The Jewish (Israel) Question
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
American Jews are struggling with why some American political leaders are questioning their loyalty to the United States. They fear that their place in American society is being challenged and they are questioning their relationship with Israel. There is tension among American Jews as a whole and within independent parts of the community. Much of this has erupted most dramatically during the congressional recess, but many of these issues have been evolving and festering for some time.
American Jews have a problem concerning their relationship with Israel. As Israel’s political leadership under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has grown ever closer and more submissive to President Trump, most American Jews have grown more and more frustrated with the Israeli Government’s actions. (Ironically, the increase of anti-Semitic acts and statements deriding Jews in America have contributed to bringing Jews together; as attacks against Jews always do during crises, thus covering up the differences.)
Diaspora Jews never denied Israel’s democratically elected Government the right to conduct its relationship with the U.S., as it deems appropriate. Most of them believed, however, that Netanyahu’s blatant dislike for Barack Obama and his obsequies relationship with Donald Trump is unacceptable. The fact is that many Israelis as well as some its leaders believe that Israel which should determine how Jews in American respond to their President. Such an approach appears arrogant and is abhorrent to many American Jews. This tension has legitimated a more skeptical questioning of Israel’s policy in the region. It also has brought Jews to question the long-term objectives of Israel’s quest for peace with its neighbors.
President Trump has granted Prime Minister Netanyahu virtually everything Israel could have desired from an American president. These actions and statements have been conducted in ways which ultimately may redound against Israel.
Of late, the President’s statements related to Jews, Israel, and Democrats’ support for Israel have been laced with the some of the most, anti-Semitic troupes uttered by any American political leader in history. The fact that many Jewish religious leaders as well as religious clerics of all persuasions have been silent in light of Trump’s unacceptable behavior, suggests a lack of moral backbone on their part.
The media in general has been extremely aware of what has been happening in the country with regard to the issues being raised against Israel and against Jews. Large segments of the American public on the political left have chosen to emerge at this moment from their political silence and attack Israel, its policies on the West Bank, its treatment of Arabs, and in support of the BDS movement. While their numbers are small, anti-Israel voices have become more vocal in response to the President’s attacks on a small number of Democratic House Members who have supported these positions.
The American public has not moved significantly to the left, although there has been some suggestion that there is some deeper shifting, particularly with some segments of the Democratic Party. On the hand, Evangelical Christians and White Supremacist groups have used this moment not only to rally around the President, but also to reinvigorate and assert their theology concerning the existence of a Jewish State as a harbinger for the Second Coming.
When Congress returns after Labor Day the House Democrats must reply to President Trump’s anti-Semitic outbursts generated during the recess. Congress first needs to respond first to Israel’s denial of permission to Representatives Omar and Tlaib to visit Israel and the West Bank. This –which has already been largely criticized and attacked by Members of both parties of Congress—needs to be reaffirmed; regardless of what the motives are of various Members.
The much more important long-term issue for Congress and especially for Democrats is the nature of their support for Israel’s safety and security. This is especially true given the furor created by the two Democratic Members of Congress in response to Israel’s denial of their visits. Given the serious anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, and pro-BDS character of their remarks, it is incumbent, especially for Democratic leaders in the House to re-state an unequivocal commitment to bi-partisan support for Israel. They must also explicitly counter the attack made by Omar and Tlaib questioning foreign aid to Israel.
All of this is happening three weeks before Israelis will go to the polls for the second time in six months. In this election there are numerous domestic issues at play. The outcry, however, which has been stirred up by supporters of Israel throughout the U.S. and the world, are equally challenging; what do Israeli leaders believe is the role of Jews in America? In addition to the rightward shift of Israeli politics, religious and secular conflicts, and Bibi’s own personal corruption allegations, this election will determine what approach future leaders in Israel will take towards peace and stability.
Israel needs unity and support from all sides; from America, from Diaspora Jews; and from all segments of Israeli society. It also needs political leadership which addresses Israel’s place in the world from a universal and historically credible position, not one of political self-interest.