In the aftermath of Israel’s recent elections, liberal America has been shocked by the outcome and Jewish Democrats feel betrayed. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal writes in Tablet Magazine that this is a crisis of the collective American-Jewish-liberal psyche in which American Jews are no longer able to to reconcile their support of Israel with the liberal values they hold dear reflected in the Democratic Party.
That Perl-Rosenthal treats Israel’s post-1967 reality as opposed to fundamental American liberal values and that liberal American Jews can feel nothing but terrible disappointment with Israel is already suspect and infuses too many conclusions into a space that required further analysis. But there is one point of his in particular that I wish discuss: that the incongruity of American Jewish support for “liberalism” (what he means is the Democratic Party) means that it is increasingly incompatible with Zionism.
As many Americans do, Perl-Rosenthal treats the situation here as a dichotomy analogous to American politics: people here must be on the Left and support a negotiated settlement and oppose construction in the West Bank; or the Right and support Jewish territorial maximalism. Israelis, as our recent elections show, do no express their opinions in a black and white dichotomy but have nuanced stances.
Perhaps some Jews in America feel that the platform of the Democratic Party more closely represents their ideology than any attachment to Israel they might have. For me, however, it is obvious that the problem is not that support for Israel is incompatible with the direction of the Democratic Party; the problem is that in the United Stateד has only two choices. Somehow, Americans have convinced themselves that it is reasonable in a supposed Democracy that 300 million people should be represented by only two political parties.
That election to Federal government in the United States is dependent on winning a majority of the votes in a specific location means that a party that might garner 5 percent of the vote across the country is unlikely to gain a majority of the votes in any particular district. National elections in Israel, by contrast, are held for parties whose representatives are not tied to specific locations. While there is a threshold for the percentage of votes a party must receive to make it into the Knesset, every Knesset of the State of Israel has been more politically and ideologically diverse than Congress has been over the past 150 years.
Likewise, Perl-Rosenthal’s assertion that American liberal Jews must feel uncomfortable with support for Israel with its Jewish majority and Arab minority makes sense only in an extremely limited, American view of identity politics and fairness. He neither makes a distinction between Arab citizens of Israel and those living in the West Bank under PA jurisdiction nor more importantly recognizes that the Jewish majority still holds stronger to the liberal principles he embraces; that the history of the peoples in this land is not analogous to Atlantic slavery and the dominance of whites over blacks in the United States.
While our focus is the Jewish world, the American political dichotomy is equally unfair to all other groups in the United States. Confronted with the very simple question of “can two political parties adequately express the diversity of concerns, ideologies and priorities of 300 million people?”, most intelligent persons would have to say no. Ask Ralph Nader voters.
Just as Perl-Rosenthal points out that despite his lamentations of deep crisis over the incompatibility of his liberalism and Zionism, one ought not to expect to radical a change in this conflicting American Jewish identity, I too acknowledge that the prospects for radical systemic political reorganization on the Federal level is exceedingly unlikely. I don’t expect American Jews to lead the political revolution that would break the political monopoly. I just ask, open your minds! The world exists not only in shades but in colors.
To cite a personal idol, the very liberal and very Jewish Leonard Nimoy, z”l, “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”.