “Araud was also unusual on the diplomatic circuit for his blunt and acerbic language – in person and on Twitter – in defence of multilateral diplomacy, liberalism and international law at a time when they have been under siege.

    “At 2am on the night Trump was elected, the ambassador tweeted: ‘It is the end of an era, the era of neoliberalism. We don’t yet know what will succeed it … After Brexit and this election, anything is possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes. Vertigo.’

    “He deleted the tweet minutes later, even before the anxious calls started coming in from the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, but few now would dispute that this moment in the early hours of 9 November 2016 marked a cliff edge in modern history. And Araud himself could not have foreseen the volatility that was to engulf US foreign policy.

    “Araud spoke to the Guardian before Trump tweeted unsolicited, impractical and potentially disastrous advice for putting out the Notre Dame fire, but after a period of whiplash on other issues. These have been difficult times for diplomatic missions tasked by their capitals to predict US policy.

    “On the issue of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, for example, Trump has gone from threatening ‘fire and fury’ against the Pyongyang regime, to meeting Kim Jong-un in Singapore and declaring himself to be ‘in love’ with the dictator. He said then he was in ‘no hurry’ for disarmament, but at a second summit in Hanoi in February he demanded full denuclearisation in advance of any sanctions relief, before cancelling sanctions imposed by his own administration in March because ‘President Trump likes Chairman Kim’ and declaring himself once more open to a ‘step-by-step’ approach.

    “’It’s like [trying] to analyse the court of Louis XIV,” Araud said. ‘You have an old king, a bit whimsical, unpredictable, uninformed, but he wants to be the one deciding.’

    “Like the Sun King who dominated France in the 17th and 18th centuries, Trump ‘doesn’t want to appear under any influence and he wants to show it,’ Araud said.

    “He portrayed the current situation as the opposite extreme of the meticulous though sometimes ponderous decision-making process pursued by the previous administration.

    “’Obama was the ultimate bureaucrat: you know every night he was going to bed with 60 pages and in the morning they were coming back all annotated by the president,’ he said. For decisions such as the troop surge in Afghanistan, there were months of meetings between the relevant government departments.

    “Now that inter-agency process is largely dead, killed off and replaced by John Bolton, the ultra-hawkish national security adviser, while other centres of power in the state department and Pentagon are withering, weakened by multiple unfilled senior positions, and top officials serving in acting capacity only, without Senate confirmation.

    “’Actually, we don’t have interlocutors,’ Araud said. ‘[When] we have people to talk to, they are acting, so they don’t have real authority or access. Basically, the consequence is that there is only one centre of power: the White House.’

    “’Bolton is really very competent. He is very knowledgeable. He has been around for 40 years. At the same time you have to understand that he doesn’t control this president, because this president is uncontrollable.’

    “Araud said the tweeted cancellation of North Korean sanctions, and the exclusion of Bolton from key meetings and meals at the Hanoi summit, were designed to ‘humiliate’ Bolton and demonstrate that the president ‘is the master and the bureaucrats are nothing.’

    “Bolton’s unilateralism is nonetheless ascendant for the time being, with the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms control treaty, and the recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which Araud described ‘as one more nail in the coffin of international law.’

    “He said Bolton’s view was that international law was mere convention, with ‘no gendarme and no judge’ to enforce it. ‘But it’s a sort of a fragile wall or dam against barbarians,’ he said.

    “Araud expressed anxiety about the implications of the administration’s maximum-pressure campaign against Iran, championed by Bolton and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

    “'[The policy is] increasing the pressure until the Iranians surrender, or in some quarters they believe until the regime collapses,’ Araud said. ‘But if the regime collapses, what happens? And to this question the Americans are unable to answer.’

    “Leaving his post, Araud said he was more convinced than ever that the fear expressed in his deleted election-night tweet had been borne out by events.

    “’I had a lot of trouble with my own capital. Unfortunately, to be right early is to be wrong,’ he observed. ‘I had deleted it after two minutes but the sin had been committed. But looking at it in retrospect, of course I was right.’

    “’My world, our world of certainties, really was collapsing and we were facing a real, substantial, dangerous crisis, which could basically really overwhelm my own country,” Araud said. ‘I believe we are entering a new era. I just don’t know what this era will be.’”

  5. Jejasalo on April 20, 2019, 11:48 am

    Divisions within the Jewish community have long existed – but were mostly confined to struggles within separate organizations & among people in power within them. The big difference now is that these divisions have spilled over into the general US voting public as Israel becomes a key issue in the upcoming presidential elections.

    I’m cautiously glad that they have. “Cautiously” only because there could be some unforeseen negative repercussions that could affect many of us. (We already see how the BDS movement has affected both US foreign & domestic politics.)

    Having been publicly denounced as a “divisive” influence in the Jewish community for my activist work, I’ve seen how people rally to the majority to condemn “divisiveness” over the projection of a united front politically. Divisiveness has usually been seen as a sign of weakness -and often is. It is also a key to change within the society in which it occurs. The civil rights movement in the US was highly divisive; so was the anti-Vietnam War movement.

    Let’s hope this kind of divisiveness and debate prevalent in US society today begins to bring about the many positive changes we so desperately need.

  6. pabelmont on April 20, 2019, 11:53 am

    The aged Jews have seized control of all the Jewish organizations. Lotta $$ there. So waiting for the younger Jews to correct the immorality of their misguided elders is a generational thing that may or may not ever happen, at least directly, because the younger Jews may not join the organizations. (Think intermarriage and disgust.)

    But if JVP-types and Ilhan Omar-types could join hands visibly on I/P questions, it’d be a wonderful thing. I always imagine a coalition of all American people who do not see themselves as part of the white-male-privilege-supremacy coalition, a coalition “hanging together” in order to stop the more traditional “hanging separately”, and that would include Blacks, Browns, Indigenous, Muslims, many of the younger generations, progressive Jews (the old $$-Jews are, sadly, part of the white-male-privilege-supremacy group) (as are the corporations). And such a coalition shows some signs of forming. Halleluia.

  7. Truthbug on April 20, 2019, 7:18 pm

    Great article. Thanks.

  8. wondering jew on April 23, 2019, 11:22 pm

    “(thousands maimed and 260 killed in nonviolent protests in Gaza stemming from his Jerusalem move). ”

    To assert that the protests in Gaza stemmed from Trump’s Jerusalem move would be accurate on the day of the greatest death toll, but this phrase blames the entirety of the protests on Trump’s Jerusalem move and this is not accurate historically and therefore inaccurate journalism.

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