In 1993, a group of influential American Jewish liberals founded Israel Policy Forum to help Clinton broker a two-state solution. In 2008, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former staffer in the Clinton White House, created J Street to act as Barack Obama’s “blocking back” in Congress as he tried to relaunch the peace process. (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, p. 189)
In the heat of the moment at a J Street event, Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky criticized her former political opponent Joel Pollak for being a “Jewish, Orthodox, Tea Party Republican.” From a fellow member of the tribe, that’s quite a statement! Despite a perfunctory apology, her remark was indicative of the insidious, vicious divisiveness within our Jewish community. Honesty – a rarity among politicians – is cathartic. Truth can set you free.
The truth is, “A 2014 Pew survey found that just 39 percent of liberal Democrats are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. Among conservative Republicans that number is 77 percent. It’s the biggest partisan gap in 40 years. … It’s undeniably true that Dems are increasingly hostile to Israel.” (The Federalist, 03/18/15) So Schakowsky was probably just parroting the party line. In 2008, Jews voted 78 percent Democratic, and in 2012, they voted 69 percent Democratic. And since those numbers include Orthodox Jews who are overwhelmingly Republican, the non-Orthodox percentages were much higher and the divergence even more significant. Although I have read that Israel is becoming a partisan issue, this appears to be wishful thinking. In the American Jewish community, Israel is already a partisan issue; and if demographers are correct, it will be even more so in the future. For liberalized Jews, a.k.a. Democrats, Israel sadly is no longer a high priority. Ari Ben-Canaan has ridden off into the sunset, to the fading theme from “Exodus.”
But it isn’t only because of changes in the American Jewish community. In a recent presentation at Anshe Emet, a Conservative north side Chicago synagogue, Micah Goodman, a visiting Israeli scholar from the left-of-center Hartman Institute, described changes he has observed in the Israeli “Tel Avivian” society. In once-secular circles, “more Israelis are taking up Jewish learning in groups; and synagogues in Tel Aviv are becoming more crowded on Shabbat. Hip, young Israeli musicians have been singing songs that incorporate Psalms and Hebrew texts in the lyrics.” In short, even secular Israelis are becoming more inclined toward their Jewishness. Nobel Prize winner Robert Aumann recently observed, “There is more Torah learning going on in Tel Aviv than ever before.”
While my wife and I were in Israel recently to attend a wedding, I don’t remember ever seeing so many men wearing a kippah on the streets of Tel Aviv. At the wedding in Jaffa, the groom, who is more secular than religious, had invited his Golani platoon. Over half of the soldiers were wearing a kippah. Six months earlier, on a Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) mission, our group visited an air base and met three pilots of F-15 fighter jets. Two of the three were wearing a kippah. As liberal, Americanized Jews are changing—so is Israel. How ironic that Israel’s staunchest and most reliable defenders in America today are Evangelical Christians.
And so I can appreciate the frustration of Peter Beinart and his J Street miraglim. They subscribe to a new religion called Liberalism, and Israel is not living up to their dogma. In fact, perhaps because the “unbreakable U.S.-Israel bond” is fraying, Israel has become more concerned about its security than about conforming to a democratic image for Jewish liberals. While Peter and Jeremy are obsessed with the idea of a democratic Israel, the issue hasn’t bothered their State Department pals when it comes to bastions of democracy like Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Cuba. There is plenty of democracy in Israel – probably too much, when 22 political parties recently vied for 120 Knesset seats.
Here again, Peter and his J Streeters were dealt a losing hand. Prior to Israel’s recent elections, the J Streeters watching the polls were giddy in the belief that the Zionist Union (once known as Labor) had a slight lead. Yet because of their superficial understanding of what was really happening, they didn’t realize that the Left never stood a chance to form a government.
“A lot of groups are licking their wounds after Likud’s trouncing of the Labor-led Zionist Union… The Israeli Left…energized its base, sent thousands of volunteers to ‘get out the vote.’ And it lost. Spectacularly. In the process, politicians, pundits, pollsters and analysts learned some important lessons—not just in humility, but also in the changing face of the Israeli electorate.” (Haviv Gur, “After Electoral Trouncing, What Future for the Israeli Left?” The Times of Israel, 03/18/15)
And don’t believe the nonsense about Netanyahu’s “racist” comments or a last-minute surge. The polls told the story days before the election. Zionist Union/Labor: 24 seats; Likud: 22 seats; Bennett: 12 seats; and Eli Yishai: 4 seats; Kahlon: 10 seats and Liberman: 5 seats. The parties that got screwed by Netanyahu were Bennett, who went from 12 to 8 seats, and Yishai, who went from 4 to 0. Netanyahu picked up 8 seats from parties to his political right. These voters were never going to vote Zionist Union/ Labor. Bibi always had Kahlon and he still has Liberman, politically. He always had at least 45 seats to Labor’s 24 seats – almost a 2 to 1 margin. There was never a chance for Labor, even with the strange rebranding to Zionist Union, which was” hardly Zionist, much less a union.” (Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, 06/28/15). And the forbidden word that no party dared include in its electioneering this time around was peace. “Peace” was not on any ballot!
“The Israeli electorate has long ago written off Palestinian politicians as untrustworthy… And it is Iran, not Netanyahu, that has convinced nearly all Israelis from all segments of the political spectrum that Iran is a very real danger to Israel.” (Ibid.) Too bad Jeremy is more interested in being a “blocking back” … a useful tool for the Democratic Party. His dishonesty is apparent.
This is the reality. To be minimally pro-Israel, groups like J Street and talking heads like Beinart should at least set aside their arrogance and show a little respect for the Israeli electorate. Peter writes in his book The Crisis of Zionism (a crisis that exists only in the mind of the non-Orthodox Americanized Jew) that Israel – where people vote democratically as part of a free and open society – must be punished for its Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria and its blockade on Gaza. Sounds rather incongruous from someone who professes love for Israel while championing the cause of the poor, downtrodden “Palestinians” whose “affliction” is earning a good living at Israeli-owned businesses in Judea/Samaria. Peter believes these “West Bank” Israeli-owned businesses should be punished with boycotts and divestment. What a humanitarian idea! Shut down the businesses and the industrial parks and starve the Arab families! I’m sure the Arabs would just love to be unemployed and living on UNWRA handouts.
Yet as Peter howls about a democratic Israel, a truth hits him squarely on his laptop. In his book, Beinart describes the indifference of the younger American Jewish generations: “These increasingly assimilated American Jews may not like Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, but they are not especially angry about it because they are not especially connected to Israel. And they are not especially connected to Israel because they are not especially connected to being Jewish. This is the core problem facing groups like J Street that agitate for a two-state solution. Plenty of American Jews agree with their perspective, but the Jews who agree with them generally care less than the Jews who don’t. The very universalism that makes liberal secular American Jews sympathetic to the rights of Palestinians makes them at least as concerned about global warming… and a dozen other issues.” (Ibid., pp. 182-183)
So Peter hits the nail on the head, whacking J Street U as well. J Street-Jeremy, whose “pro-Israel” stance is a vocation for now, is nothing more than a kippah-clad shill for the anti-Israel, pro-Arab U.S. State Department. “The status quo is totally unsustainable, and we reject settlements and occupation.” (J Street Memo, 01/30/ 15) Yet you have to tip your hat to J Street for its non-partisanship, as the featured speaker at its Fifth Annual Conference was—I kid you not—that lover of Zion, former Secretary of State Jim “F*ck the Jews—they don’t vote for us anyway” Baker. If this is how J Street demonstrates its “pro- Israel” bona fides, fill in your own punchline. The pathetic reality is that there’s no limit to how low J Street will stoop to advance its Israel-bashing agenda. And if Baker is not pro-Israel enough, other honored guests included the PLO’s chief negotiator and Secretary General, Saeb “Let’s escalate the peaceful struggle” Erekat, flanked by the usual assortment of anti-Israel Congressmen including Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison from the Minnesota jihadi district.
But Jeremy is right about one of his observations. This last election in Israel “resulted in the most right-wing government ever assembled.” And, for the record, it will be the most left-wing government compared to Israel’s future. Sadly, the ideological schism between non-Orthodox American Jewry and Israeli Jewry appears to be irreparable.
Israel has changed. Liberal American Jewry has changed. The demographics in Israel are changing. While getting ready to leave Israel, I picked up the “New York Times” of Israeli newspapers, Ha’aretz, and to my surprise, a lead article on the front page (01/30/14 issue) reported that “38 percent of all Jewish couples in Tel Aviv and Haifa have no children, while the average number of children in Judea/Samaria is 4.7 children per family”—and not a black hat in the neighborhood. In the world of knitted kippot and leather sandals, there are now close to 500,000 Jewish citizens of Israel living in the communities of Judea/Samaria a.k.a. the “West Bank.” When uber-leftists like Yossi Sarid, Amos Oz and Gideon Levy each write that “the two-state solution is dead” — and when Amos Schocken, left-winger from birth and owner, publisher and philosophical guru of Ha’aretz, headlines “ISRAEL’S SETTLERS HAVE WON” (Ha’aretz, p. 7, 06/28/15) — perhaps Peter and Jeremy should listen-up and start dusting off their resumes.
The “two-state solution” was a lie from the very beginning. Yasser Arafat never intended for Oslo to lead to peace. Six years after its signing, Yasser – the man on whom the gullible pinned their hopes for a peace process – made the following statement quoted in the Swedish weekly, “Magazinet” (as reported by Zev Shiff in Ha’aretz on October 31, 1999):
We Palestinians will take over everything including all of Jerusalem. … Peres and Beilin have already promised us half of Jerusalem. … Within five years we will have six to seven million Arabs in the West Bank and Jerusalem. … If Jews can import all kinds of Ethiopians, Russians, Uzbeks and Ukrainians as Jews, we can import all kinds of Arabs. … We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. Jews won’t want to live among us Arabs. … I have no use for Jews.”
So much for two states for two peoples with flowers in their hair. “BDS Peter” and “Blocking Back Jeremy” might consider rethinking their reality.
Shabbat Shalom, 09/25/15 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger * * Back issues are archived at The Times of Israel.com