P. David Hornik

The real rift between Israel and American Jewry

I was reading the other day where Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s point man on Iran, said among other things that “Now…we are in a position to really go after all the revenue streams Iran uses to fund Hamas and Hezbollah.”

I was happy to read that. I live in Beersheva, where, last month, a rocket fired from Hamas-run Gaza severely damaged a house. In the 2014 Israeli-Hamas war numerous rockets were fired at Beersheva.

In essence, cutting Iran’s support to Hamas and Hizballah is a matter of life and death for Israelis. Not in the sense that those organizations pose an existential threat; if there is a war, Israel will win. But it can be a costly win. In the 2014 war with Hamas, 73 Israelis died; in the 2006 war with Hizballah, 160 died. Many believe another war with Hizballah would take a considerably higher toll.

Hook also “noted that,” under the pressure of U.S. sanctions,

“the rial has sunk by 75% already this year, and…100 major companies have announced they are pulling out of Iran. In addition, the SWIFT banking network, the main mechanism for international money transfers, announced earlier this week that it cut off 50 Iranian banks.

“The combination of all these things has a very powerful effect and the Iranian regime has to decide whether they want to keep promoting terrorism and instability around the Middle East or they can watch their economy collapse.

My reaction to all this is not a feeling of intense hatred toward President Trump, under whose leadership all this is happening. It may or may not be enough, ultimately, to stop Iran. But it’s a sincere, and encouraging, attempt to do so.

Meanwhile, a survey last month “found that 51 percent of American Jewish respondents said they approved of the president’s US-Israel approach, but just 6% said they would vote for him due to his Israel policies despite differing from him on other issues.”

The poll also “found widespread American Jewish distaste for Trump, with 75% expressing disapproval of him.”

Those findings seemed borne out by this month’s midterm elections, in which more than 75 percent of Jews voted for Democrats and—according to different polls—19 percent or 17 percent voted for Republicans.

There’s been much talk about a rift between Israel and American Jewry. From American Jewry’s side, the bitterest accusations concern a lack of recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel—and particularly, last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s revoking a pledge to allow mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall.

It could be pointed out that Netanyahu had a weighty reason to go back on the promise—namely, his government’s certain collapse (because of the ultra-Orthodox parties’ withdrawal) if he hadn’t. It can also be noted that 65 percent of American Jews have “heard little or nothing” about the Jewish-pluralism issue in Israel and seem barely aware of it.

Still, let’s allow that some significant number of American Jews feel slighted and insulted by Reform and Conservative Judaism’s low status in the Jewish state.

How does it look from Israel, though, when a U.S. administration’s determined fight against the Jewish state’s deadliest enemies appears to count for nothing for the large majority of American Jews?

That’s not to say, of course, that when American Jews go the voting booths, their sole or even main consideration should be Israel. They are, after all, Americans. Rockets fired from Gaza or Lebanon won’t fall on them. They feel they have all sorts of reasons to oppose Trump that have nothing to do with Israel.

But if there is supposed to be commonality — let alone unity — between American Jewry and Israel, then seemingly Israel’s security, its future, should weigh somewhat higher on the scales.

My own feeling is that it’s hard to take American Jews’ complaints about Israel seriously when most of them don’t seem overly concerned about whether we live or die.

And yes, the issue with Iran — not just its terror proxies — can become existential if Iran goes nuclear, something the Trump administration is also working hard to prevent. But when — for most American Jews — Trump-hatred trumps all, such matters pale into insignificance.


About the Author
P. David Hornik, a freelance writer, translator, and copyeditor in Be'er Sheva, has published novels, a story collection, an essay collection, poetry, and numerous articles. His memoir, Israel Odyssey: Coming of Age and Finding Peace in the Middle East, is forthcoming this year from God of the Desert Books.
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