Lately we’ve seen a great deal of institutional effort to show that American Jews are all for Israel, except the lunatics.
–The American Jewish Committee says the Jewish group, IfNotNow, is a “radical fringe.”
–The Jewish Federations in Seattle actually blocked a $1000 gift to IfNotNow from a family fund it advises because it would damage the goal of building “a cohesive Jewish community” and undermine Israel as a Jewish state.
IfNotNow are young Jews generally with strong communal upbringing who are demanding an end to Palestinian occupation after 52 years.
–Next week Bari Weiss’s book comes out saying that All good Jews celebrate the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in Israel, except for a handful of enemies within: “a very small but very vocal group of Jews seems as deeply opposed to Jewish interests as many of our community’s enemies.” Anti-Zionist Jews, she says, are anti-Semitic.
–Batya Ungar-Sargon of the Forward has been promoting Bari Weiss’s book and stating that 95 percent of American Jews are Zionists. “We are all still pro Israel,” she says, but now we’re not unconditionally pro-Israel.
–And this week the Jewish Democratic Council of America jumped on a Pew poll to say Jews are for Israel, and forget about the dissenters:
Recent polling confirms what we already know: the vast majority of Jewish Americans are Democrats, and the vast majority of Jews are committed to Israel.
Jews are Democrats, Democrats are pro-Israel, and a small handful of members of Congress whose views on Israel are outside the mainstream do not represent our party. This is the truth.
The reasons for the insistence that the Jewish community is monolithic go to a central understanding: Israel would be lost without American Jews. That understanding shapes Jewish identity today, what it means to be Jewish, and it has produced the tenets of the American Jewish relationship to Israel:
- American support is an existential question for the Jewish state, because it is isolated in its bad neighborhood and at the U.N.
- That American support depends on Jews. Jews lead the American discussion on Israel, notably with Jewish orgs lobbying in the Congress, the thinktanks and mainstream media.
- There aren’t many Jews in the U.S., 2.5 percent of the population. So we must speak with one voice in order that our influence will be effective. If politicians hear differing Jewish voices, then they’ll throw up their hands and say, Jews lead the discussion here, so I guess I can vote any way on this I want to.
Thus the First Commandment of US Zionist institutions: We must stick together and smash dissent, because it is an existential threat to Israel. In a word, the “cohesive”-ness the Seattle Fed cited when it denied money to IfNotNow.
This has long been a Stalinist diktat that Jews have accepted. I have written often of my own agreement to muzzle myself when a neoconservative informed me 40 years ago that I didn’t understand the issue well enough to speak out. Then when I finally did start speaking out, my good friend and editor told me that I was naive and being used and my views were dangerous.
I had the feeling that I was threatening Jewish survival merely by criticizing the Jewish state openly. I could have been anti-abortion, pro-gun and a Republican, and my community would merely have smiled and said, He’s an outlier. But when it came to Israel, it was no laughing matter. I got fired by Jared Kushner…
The commandment is observed in countless liberal Jewish institutions. Americans for Peace Now, for instance, has stayed on the executive committee of AIPAC, the rightwing Israel lobby group that supports settlements and tried to kill the Iran deal, because it thinks that it’s important that in the corridors of power, Jews should speak in one voice on Israel and maintain bipartisan support (as I understand Peace Now’s thinking).
The 92d Street Y simply does not allow anti-Zionists on its stage, let alone Palestinians (Sayed Kashua is the exception proving the rule).
J Street is very big against Netanyahu, but it does not allow anti-Zionists to speak at its annual conference. Though it will allow a militant Israeli who justifies the slaughter of Palestinian protesters to speak.
All these institutions are obeying the first commandment of Zionism: We really need to stick together to be effective, and that means isolating Jews who criticize Israel as lunatics. Big liberal publications also obey the diktat, inasmuch as they might publish Palestinians arguing against Zionism, but rarely if ever an anti-Zionist Jew. Jeffrey Goldberg once called anti-Zionist Jews non-Jews: “anti-Zionists with Jewish parents.”
The big threat to this orthodoxy is changing awareness. American progressives are starting to side with Palestinians over Israel: 56 percent of Democrats support imposing sanctions on Israel if it doesn’t stop its illegal settlement activity. Those Democrats make J Street seem like a very conservative organization.
And of course those Democrats include many Jews. The Jews of IfNotNow, which is non-Zionist, and Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist.
A JVP member named Milt struck a blow at the First Commandment of Jewish life recently when he sought to give his congressman permission to go against Israel by saying I know you listen to Jews on this issue, well Jews disagree. Milt challenged Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts to support Rep. Betty McCollum’s Palestinian children’s rights legislation because many Jews support it.
Now I noticed earlier you were very sensitive around… Jewish issues in this country and I assume abroad also, you talked about the different places you’ve been and you talked about balance.
Well, as you well know the Jewish community is quite split on many of these issues about Israel and Palestine. It’s a fact that our community is split and I’m looking for some balance on your part in terms of who you’re supporting and not supporting, what you can do in your leadership role.
That statement is anathema. No! American Jews support Israel and we need that wall-to-wall support to maintain the bipartisan political support for Israel.
Because look at the immediate result of Milt’s intervention: Lynch said he’d support McCollum’s very sensible bill to strip American funds from detention of Palestinian children. A bill that J Street doesn’t want anything to do with, because it’s the thin end of the wedge.
For the same reason, the new Israel lobby group Democratic Majority for Israel, went haywire when IfNotNow began asking Democratic political candidates a very reasonable question, Will you come out against the occupation. Democratic Majority, which has roots in AIPAC, called IfNotNow “strongly anti-Israel” in a memo it sent out to warn politicians. Notice Democratic Majority’s hatred for the democratic process:
A strongly anti-Israel organization, IfNotNow, which has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist at all… is asking young people to run up to candidates and ask some variant of, “will you push Israel to end the occupation.”
They then trumpet a quick “yes” as a major foreign policy statement by the candidate and a victory for anti-Israel forces.
The context for all these calls for unanimity is the fear that Israel will become politicized and then everyone will be allowed to form an opinion, and a lot of Americans will support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or some variant.
This is actually an existential issue for Israel: real division inside the American Jewish community. When the monolith cracks, it will allow US politicians to stray off the reservation, and Israel will finally feel real pressure to reform along lines sought by its oppressed minority population.
It’s mortal combat (as John Mearsheimer explained to me years ago), and that’s why the pro-Israel side is resorting to smashmouth politics: labelling critical Jews as bad Jews.