Arthur Green

Israel, Jews, and the American election

We Jews constitute approximately 0.2 percent of the world’s human population. While the number is hard to calculate, it has long been clear that we, our actions, and the reactions toward us make up a much larger percentage of headlines, particularly in the Western world. There was a time when those headlines were mostly divided between persecution of Jews and the accomplishments of Jewish individuals, Nobel prize winners and the like. For about 20 years, beginning in 1948, they were about the amazing achievements of the collective Jewish people, recovering from the Holocaust and creating a new, democratic, and progressive state in the Middle East, overcoming tremendous obstacles to do so. We were all very proud.

It is now more than half a century since the majority of these headlines began turning negative, recounting Israel’s actions in the territories it occupied in 1967 and the relentless move toward acquiring land and settling Jews within them, obviously pointing toward eventual annexation. Along with this went news items about deprivation of rights for the Palestinian Arab population, including the right to build homes, to travel freely, and to participate in the booming Israeli economy. Israel seemed to quickly deplete the store of moral capital the Jewish people had possessed in the period following our most terrible victimhood.

Yes, there was still plenty of news in which Jews featured as victims, including the two terrible intifadas (Palestinian rebellions) and then the unspeakably horrific day of October 7 of last year. But these were accounts of pointless and ugly Palestinian violence in response to Israel’s actions, outbursts of murderous rage out of frustration, directed both toward Israel and toward their own hapless and corrupt leaders.

These days, we actually seem to be dominating headlines all over the world. Hostages, Rafah, pro-Gaza demonstrations, and reaction to all of these are filling a large part of what used to be called “Page One Stories.” Now it appears that American responses to the war in Gaza, Israel’s response to that terrible day in October, will have a large part in determining the American election – and hence world history.

To say that this is a terrifying moment is a vast understatement. Neither Netanyahu nor Sinwar seems to really want a deal to release hostages. Netanyahu is cornered politically. He now sees a Trump victory in November as his only hope, both politically and personally. This is a long shot, since Trump now seems to detest him, but it is the best he’s got. He calculates that he is still the better manipulator between the two of them. Accordingly, he will give Biden nothing — no hostage deal, no pullback from Rafah, no withdrawal from Gaza, certainly no Palestinian state — because any of those might help get Biden off the knife’s edge where he now sits. For Sinwar, Trump’s return will add to chaos, on which he thrives. He hopes that it will strengthen Israel’s right wing, showing the world that the Zionist entity truly is racist and fascist, needing to be eliminated. He has already built a worldwide chorus to support that view. Ben Gvir, Smotrich, and Yariv Levin will be chief actors in the drama in which Sinwar hopes that Trump will serve as director.

What are Jews who have managed to retain both sanity and a love for Israel to do in such a moment? In Israel, get back out onto the streets. Do whatever you can to destabilize Bibi. Getting him out by summer should be the major goal. Support Gantz’s call for September elections. In America – support Biden in every way possible, including financially. Support sane Democrats as well. Should Trump win, God forbid, we will need a Democratic congress to hold him in check.

Most urgently at this moment, try to talk sense with young people on the left. Quite a few of them are our own kids and students. If you have no credibility to do so, seek out and support those who have. Those fires need to be tamped down. There is now talk of the campus tent cities moving on to the Democratic convention once the semester ends. Shades of 1968 – which brought us Richard Nixon! This is infinitely worse. Or else they will support third party candidates — shades of Ralph Nader, who brought us George Bush and Iraq, the prequel to much of what is taking place today.

Biden cannot win without the youth vote. He also cannot win without strong support from the Black community. Call on any ties you have to both of those groups to make it clear how awful a Trump victory will be for them. Both of those populations will likely be victims of much harassment and persecution. Their eyes need to be opened to that reality.

We will be able to address those groups only if we have the courage to speak honestly in America as the left-wing Zionists do in Israel. Say openly that Netanyahu is the worst leader in Jewish history, as Tom Friedman has crowned him. Make it clear that you despise this government’s actions, that you are horrified by the extent of both destruction and starvation in Gaza, and are still utterly committed to Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state. Say loudly and openly that this requires a two-state solution and that Netanyahu and Hamas are the chief obstacles preventing that. The majority of American Jews are sympathetic to these views. Marshal their resources for conversation with anyone on the left still sane enough to engage in it. This is our only hope.

About the Author
Rabbi Arthur Green is recently retired as founding dean of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School, where he had served as rector since the program’s founding in 2004. He spends several months each year in Jerusalem.