Analysis from Israel

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Greenfield’s answer is that non-Orthodox American Jews care less about Judaism than their counterparts overseas, and therefore inevitably care less about Israel. And certainly, that’s part of the answer: A 2013 Pew poll showed that Jewish affiliation has declined markedly among American Jews, with only 68% of Jews born after 1980 considering themselves “Jews by religion,” compared to 93% of those born in 1914-27. And among the 32% that define themselves as “Jews of no religion,” a whopping 67% raise their children “not Jewish,” 79% have non-Jewish spouses, 54% say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, and 55% feel little or no attachment to Israel.

Nevertheless, young Jews in other countries also intermarry more and are less Jewishly identified than their grandparents. So even if the decline has been steeper in America than elsewhere – an assumption for which Greenfield brings no evidence – it’s hard to see that alone as sufficient to explain this political divergence.

What’s missing from Greenfield’s answer, of course, is America itself: the anomalous fact that non-Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That certainly isn’t the case in Europe. And as an annual BBC poll shows, it isn’t even true in Canada and Australia, whose current conservative governments are staunchly pro-Israel.

Consequently, Democratic politicians are rarely as anti-Israel as their counterparts overseas, because being anti-Israel is still bad politics in America. Thus, for instance, they routinely support arms sales to Israel, whereas left-wing politicians abroad routinely oppose them. Nor does the American left’s animus against Israel spill over into blatant anti-Semitism as often as it does in, say, Europe. So for now, liberal American Jews still feel as if they can support the left without having to repudiate their Zionism or their Judaism – something that’s increasingly no longer possible overseas.

But even in America, that may not be true for long. As Sohrab Ahmari and Noah Pollak explained in detail in COMMENTARY this month, the Obama Administration and its Democratic cheerleaders have been steadily defining pro-Israel downward. During last summer’s Gaza war, for instance, the administration relentlessly criticized Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties, halted arms shipments in the middle of the fighting and urged Israel to accept a cease-fire dictated by Hamas patrons Qatar and Turkey, all while declaring itself to be unstintingly pro-Israel.

And on American college campuses, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing. See, for instance, the case of UCLA student Rachel Beyda, who was rejected for a post on the university’s judicial board solely because she was Jewish, until a faculty adviser intervened.

Thus if American Jewish liberals don’t want to go the way of their counterparts overseas – i.e., if they want to be able to continue voting left without feeling that they are thereby sacrificing their Jewish and Zionist identity – they need to mount an urgent campaign to convince their own political camp that any good liberal should also be pro-Israel. That’s far from an impossible case to make, since it has the advantage of being true, as I explained in detail in a COMMENTARY article in March. But conservatives can’t do the job for them; only liberals can persuade their fellow liberals.

And if American Jewish liberals don’t make that case, then in another decade or two, those that still care about Judaism and Israel are liable to find themselves exactly where their British, Canadian, Australian and French counterparts are now: forced to hold their nose and vote conservative, because anything else would be a betrayal of their Jewish identity.

Originally published in Commentary on May 19, 2015

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ISIS Borrows a Tactic from Hamas

The U.S. Army recently announced that it has horrifying video footage of Islamic State fighters herding Iraqi civilians into buildings in Mosul. The plan was not to use them as human shields–that is, to announce their presence in the hope of deterring American airstrikes. Rather, ISIS was deliberately trying to ensure that American troops killed them, by “smuggling civilians into buildings, so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack,” an army spokesman said at a briefing for Pentagon reporters. The motive, he explained, was hope that massive civilian casualties would produce such an outcry that the U.S. would halt airstrikes altogether.

There’s an important point to this story which the spokesman neglected to mention: This tactic is borrowed directly from Hamas. And it was borrowed because the world’s response to successive Hamas-Israel wars convinced ISIS that creating massive civilian casualties among residents of its own territory is an effective strategy. Admittedly, Hamas hasn’t yet been caught on video actually herding civilians into buildings before launching attacks from them. But there’s plenty of evidence that Hamas prevented civilians from leaving areas whence it was launching rockets or other attacks at Israel, thereby deliberately exposing them to retaliatory strikes.

During the 2014 Gaza war, for instance, the Israel Defense Forces warned civilians to evacuate the town of Beit Lahiya before launching air strikes at Hamas positions. But according to Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, who based himself on interviews with Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas gunmen showed up and warned that anyone who left the town would be treated as a collaborator. Since Hamas executes collaborators, that was equivalent to saying that anyone who tried to leave would be killed on the spot. Thus, faced with the alternative of certain death at Hamas’s hands, most Beit Lahiya residents understandably opted to stay and take their chances with the IDF.

There’s also plenty of evidence that Hamas deliberately launched attacks from buildings where it knew civilians were present. Just last month, for instance, I wrote about a case during the 2009 Gaza war in which Hamas directed sniper fire at Israeli troops from the third floor of a well-known doctor’s home, thereby forcing the soldiers to choose between becoming sitting ducks or shooting back and risking civilian casualties. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, Hamas was also storing explosives in the house (using civilian buildings as arms caches or wiring them with explosives is standard practice for Hamas). Consequently, when the soldiers fired at the Hamas position, an unexpectedly large explosion ensued, killing three of the doctor’s daughters and one of his nieces.

In short, Hamas repeatedly used tactics aimed at maximizing the number of civilian casualties on its own side. Yet instead of blaming Hamas for this, the world largely blamed Israel. Mass demonstrations were held throughout the West condemning Israel; there were no mass demonstrations condemning Hamas. Journalists and “human rights” organizations issued endless reports blaming Israel for the civilian casualties while ignoring or downplaying Hamas’s role in them. Western leaders repeatedly demanded that Israel show “restraint” and accused it of using disproportionate force. Israel, not Hamas, became the subject of a complaint to the International Criminal Court.

Hamas thereby succeeded in putting Israel in a lose-lose situation. Either it could let Hamas launch thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians with impunity, or it could strike back at the price of global opprobrium.

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