The Rupture in the American Jewish Community

We live in a time of Rupture. First, the sundering of the United States in an unconscionable act of hate, towards American ideals and the American people, on Election Day. Second, the Rupture within the American Jewish community, completing a division that had been growing for a decade but which has been finalized these past two weeks at the end of the Obama administration. I will discuss the latter today.

Two weeks ago, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2334, with a vote of 14-0 and the United States abstaining. The abstention was a surprise to some, but not to others. The vote was followed the next week by Secretary Kerry's speech in favor of the two-state solution and with harsh words for the current Israeli government which has been blatantly acting against its promises to advance that solution.

I spent over two weeks in Israel and Palestine in November, seeing for myself the facts on the ground, and reading about the continuing efforts of the Netanyahu government to promote and extend the Occupation. The debate over the evacuation of Amona, the bill to legalize all the previously built settlements, small as well as large, and the glee of the extreme right, both within and without the government, on the anticipation of the coming hawkish, Islamophobic government in the United States, all contributed to the sense that there will never be a Palestinian state.

When asked, Israelis, be they government officials, activists, academics, or the everyday citizen, had no vision for the future. Even some right-wing Knesset members spoke of despair at the creeping annexation, but the lack of creativity and the willingness to take the initiative were depressingly evident. The events of the past two weeks here have made it clear that this country's Jewish community is just as bereft of answers as the Israeli Jewish population, and the division is just as stark.

These are the facts on the ground here. The large majority of Jewish Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and support the two-state solution. These are people who are not naïve about the prospects for peace, but who understand that action must be taken, even if risky, to provide for Israel's security as well as remove the stain of a fifty-year occupation. 30% support what used to be the Republican party, and its long history of blindly supporting whatever right-wing coalition was governing Israel.

It wasn't that long ago - one could argue as recently as a decade ago - that American Jews were united in a bipartisan fashion in support of Israel, regardless of the government. Netanyahu's resurrection by deposing Ehud Olmert, ending the last fruitful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and driving the coalition to the far right began just as the Obama administration did, and with it the racist opposition of the Republican party that continues to this day. But the responses to the UNSC resolution and the Kerry speech were very interesting and highlighted the root problem.

There was the now usual split - right-wing organizations criticized the actions, the more extreme ones calling the vote anti-Semitic and worse, trashing the U. N. and personalizing the attacks against the President when the U.S. did nothing more than reiterate what every administration since 1967 has said. That's plain to see if you bother to read the Resolution and then Ambassador Powers' words along with Secretary Kerry's. Those organizations on the left, like J Street, praised the administration for making a clear statement to its long-time friend, with whom it recently concluded a $38 billion-dollar aid package. Basically, friends tell their friends the truth, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

But many people I know, particularly those in the center, criticized the American abstention and statements as being one-sided, despite the resolution calling out Palestinian terrorism. True, it didn't specify Palestinian terrorism, but it was obvious that was its intent. Putting that nuance aside, it was the clearest and most balanced statement about the conflict and its potential resolution, and was right in line with the agreements nearly finalized over the past fifteen years. Yes, it was the Palestinians who balked at the last minute on signing those agreements, but it was Israel which has the power and the ability to act in a way that would induce the Palestinians to finally sign an agreement.

One criticism from a respected friend in the Maryland civil rights movement was that the U.S. action would only serve to encourage the Palestinians to continue working through the U.N. and the International Criminal Court. True, but that assumes that Israel has any interest in negotiating a settlement, which is arguable at best. It also unfairly criticizes the Palestinians for using the United Nations when the Jews of the Yishuv did just that in 1947 to gain their statehood. If it was acceptable for Israel, why shouldn't it be for Palestine as well?

That American Jews still feel threatened by a clear condemnation of Israeli policy and the fifty-year occupation is evidence to me that the fear-mongering of the Right in the U.S. has been effective. When one cannot handle criticism from a friend, as was the case with Netanyahu lashing out against those nations which voted for the Resolution by threatening economic ties and basically doing the BDS movement's job for it, you can infer that there is a great deal of either shame or guilt at work. As one who did not really begin to pay close attention to the conflict until a few years ago, I am sympathetic to the difficulty in dealing with a reality to which you've been willfully blind for half a century.

Today an Israeli court announced its guilty verdict in the manslaughter case of Elor Azaria, the IDF medic who decided to shoot a Palestinian attacker in the back of the head while he lay prone and unmoving on the ground. A medic, mind you, which shows how far the deterioration of ethics has gone in Israeli society. This verdict highlights the rupture in Israeli society, analogous to that of the American Jewish community and the United States in general. The center is not holding anymore.

It's a shame that after so long, when the Israelis who've administered the occupied territories and run counterintelligence for all those decades have all called for an end to the Occupation, there isn't any civil, mature discussion about the current policies and their consequences, both here and in Israel. Like our refusal to engage the global crisis of global warming, by the time we get around to surrendering to reality the price may already be too high for a rational resolution.