Analysis from Israel

Jewish World

Last week, the German Interior Ministry released a report on anti-Semitism which stated that during the first eight months of this year, a whopping 92 percent of anti-Semitic incidents were committed by right-wing extremists. That sounded suspicious for two reasons, which I’ll get to later, but since I don’t speak German, I couldn’t scrutinize the report for myself. Fortunately, the German daily Die Welt found the results equally suspicious, and this week, Benjamin Weinthal of the Jerusalem Post reported on some of the problems it flagged.

Weinthal explained that in a federal report on anti-Semitism issued by the German government earlier this year, “the crime of ‘Jew-hatred’ is classified in the category of ‘politically motivated right-wing extremist crime.’” But once Jew-hatred has been declared a right-wing crime by definition, most of its perpetrators will inevitably be classified as far-right extremists, even if they shouldn’t be.

Die Welt cited one particularly blatant example from summer 2014 when Israel was at war with Hamas in Gaza. The war sparked numerous anti-Israel protests, and during one, 20 Hezbollah supporters shouted the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” at pro-Israel demonstrators in Berlin. Hezbollah supporters are Islamic extremists, not neo-Nazis, even if they chose to taunt German Jews by hurling Nazi slogans at them. Nevertheless, the incident was classified as a far-right extremist crime, thereby neatly removing a case of Islamic anti-Semitism from the statistics.

There are two good reasons for thinking the linguistic acrobatics, in this case, represents the rule rather than the exception. First, a 2014 study of 14,000 pieces of hate mail sent over a 10-year period to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin found that only three percent came from far-right extremists. Over 60 percent came from the educated mainstream–professors, PhDs, lawyers, priests, university and high-school students. And these letters were definitely anti-Semitic rather than merely anti-Israel; they included comments such as “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition?” and “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”

Sending hate mail is an anti-Semitic incident in its own right, even if it’s not reported to the police (as most of these letters undoubtedly weren’t). Thus unless you want to make the dubious claim that Germany’s educated mainstream–unlike that of other Western countries–consists largely of far-right extremists, it’s clear that far-right extremists aren’t the only people actively committing anti-Semitic acts.

Second, in other Western European countries, Islamic extremists are a major source of anti-Semitic crime. Thus it’s hard to believe that Germany–which, as several terror attacks over the last two years have shown, is hardly devoid of such extremists–would be the one exception to this rule. In contrast, it’s easy to believe the German government would manipulate its definitions to downplay Islamic anti-Semitism because German courts have already done the same.

In perhaps the most notorious case, a German court ruled in 2015 that three Palestinians who firebombed a synagogue in July 2014 didn’t commit an anti-Semitic crime, but were merely trying to draw “attention to the Gaza conflict.” That ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year. I can’t imagine a German court ruling that firebombing a church to draw attention to, say, the U.S. war in Iraq was a mere political expression rather than a hate crime. But neither the lower court nor the appellate one saw anything anti-Semitic about bombing a Jewish house of worship to protest Israel’s actions (the men were convicted of vandalizing the synagogue, but given only suspended sentences). So presto, Islamic anti-Semitism has been eliminated from the picture.

Far-right anti-Semitism is, of course, real. But so are left-wing and Islamic anti-Semitism. And by pretending the latter two don’t exist, the German government has made it impossible to combat those types of anti-Semitism effectively, since you can’t fight something whose very existence you refuse to acknowledge.

This might not matter to Berlin; the German government clearly cares more about fighting the far right than fighting anti-Semitism, and evidently considers redefining all Jew-hatred as right-wing extremism a legitimate means to that end. But it ought to matter to Jews of every political stripe.

Thus both sides of the American Jewish community need to call out Germany on its whitewash. They should also avoid replicating its despicable practice of redefining anti-Semitism to suit its own political purposes since doing so will only allow the strains of anti-Semitism they deny to metastasize. And in the end, as history has proven time and again, neither right-wing nor left-wing anti-Semites offer immunity to any Jew, even when they’re on the same political side.

Originally published in Commentary on September 12, 2017

Consider, for instance, the uproar over the recent Hungarian campaign against George Soros, a leading left-wing activist who also happens to be Jewish. As part of his reelection bid, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban plastered the country with anti-illegal immigration posters featuring a smiling Soros bearing the slogan “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh” and a statement that 99 percent of Hungarians oppose illegal immigration. Orban, who accuses Soros of funding progressive groups in Hungary that lobby for “settling a million migrants” in the country, has also called Soros himself a “billionaire speculator” and an “American financial speculator attacking Hungary.”

The campaign has outraged many people, ostensibly out of concern for anti-Semitism. The head of Hungary’s Jewish Federation protested to Orban, saying that despite not being “openly anti-Semitic,” the campaign could spark anti-Semitism. So did Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, using language which strongly implied the campaign was anti-Semitic without actually saying so, until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (correctly) ordered a retraction. A senior European Union official termed Orban’s use of “speculator” anti-Semitic. The Associated Press even ran a story in May headlined “Demonization of Soros recalls old anti-Semitic conspiracies.”

Some attacks on Soros are anti-Semitic, like when someone at an anti-refugee rally in Poland in 2015 set fire to an effigy of an Orthodox Jew which he said represented Soros. That’s classic anti-Semitism; it implies both that the real problem is Soros’s Jewishness rather than anything he did, and that all Jews are responsible for Soros’s actions.

The Hungarian campaign, however, targets Soros not for his Jewishness, which it never even mentions, but for his actions; specifically, the fact that he is one of the main financial backers of pro-immigration organizations in Hungary.

According to data provided to the Associated Press by Soros’s Open Society Foundations, he has so far donated $12 billion worldwide, of which $400 million has gone to Hungary. I doubt Hungary has many other donors providing funding of that magnitude for progressive causes (the only kind Soros funds). So if you believe it’s problematic for outsiders to pour huge sums of money into a country to promote agendas most of the country considers detrimental to its well-being—a position I sympathize with, given the damage similar tactics have caused Israel—then Soros is a legitimate target for reasons having nothing to do with his Jewishness.

Moreover, while the word “speculator” is often used as anti-Semitic code for “Jew,” in Soros’s case, it’s the literal truth. Soros didn’t make his fortune by producing better widgets. He made it by speculating on the markets, where he’s especially famous for having raked in $1 billion in a single day by betting against the British pound, thereby earning the nickname “the man who broke the Bank of England.” So if you believe that financial speculation is detrimental to society, then Soros is the ultimate embodiment of this particular economic evil. That, too, has nothing to do with his Jewishness.

In short, Soros is being attacked not for his Jewish identity, but for his actions. Yet both Jews and non-Jews have risen up to declare such criticism “anti-Semitic” solely because he happens to be Jewish. In the left’s brave new world, you can neither call a speculator a speculator nor criticize a progressive donor for his progressive donations. As long as he’s a Jewish progressive, he can’t be touched.

Now contrast this with, say, what happened at last month’s “Chicago Dyke March,” when three people carrying rainbow flags with a Star of David on them were kicked out of the march because the flag was “pro-Israel,” and therefore unacceptable at a progressive demonstration. The Star of David is the most recognizable Jewish symbol in existence and has been since long before Israel’s establishment; that’s precisely why Israel put one on its national flag. That’s also why the so-called Jewish Pride flag has a Star of David on its rainbow background—not to represent Israel, but to represent the marchers’ Judaism. As one expelled marcher said, “It was a flag from my congregation which celebrates my queer, Jewish identity.”

In other words, these marchers were expelled solely for carrying an obviously Jewish symbol at a progressive event. This is classic anti-Semitism: Jews are welcome only if they divest themselves of anything that could identify them as Jews. Yet in the progressive world, such anti-Semitism is deemed perfectly acceptable as long as you claim, like the march organizers did, that the victims were expelled for being “Zionists.” Though some progressives do seem to realize that this justification can’t withstand the light of day: For the crime of airing that bit of dirty laundry, the award-winning reporter who broke the story of the Jews’ expulsion from the march was summarily removed from her reporting job at a Chicago LBGT newspaper and transferred to the sales department.

The distinction between what is and isn’t anti-Semitic ought to be obvious: When progressive activists—or any other kind of activists—are targeted because they are Jews, that’s anti-Semitic. When they are targeted because they are progressive activists, that’s not anti-Semitic, even if they also happen to be Jews.

Yet in a stunning inversion, the progressive left has turned this obvious distinction on its head: Targeting people for being Jewish is no longer anti-Semitic, but targeting people for being progressive activists is. Thus instead of being a shield to protect Jews, charges of anti-Semitism have become a shield to protect leftists. And thereby, the left has completed the process of redefining anti-Semitism to its own benefit, and the detriment of the Jews.

Originally published in Commentary on July 12, 2017

I supported the compromise, though as an Orthodox Jew, my reasons were different from those of most American Jews. Nevertheless, I feel the government’s decision to scrap the deal was defensible, but not for any reason involving American Jewish attitudes toward Israel.

One crucial fact underlies both halves of my position. Many of the American Jews who care most about the Kotel compromise and were most hurt by its cancelation are among the most genuinely pro-Israel members of America’s non-Orthodox community. These are people who tirelessly work to bolster support for Israel worldwide and donate generously to Israeli hospitals, schools, ambulance services, and more from which Israelis benefit.

Most anti-Israel American Jews (and that includes some who like to call themselves “pro-Israel”) don’t care much about the Kotel compromise. See, for example, Simone Zimmerman of IfNotNow, who termed it “obscene” that American Jews are upset about the Kotel when, in her view, they should be focusing on “the occupation.” The growing ranks of the indifferent also don’t care; they’ll probably never visit Israel anyway.

So who does care? People like David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, who issued a statement last week “decrying” the decision to freeze the compromise. This week, nine UN ambassadors toured Israel on a trip organized by the AJC. Among other things, they visited the City of David to gain an understanding of the Jews’ deep roots in Jerusalem—an obviously timely effort given the recurring Palestinian efforts to pass UN resolutions denying these roots.

Or take Lynn Schusterman, one of 65 American Jewish philanthropists who signed a newspaper ad last week protesting the cancellation of the compromise. This week, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is hosting a group of university professors in Israel for a training program to help them combat anti-Israel agitation on campus. The foundation also supports numerous Israeli charitable endeavors, like the Jerusalem Season of Culture, which has brought new life to the capital.

Granted, backers of the compromise also include a nontrivial number of people who show their “love” for Israel mainly by badmouthing it and supporting anti-Israel organizations. But many of the people most deeply hurt by the decision are people like Harris and Schusterman, who work indefatigably both to promote Israel’s cause abroad and to make life better for Israelis at home.

That brings us to my specifically Orthodox reason for supporting the compromise—the importance of hakarat hatov, or gratitude. I think American Jews should help Israel, because Israel is vital to the Jewish world and because all Jews are family. But familial relations are a two-way street, and even within a family, it’s important to show gratitude for assistance rendered when possible.

Often, it isn’t possible, because American Jews want many things Israel can’t afford to give. Israel can’t make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians just to please American Jews, nor can it magically fight wars with no civilian casualties. Concessions on conversion—another hot-button issue for non-Orthodox Jews—are also difficult. As long as converting to Judaism confers an automatic right of Israeli citizenship, the state must retain some control over the conversion process to retain control over immigration.

But since the Kotel was a rare issue on which Israel could afford to give American Jews something they wanted, it should have seized the opportunity. Even if you believe, as I do, that Orthodoxy has a much better track record than Conservative and Reform Judaism at preserving the Jewish people over time, the compromise sacrificed no vital interests.

The Kotel isn’t and never was a synagogue—in Jewish tradition, worship belongs on the Wall’s other side, aka the Temple Mount—so there’s no compelling religious argument for insisting that the entire plaza be under Orthodox supervision. Indeed, that’s why both the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties and the Kotel’s rabbi initially approved the compromise before backtracking under pressure from Haredi zealots.

Nevertheless, I feel that canceling the compromise was defensible, due to another value I hold dear: democracy. By definition, democracy involves messy compromises among groups with very different interests, and often, these compromises are made through political horse-trading. Each group concedes on issues it cares less about to obtain support for those it cares more about.

That’s exactly what happened in this case. The Haredi parties have little interest in nonreligious issues, but they cared greatly about killing the Kotel compromise. So they threatened to quit the government—thereby depriving it of the majority it needed to continue its foreign, economic, and defense policies—unless the government scrapped the Kotel compromise. Since the non-Haredi parties all care more about foreign affairs, defense, and economics, they made the deal the Haredim demanded. The Kotel isn’t most Israelis’ top policy priority.

American Jews talk a lot about the importance of democracy, but, if you value democracy, then you have to accept democratic decisions even when you don’t like them. And you have to accept the fundamental democratic principle that numbers matter. People who live and vote in Israel in large numbers, as the Haredim do, will always have more clout in Israel’s democratic process than people who don’t, like Reform and Conservative Jews.

But whatever clout American Jews do have is diminished when Israelis perceive them as turning away from Israel, because if their support seems to be slipping away in any case for reasons beyond Israel’s control, then any government has less incentive to accede to their demands. And that’s not my personal opinion; it’s simply a fact.

Originally published in Commentary on July 5, 2017

Numerous previous battles over religious issues in Israel have ended the opposite way, with the prime minister bowing to American Jewish pressure. As recently as 2011, for instance, the government froze and ultimately scrapped a planned reform of conversion procedures because American Jews objected. Since American Jews were both members of the family and important sources of American political support, no Israeli prime minister wanted to alienate them, and neither did most ordinary Israelis.

If that sentiment is fraying today, it’s not just because of fringe anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace or even the growing ranks of the utterly indifferent, but also because of the attitudes of many American Jews who call themselves–and in many ways genuinely are–pro-Israel. To understand why, it’s worth pondering something Jewish-American author Jamaica Kincaid said in an interview with Haaretz earlier this month about Israel’s control of the West Bank.

I think one of the reasons this whole thing with the occupation and the territories is so alive is because most people do what Israelis do, just do it. They just do it! It’s not a conversation. You conquer the line, you drive the people off it, or you kill them. You know, you just do it. Then you move on. And maybe 100 years later, you have a little ceremony where you say, the head of state says, ‘I’m so sorry I did that.’ But you just do it…

“I suppose what surprises me is that Israel is the winning society, so I don’t expect it to be so self-examining. Usually, winners don’t examine themselves at all, but in Israel [there is] constant questioning and constant examining, constantly stating why you are right.

Kincaid is obviously correct: If the Palestinian-Israeli conflict draws disproportionate international attention, it’s in part because Israelis themselves endlessly and vocally debate its legitimacy, morality, and possible solutions. It’s also because, as an outgrowth of this debate, Israelis have made numerous attempts to solve it over the past quarter century, including repeated rounds of peace talks and unilateral withdrawals, and action of any kind is obviously more newsworthy than stasis.

But to many American Jews, even many who consider themselves pro-Israel, it doesn’t seem to matter that Israelis have repeatedly made generous peace offers, only to have the Palestinians walk away without even bothering to respond. It doesn’t seem to matter that every territorial withdrawal has led to a massive increase in Palestinian terror. It doesn’t seem to matter that numerous conflicts worldwide have produced far more bloodshed and far more oppression than this one. It doesn’t seem to matter that after almost 25 years of failed peacemaking efforts accompanied by vigorous internal debate, a solid majority of Israelis has reluctantly concluded that while a Palestinian state might be a good idea in principle, in practice, for the foreseeable future, there’s no better alternative to the status quo.

Despite all this, liberal American Jews are convinced that they know better – that the continued “occupation” is mostly Israel’s fault, that Israel must end it immediately regardless of the price in Israeli blood, and that their job as American Jews isn’t to support Israelis’ painfully reached conclusions, but to pressure Israelis to disregard the lessons of their lived experience. If there’s a better way of telling Israelis “You don’t actually matter to us,” I don’t know what it might be.

Moreover, pursuant to that attitude, many American Jews–and again, not just fringe groups like JVP–are actively undermining Israel in various ways. Mainstream American Jewish groups, including some (though by no means all) campus Hillel houses, have repeatedly hosted speakers from organizations that spew outright lies about Israel, such as Breaking the Silence, which even recycles the medieval blood libel about Jews poisoning wells.

American Jews also provide substantial financial support to such organizations, mainly through the New Israel Fund. Rabbis and Jewish organizations provide cover for anti-Israel activists: Leading liberal rabbi Sharon Brous, for instance, praised Linda Sarsour for “building a movement that can hold all of us in our diversity with love” even as Sarsour explicitly banned all Israel supporters from her movement, while the Anti-Defamation League defended Keith Ellison, one of the few congressmen who consistently backs anti-Israel resolutions while shunning pro-Israel ones, as “an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism” right up until he was caught out in overt anti-Semitism. American rabbinical students term Israel’s very existence a cause for mourning and engage in anti-Israel commercial boycotts. The Union for Reform Judaism urges members to step up their criticism of Israel. And on, and on.

In short, American Jews are no longer the bastion of support for Israel that they once were. And if they still believe they have a familial relationship with Israelis, it increasingly feels like an abusive one in which the abuser shows his “love” by causing pain. Thus, it’s no surprise that support for Israel has plummeted among young American Jews; how many of them ever hear anything positive about Israel from their “pro-Israel” elders?

The result is that some Israelis are starting to feel, as Hillel Halkin wrote in Mosaic last month, “The distance between Israeli and American Jews is growing? Let it grow … so what?” Until recently, few Israelis would have said such a thing, and I still consider it a tragedy. But if American Jews keep telling Israelis that everything they think, feel and experience “doesn’t actually matter to us,” the number of Israelis who agree with Halkin will only grow.

Originally published in Commentary on June 28, 2017

Note: This article has been changed to clarify the fact that while some campus Hillel houses have hosted Breaking the Silence, several others have refused to do so.

American Jews, following American liberalism, have abandoned belief in the nation-state, non-voluntary communities, and religion in the public square

In his essay “Why Many American Jews are Becoming Indifferent or Even Hostile to Israel,” Daniel Gordis lists, as key sources of tension, four major differences between the American and the Israeli political projects. His analysis strikes me as largely accurate, yet I think he misses something important by treating the differences as longstanding and perhaps even inherent. In fact, most are of recent vintage, and there is nothing inevitable or intractable about them. They are the product, first, of dramatic changes in the tenets of political liberalism, and second, of a collective decision by many American Jews to follow the new liberalism wherever it leads—even when it contradicts longstanding axioms of both American politics and traditional Judaism.

Take, for instance, the issue of universalism versus particularism. It’s true, as Gordis notes, that unlike Israel, America was not founded to serve a particular ethnic group. Nevertheless, throughout most of its history, America has viewed itself and functioned as a nation-state. Thus, despite promoting supranational projects like the European Union, which entail forfeitures of sovereignty, America has shunned any such project for itself, preferring jealously to preserve its own sovereignty. This preference traces straight back to the founders’ distrust of “entangling alliances.” Even today, there is bipartisan agreement that America’s first responsibility is to itself, whether or not the “international community” agrees; that’s why even a thoroughly liberal president like Barack Obama didn’t hesitate to launch strikes against anti-American terrorists worldwide without waiting for UN approval—something few European countries would deem thinkable.

Of course, the agreement isn’t wall-to-wall. In recent decades a vocal subset of American liberals, mostly housed in the left wing of the Democratic party, has come to believe that—in the words of Walter Hallstein, first president of the European Commission—”the system of sovereign nation-states has failed.” As perhaps inevitable corollaries of this belief, they argue that national decisions require “global legitimacy,” and that one’s fellow citizens have no more claim on one’s allegiance than do citizens of other countries.

Princeton University, my alma mater, exemplifies this evolution. When I graduated in 1987, the university’s motto was “Princeton in the nation’s service,” which nobody considered problematic. A decade later, the idea that a university should dedicate itself to serving its own country in particular had become unacceptable in advanced liberal circles. And so, in 1996, the motto was changed to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Two decades later, even this was deemed too particularistic; last year, the university’s trustees recommended a new version: “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”

The change is hardly trivial. Americans who view their country as a nation-state, even if not the state of a particular ethnic group, have no trouble understanding why, when Israeli and Palestinian interests clash, Israel puts its own interests first: why it is reluctant to cede more territory to Palestinians when every previous such cession has massively increased terror, or ready to fight wars to stop rocket fire on its civilian population. Only for liberals who believe that countries have no right to prioritize their own citizens over other human beings are such decisions unacceptable.

Yet, even today, this latter view, however dogmatically held in elite circles and by American Jews, is a minority one in America at large. That’s precisely why polls consistently show that most Americans still strongly support Israel.

The same goes for a second difference highlighted by Gordis: namely, the place of religion in the public square. A few decades ago, few Americans thought twice about crèche scenes in public venues at Christmastime or public-school choirs singing Christmas carols. Nor has the legal situation changed since then. In a series of rulings in the 1980s and 1990s, the Supreme Court largely upheld the constitutionality of public displays of crèches and other religious symbols, only occasionally nixing them due to very specific circumstances. As recently as 2014, it also upheld a decision by a town in upstate New York to have volunteer chaplains open local board meetings with a sectarian prayer. To this day, politicians from across the political spectrum, including the last three Democratic presidents, continue to speak openly about their own faith.

In other words, far from America having, in Gordis’s words, a “commonly held presumption” that the public square must be religion-free, the presumption throughout most of its history has been the opposite. The Bill of Rights proscribed the establishment of religion, but Americans understood that religion plays an important role in many people’s lives and therefore neither could nor should be banned from the public square.What is different today—once again—is that a specific subset of Americans no longer accepts this consensus. Indeed, liberals have waged relentless war over this issue, and even when they lose in court they have succeeded in creating a chilling effect. Public displays of crèches, for instance, are undoubtedly rarer than they used to be, because many communities deem the ensuing legal and media battles too costly to be worth the effort.Nevertheless, my point stands: the liberal view remains a minority position, and one distinctly at odds with longstanding American tradition.Then there is the distinction drawn by Gordis between voluntary and non-voluntary communities. Until 1973, when the U.S. abolished the draft, most American men did military service, just like in Israel. This, incidentally, is one reason why, as surveys confirm, older American Jews are far more sympathetic to the wartime dilemmas faced by Israel than are younger Jews, few of whom have served in the military or know anyone who has.But that is not all: Americans of my parents’ generation viewed not just military service but also civic engagement as an obligation rather than an option. Gordis himself quotes John F. Kennedy’s famous dictum, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” a statement all the more significant in light of the fact that Kennedy posthumously became and has long remained a liberal icon. Fifty years ago, American liberals were perfectly comfortable with a Democratic president telling them they had obligations to their country, because they themselves regarded involvement in community institutions as no less the duty of any good citizen than was voting or paying taxes.Of course, it’s hard to imagine a present-day American liberal echoing JFK’s slogan. Modern liberalism has adopted autonomy as the supreme personal value and an all-encompassing welfare state as the supreme political value. The former is obviously antithetical to non-voluntary communities, but so, less obviously, is the latter: if the state is obligated to take care of everything, then once you’ve paid your taxes, everything else is the state’s problem. So it’s no surprise that young American Jews, who have grown up with the twin ideas of personal autonomy and state responsibility, have little use for the idea of obligation—or that, as Gordis memorably quotes a Jewish communal leader in San Francisco, “Here in the Bay Area we do not use the word “‘must.’”In each of these cases, American Jews have chosen to follow the dictates of contemporary liberalism even though those dictates deviate profoundly from the American political tradition. But contemporary liberalism isn’t antithetical only to American tradition; it’s no less antithetical to Jewish tradition.

This is most obvious with regard to the issue of voluntary versus non-voluntary communities. Traditional Judaism, which is passed down from mother to child without the child having any choice in the matter, is buttressed by a complex legal system of obligatory commandments and formulates even the most basic values in terms of obligation rather than rights. For instance, the poor don’t have a “right” to assistance; rather, everyone else has an obligation to assist them. Nor do the sick have a “right” to care; rather, the rest of us are obligated to care for them. Granted: in practice, the difference may be minimal, since rights by definition create an obligation on others to fulfill them. But to jettison the concept of non-voluntary commitment—the “must”—is effectively to jettison 3,000 years of Jewish teaching and behavior.

Similarly with religion and the public square. Traditional Judaism is fundamentally a public rather than a private religion. Some biblical commandments, like the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, must be performed in public, and public violations of the commandments are regarded as far more serious than private ones. (When the prophet Jeremiah castigates the nation for failing to observe Shabbat, for instance, he singles out commerce at the city gates: a highly public violation.) One can argue about how much Judaism belongs in Israel’s public square, and Israelis do. But the idea of barring it entirely, of building a wall of separation, is alien to Judaism.

Finally, traditional Judaism is designed to be observed in a sovereign nation-state. Numerous commandments (primarily though not exclusively agricultural) can be performed only in the Holy Land. Others, like the laws governing the conduct of the ruler and the judiciary, can be observed only in a country with a sovereign government and court system. Moreover, despite its many universal principles, Judaism prioritizes local obligations: a famous talmudic dictum on charity, for instance, asserts that “the poor of your city take precedence over the poor of another city.” The flipside of this is that Judaism doesn’t demand that the rest of the world (or even non-Jewish residents of the Jewish state) become Jewish; rather, it envisions a Jewish nation-state surrounded by other nation-states (a point expounded brilliantly by Gordis in a 2010 essay on the story of the Tower of Babel).

Even 50 years ago, before American liberalism diverged so sharply from American tradition, it was never as fully compatible with Judaism itself as liberal American Jews liked to believe (and I’d enter a similar caution regarding the full compatibility of Judaism with American conservatism). But, at least before liberalism abandoned the concepts of the nation-state, non-voluntary communities, and religion in the public square, the differences were more easily papered over, allowing American Jews to be at once committed Jews and committed liberals without experiencing severe cognitive dissonance.

Today, that is no longer possible; liberalism’s differences with Judaism have become too glaring. And, forced to make a choice, non-Orthodox American Jews have increasingly chosen liberalism over Judaism. In some ways, Israel is mere collateral damage in this contest, being simply the most visible symbol of the religion that liberal American Jews have chosen to reject. But that symbol is of the essence. Despite being a secular country, Israel’s character, as Gordis writes, has been informed by Judaism since its inception; nor could it be otherwise without effectively eliminating the “Jewish” from the Jewish state.

For all of these reasons, I see little prospect of a rapprochement between the two communities without a dramatic change in American Jewish attitudes toward liberalism, toward Judaism, or toward both. Ultimately, I do believe this change will happen, if only because, in my view, modern liberalism itself is too radical a departure from centuries of political and religious tradition to be viable over the long run. Sadly, however, I’m far less certain that the needed change will occur in time to save American Jews’ relationship with Israel.

Originally published in Mosaic on May 18, 2017

Regardless of whether you support or oppose a new law allowing Israel to bar entry to prominent supporters of anti-Israeli boycotts, one outcome was eminently predictable: Israel would lack the guts to enforce it even when doing so was most justified. That was amply proven by Wednesday’s decision to grant a one-year work visa to Human Rights Watch researcher Omar Shakir. By this decision, Israel eviscerated the one crucial point the law got right, despite the many it got wrong: You cannot wage an effective war on the BDS movement while giving the people behind it a pass. As the old truism goes, people are policy.

Shakir is the epitome of someone who should have been denied entry, and his case exemplifies why the law’s basic assumption–that boycotters must be targeted personally–is 100 percent correct. He has given lectures on college campuses in which he accused Israel of being an apartheid state, advocated anti-Israel boycotts, compared Zionism to “Afrikaner nationalism,” rejected a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the grounds that it would “institutionalize injustice,” and called for ending Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. His resume also includes a stint as a legal fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization that provides legal assistance and training to BDS activists and files war crimes suits against Israeli defense officials. Nor would discovering all this require any great research skills on the part of government officials; it’s all in a handy memo, complete with links, that NGO Monitor published in December.

Yet in his new role as HRW’s “Israel and Palestine director,” Shakir is supposed to oversee the production of unbiased, objective reports about human rights violations in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Needless to say, the very idea is fatuous; when someone has already made up his mind that Zionism is racism, Israel practices apartheid and a Jewish state has no right to exist, expecting him to produce unbiased research on this subject is like expecting the head of the Ku Klux Klan to preside fairly over the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Instead, Shakir will spend his year here producing reports full of vicious anti-Israel slurs. Thanks to the “halo effect” enjoyed by all human rights organizations, those findings will be treated as credible by numerous well-meaning people overseas and will further undermine Israel in the international arena.

In short, allowing Shakir to take up his post will do Israel incalculable harm. Yet, instead of doing the minimum research required to justify barring him as an individual, the border control authorities made a hasty decision in February to deny him a visa on the sweeping grounds that HRW is an anti-Israel organization. Clearly, accusing an entire organization of being anti-Israel is far harder to justify, even if it happens to be true (which, in HRW’s case, I believe it is). Doing so without exhaustive research and intensive preparation for the inevitable diplomatic backlash was insane.

The predictable result was that the State Department exerted pressure on HRW’s behalf since it’s an American organization. And then, instead of retreating to the narrower and more easily defensible position of barring Shakir on the grounds of his clear unfitness for his post, Israel capitulated completely. Thus instead of HRW being justly embarrassed at having chosen someone so patently unqualified as its “Israel and Palestine director,” boycott advocates were handed a totally unjustified and very public victory.

One might think this is simply a case of bureaucratic ineptitude that has nothing to do with the new law, especially since Shakir’s visa was initially denied before the new law even passed. But the new law actually makes such damaging outcomes even more likely. Why? Because it differs from the old law, which also allowed prominent boycott advocates to be denied entry, in one respect only: Instead of border control officials needing the interior minister’s permission to bar a prominent boycotter, they can now do so on their own authority, unless the government intervenes.

In other words, under the old law, visas were theoretically denied only in cases where the government had already decided it was prepared to stand behind the denial. By handing this authority over to relatively low-level officials, the new law makes it even more likely that the government will end up beating humiliating retreats from eminently reasonable decisions simply because they were made without the necessary research and preparation.

In all other respects, the new law is identical to the old. Like the old one, it applies only to the most prominent boycott advocates. Consequently, it accomplishes nothing except to further increase the likelihood of bureaucratic snafus, while also producing a lot of unfavorable publicity, upsetting even many of the country’s prominent defenders, giving extra ammunition to people who seek to tar Israel as anti-democratic, and creating unwarranted anxiety among well-meaning people who now fear being denied entry on grounds that aren’t even actionable under the law, such as a personal refusal to buy settlement products.

If Israel is to fight the BDS movement effectively, anti-Israel activists like Shakir must be called out as publicly as possible instead of being allowed to pose as objective researchers whose anti-Israel screeds should be considered credible. And barring them from entering the country, precisely because it’s such a high-profile step, can be an effective way of doing so. But if Shakir’s case is any example, the new law will at best contribute nothing to this essential effort, and, at worst, may even end up hindering it.

Originally published in Commentary on April 26, 2017

The arrest of a Jewish American-Israeli teen for making hundreds of bomb threats against American Jewish institutions in recent months seems to put paid to the favorite explanation advanced by both American Jews and the broader American left–i.e., that Donald Trump’s election empowered right-wing anti-Semites, leading to an upsurge in anti-Semitic acts. Yet the fact remains that the number of threats did jump dramatically following Trump’s election, to a degree that seems hard to attribute to mere coincidence. Now, new disclosures by the Israeli police provide a way to square that circle. It turns out the sudden increase was, in fact, connected to Trump’s election–not because of anything Trump did or didn’t do, but because of media’s hysterical reaction to it.

Police sources told Haaretz that the teen’s main goal appears to have been obtaining media coverage. He had been making bomb threats for at least two years, against a wide variety of targets in several different countries, and after every such threat, he would monitor the media. If the threat didn’t provoke much response, he would lose interest in that target and try again somewhere else. But if the threat did create a media stir, he’d start targeting similar institutions in the same general locale in the hope of producing a similar media buzz.

For most of the last two years–during which he threatened targets like shopping malls and airlines, as well as Jewish institutions in countries like Australia, New Zealand, and America–his threats produced little media coverage, so he didn’t repeat them. But after Trump’s election, he suddenly hit pay dirt. Threats against U.S. Jewish institutions fit right into the American Jewish community’s loudly proclaimed narrative that the election had empowered right-wing anti-Semites, epitomized by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s ludicrous assertion that U.S. anti-Semitism was now at a level unseen since 1930s Germany. Moreover, such threats fit right into the broader left-wing narrative that Trump’s election had empowered white supremacists, racists and other right-wing hate groups.

Consequently, whereas anti-Semitic acts received little media coverage during President Barack Obama’s tenure, they suddenly began receiving massive media attention following Trump’s election–not just in America, but worldwide. The result, given the teen’s longstanding modus operandi, was inevitable: For the past few months, the Israeli police sources said, he has focused all his energy on threatening Jewish institutions in the U.S., because he knew that would create the media outcry he wanted.

There’s also a second Trump angle to this story, and it, too, contradicts the accepted narrative. The Israeli police sources told Haaretz that even though the bomb threats had gone on for two years and several different countries were involved in the investigation, until recently, capturing the perpetrator wasn’t considered high priority. What changed that, they said, was Donald Trump.

A few weeks ago, he ordered the FBI to make nailing the suspect high priority. The FBI consequently sent 12 cyber crime experts to Israel, and with their help, the Israeli police managed to track down and collect evidence against the teen (Start-Up Nation has bypassed Israel’s police force; the country’s top geeks go into either business, the army, or the intelligence agencies).

In short, for all the criticism he justly earned for his belated and reluctant condemnations of anti-Semitism, Trump took action to stop it in a way his predecessor never did–a point to remember for anyone who believes that actions speak louder than words.

Many commentators have already noted that by rushing to blame Trump and his supporters for the bomb threats despite the complete absence of any evidence, the U.S. Jewish community has made the fight against anti-Semitism more difficult, because next time, its claims are liable to be met with considerable skepticism. But the new police information indicates that the damage was even worse than that: The anti-Trump hysteria actually encouraged the very attacks it was meant to combat.

The lesson here obviously isn’t that Jews shouldn’t react to anti-Semitic acts. But by tying the bomb threats into a broader anti-Trump narrative for their own political purposes, American Jewish leaders and their non-Jewish left-wing allies generated a degree of media hysteria that the acts on their own would not have produced. And that is precisely the type of hysteria that attracts copycats–in this case, not just the original perpetrator (who copycatted his own attacks once he saw they produced the desired media attention), but also the only other person arrested to date.

Absent this media hype, it seems unlikely that Juan Thompson, a black, left-wing radical who was stalking his girlfriend, would have come up with the idea of making trouble for her by phoning bomb threats into Jewish community centers and trying to make them look as if they were coming from her, instead of choosing any number of other possible targets.

In short, by making the bomb threats part of a broader anti-Trump narrative without a shred of evidence, American Jewish leaders discredited both themselves and the battle against anti-Semitism while also actively encouraging copycat attacks. Obviously, they didn’t mean to do any of those things. But there’s a lesson that needs to be learned here, and it goes way beyond the narrow issue of Donald Trump:  Jewish interests aren’t identical to those of any political ideology, either liberal or conservative. And when you conflate Jewish interests with political ones, Jews are usually the ones who end up the losers.

Originally published in Commentary on March 28, 2017

Despite 23 years on repeated failure, Martin Indyk remains convinced that he knows exactly how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without a trace of embarrassment, he unveiled his latest plan in the New York Times last week, a “Jerusalem first” approach that calls for the Old City to be run by “a special regime that maintained the religious status quo and ensured that the three religious authorities continued to administer their respective holy sites.” But with characteristic disdain for reality, he ignored the elephant in the room: The status quo he seeks to preserve, especially on the Temple Mount, is actually unacceptable to both sides–and should be unacceptable to anyone who cares about the fundamental right of freedom of religion.

Unlike many veteran peace processers, Indyk doesn’t pretend that Jews have no connection to the Mount. He admits that it contains “the ruins of Judaism’s holiest of holies.” He simply seems to think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Jews to forgo any contact, even the most tenuous, with their holiest site in perpetuity. Not, of course, that he puts it that bluntly. But when you consider what’s happening on the Mount even today, when Islamic authorities don’t yet have absolute control, it’s hard to imagine his “solution” producing any other outcome. And it’s equally hard to see why anyone should consider the current situation acceptable.

Just last week, for instance, Palestinian guards employed by the Islamic Waqf (religious trust) that runs the Mount’s day-to-day affairs tried to eject an Israeli archeologist from the site merely for daring to use the term “Temple Mount” in a lecture to American students. They demanded that he use the Mount’s Islamic name instead, and when he refused, they demanded that Israeli policemen on the site eject him. Other tour guides subsequently told the Times of Israel that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.

Disgracefully, the Israeli police–who have long since decided their job on the Mount isn’t protecting Israelis’ rights, but kowtowing to the Waqf’s every whim to prevent Arab rioting–seconded the request that Dr. Gabriel Barkay stop using the site’s Judeo-Christian name. But at least they also told the Waqf guards that they couldn’t evict him merely for using the term “Temple Mount.” Under full Islamic control, even uttering that name would evidently be a punishable offense.

Or consider what happened to Jerusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov when she visited the Mount in September 2015. As usual, the Waqf guards harassed her nonstop, over everything from the length of her skirt (below the knees, but not ankle length) through taking pictures to standing still for longer than the guards deemed proper. But the climax came when, moved by thoughts of the Temple, she unexpectedly began to cry. A Waqf guard promptly started shouting at her in Arabic. And once again, an Israeli policeman disgracefully seconded the Waqf’s complaint: “You can’t close your eyes and cry. That’s like praying.”

Yet at least the Israeli police didn’t kick her off the Mount. Had the Waqf had its way, she would never even have been allowed to enter.

In a 2014 report for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, journalist Nadav Shragai, an expert on Jerusalem’s history, detailed all the ways the “status quo” on the Mount has eroded to the Jews’ detriment since 1967. Jewish visiting hours have been drastically curtailed; Jews can no longer enter the mosques, even as the portion of the Mount occupied by the mosques has expanded greatly; the Waqf has been allowed to destroy Jewish archaeological relics with impunity; and so forth. All this has happened even though Israel nominally controls the Mount.

But to Palestinians, even the one right Jews still retain on the Mount, the right of a strictly limited number to pay strictly controlled visits–as long as they don’t mind nonstop harassment and refrain from doing anything offensive to the Waqf, like praying, tearing up, or using the term “Temple Mount”–is unacceptable. The consensus Palestinian position today, as memorably articulated by their “moderate” leader Mahmoud Abbas, is that Jews who ascend the Mount are “defiling” it with their “filthy feet.” In short, the Palestinians aren’t interested in preserving the Mount’s status quo; what they want is to ban any Jew from ever setting foot on it again.

Yet the status quo is equally unacceptable to a growing number of Jews – and rightly so. There’s no reason why Jews shouldn’t be allowed to visit their holiest site whenever and in whatever numbers they please, aside from, say, during Muslim holidays or Friday prayers at the mosque. There’s no reason Jewish visitors to the site should be unable even to shed a tear or use its Hebrew name.  And there’s especially no reason why Jews should be denied the right to pray at their holiest site, as long as they don’t do it in the mosque itself – which they wouldn’t want to do anyway, since Jewish law forbids entering the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and its exact location isn’t known. Thus Jewish prayer would be possible only in peripheral areas, where there’s no risk of violating Jewish law.

Nor can one credibly argue that it’s impossible for Jews and Muslims to share a holy site; at Israel’s insistence, they’ve been doing it at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron for decades. The only thing that makes the Mount different is that there, Israel has shied away from enforcing a similar equal-access arrangement.

Thus, instead of sanctifying the “status quo,” it’s long past time to admit that this status quo grossly violates basic religious rights, that the violations are only getting worse, and that this deterioration will continue unless Israel takes steps to reverse it. In short, it’s time for Israel to scrap the status quo and finally start protecting Jewish as well as Muslim rights on the Mount. And it’s time for America, whose own constitution enshrines freedom of religion, to fully back Israel in doing so.

Originally published in Commentary on January 11, 2017

Writing in Haaretz this week, sociologist Eva Illouz wondered why many Israeli and American Jews, usually so sensitive to any hint of anti-Semitism, seem untroubled by the undeniable anti-Semitism of some of Donald Trump’s supporters. It’s a fair question that deserves a serious answer, which Illouz signally failed to provide: She resorted to the lazy leftist’s favorite tactic of stigmatizing her opponents as racist ultra-nationalists, thereby absolving herself of the need to try to understand what they actually think. But since her pseudo answer doesn’t negate the validity of her question, let me try to provide a real one.

A good place to start, ironically, is with the misplaced Holocaust analogies liberal American Jews have been spouting ever since Trump’s election, like ADL director Jonathan Greenblatt’s statement last month that anti-Semitic rhetoric in the U.S. has reached levels unseen since 1930s Germany. Jonathan Tobin has explained in detail why such analogies are ludicrous, but two of the reasons why are crucial to understanding Jewish Trump supporters.

In Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism was propagated and orchestrated by the government, not by a vocal minority. That obviously isn’t the case in America today. But it is the case in another significant part of the globe: the Arab and Muslim world.

Throughout the Muslim world, Nazi-style anti-Semitism is both rampant and government-sponsored. State-owned media, state-appointed clerics, and government officials all spew it day after day: Jews – and it’s always “Jews,” not “Israelis” – are “sons of apes and pigs” (an official spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party); they are “defiling” Islamic holy sites with their “filthy feet” (Abbas himself); Hitler killed them “so you would all know that they are a nation which spreads destruction all over the world” (an essay in a PA-funded children’s magazine); rabbis are instructing their followers to poison wells (Abbas again). And that’s from Israel’s official “peace partner.” Avowed enemies like Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas use even more openly genocidal rhetoric.

Moreover, whereas anti-Semitic Trump supporters are armed mainly with Twitter and spray paint, Middle Eastern anti-Semites, even assuming Iran never gets nukes, are already armed with hundreds of thousands of state-of-the-art missiles, along with suicide bombers, stabbers, car-rammers, etc. Terrorist quasi-states, like Hezbollah and Hamas, have used their weaponry to target Jews directly, and not just in Israel (remember the AMIA bombing?), while countries like Iran have so far preferred to do so indirectly, by funneling arms and cash to terrorists. Either way, the combination of high-tech weaponry with Nazi-style anti-Semitism constitutes a clear and present danger to millions of Jewish lives, one far greater than the danger posed by even the most noxious Trump fans.

So if your goal is to protect the maximum number of Jewish lives, your top priority is arguably electing a U.S. president who will provide strong backing for Israeli self-defense and strong opposition to murderous Muslim regimes. It should not be to support an American government that will, say, stop arms shipments to Israel in the middle of a war, help turn Iran into the Mideast’s dominant power, or reward Palestinian incitement and terror by blaming the stalemated peace process on Israel – all things Barack Obama actually did.

There’s no guarantee that Hillary Clinton would have done the same, or that Trump will be different (though his actions so far have been encouraging). But Obama’s former secretary of state was clearly the more likely to continue his policies. Thus, faced with a non-ideal choice between one candidate who had anti-Semitic Twitter followers and another who seemed poised to continue empowering well-armed anti-Semitic governments, you don’t have to be a racist or an ultra-nationalist to prefer the former. You just have to think protecting Jews’ lives is a higher priority than protecting them from nasty rhetoric.

The second relevant difference between Nazi Germany and Trump’s America is that even before it started murdering Jews, the Nazi government had moved beyond mere rhetoric: It organized boycotts of Jewish businesses, kicked Jews out of universities, threw Jewish doctors out of hospitals, etc. In modern-day America, the government obviously isn’t doing any such thing. There is, however, an organized nongovernmental effort to do so – not on the so-called the alt-right, but on the far left.

As anyone who’s been paying attention knows, anti-Semitism didn’t suddenly erupt out of nowhere after November’s election. Back in 2015, long before anyone dreamed Trump could win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency, anti-Semitic acts accounted for a whopping 51 percent of all religious hate crimes recorded by the FBI, even though Jews are less than two percent of the American population. Such acts have spanned the gamut from swastikas painted on Jewish frats to signs like “YALE IS A JEW HOLE–LET’S ROUND THEM UP” to physical assaults. And many of these acts were perpetrated by the far left rather than the far right. American Jews simply preferred to focus on the latter because they overwhelmingly lean left themselves.

So far, however, only left-wing anti-Semites have tried to oust Jews from universities or organize boycotts of Jewish businesses. Granted, they often hide behind the fig leaf of “anti-Zionism.” But when, for instance, left-wing students burst into a Brooklyn College faculty meeting last year and demanded “Zionists off campus,” does anyone seriously think they were targeting evangelical Christians?

And sometimes, they don’t even bother with the “Zionist” fig leaf. When BDS advocates denied Rachel Beyda a seat on the UCLA student council’s judicial board in 2015, for instance, they did so because they deemed her Jewishness disqualifying in and of itself. True, after a faculty advisor ruled this unacceptable, the council held a revote and elected her. That’s precisely why grassroots hate is so different from the officially sponsored variety. It’s no accident that, as a study released last year shows, campuses where BDS groups are strong also tend to experience more anti-Semitism, because BDS activists are among the main perpetrators of campus anti-Semitism.

Left-wing anti-Semites are a vocal part of the Democratic Party’s base, even if most preferred Bernie Sanders to Clinton. So faced with a non-ideal choice between two candidates who both have anti-Semites in their base, you don’t have to be a racist ultra-nationalist to prefer the one whose supporters aren’t yet engaging in Nazi-style boycotts; you just have to think that protecting Jews’ livelihoods is a higher priority than protecting them from nasty rhetoric.

Rhetoric obviously does matter; every serious genocide scholar considers it the first step on the road to genocide. That’s precisely why Jews have always been so sensitive to anti-Semitic rhetoric, and Jewish Trump supporters are no exception. They’re far from untroubled by alt-right anti-Semitism. They simply consider the left-wing version more troubling still.

Originally published in Commentary on January 3, 2017

A regular reader of Odeh Bisharat’s op-eds in Haaretz might reasonably conclude that the Israeli Arab author doesn’t like his country very much. So I was stunned by the advice he offered his fellow Israeli Arabs in his latest column. Aside from being something you rarely hear Israeli Arab intellectuals say, it’s good advice–not just for his own community, but also for both Israeli and Diaspora Jews:

The time has come for the Arab leaders of public opinion to say outright: In spite of everything, we have it good here. It’s true that there’s a mountain of problems, but we want to be citizens of the state. Here we can fight to improve our living conditions, to protest, mobilize Jewish public opinion and conduct a battle against the extreme right. After all, the program that unites most of the [Israeli] Arab movements is based on the principle that Arabs are citizens of the state in which they will realize their national and civil rights. And in that case, it’s important to convey that the Arabs care about the state, because they care about themselves and their future.

The irony is that even though you never hear their leaders say so, most Israeli Arabs already agree with Bisharat. Polls have shown this repeatedly (here and here, for instance). The latest evidence came from last month’s Peace Index poll, a monthly survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University. It found that Israeli Arabs are actually more optimistic than Israeli Jews about the country’s situation–in sharp contrast to what one would expect to find if, as both Israeli and foreign media outlets like to claim, Israel was suffering from a rising tide of anti-Arab racism.

Fully 40.3 percent of Israeli Arabs deemed Israel’s current situation “very good” while another 22.7 percent deemed it “moderately good,” meaning that 63 percent offered a positive assessment. By comparison, only 9.7 percent of Israeli Jews rated the current situation “very good” and 34.0 percent “moderately good,” for a total positive assessment of 43.7 percent. Israeli Arabs were similarly bullish about the future, with 32.9 percent predicting that Israel’s situation would be “much better” in the new Jewish year that began in October and another 21.5 percent expecting it to be “a little better,” for an overall positive assessment of 54.5 percent. The corresponding figures for Israeli Jews were 7.5 and 15.0 percent, for a total positive of just 22.5 percent.

Arab optimism extended across every field the pollsters checked: military-security (where 39.9 percent of Arabs forecast improvement), political-diplomatic (42.3 percent), socioeconomic (42.6 percent) and “disputes between different parts of the public” (31.6 percent). In every category, the proportion of Arabs who expected improvement far surpassed both the proportion of Jews expecting improvement and the proportion of Arabs expecting deterioration. Indeed, the proportion of Arabs who foresaw deterioration ranged from just 2.8 percent on socioeconomic issues to 13.2 percent on “disputes between different parts of the public.” Those last two figures are particularly noteworthy. If Israeli Arabs really felt threatened by rising racism, they would hardly predict improvement in “disputes between different parts of the public” by a ratio of almost 3:1 and improvement in the socioeconomic realm by more than 15:1.

Nevertheless, there’s one very real barrier to further improvement: Israeli Jews largely believe that most Israeli Arabs care more about the Palestinian cause than about their own country’s wellbeing, for the very good reason that this is what they hear, over and over, from Israeli Arab leaders. This obviously encourages anti-Arab sentiment and impedes integration. And as Bisharat correctly noted, it will be very hard to change this perception as long as Arab-Israeli opinion leaders refuse to say publicly that it’s false – that despite the “mountain of problems” Israeli Arabs face, and especially their deep disagreements with Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, they nevertheless feel they “have it good here” and really do “care about the state.”

Bisharat’s advice, however, is no less applicable to the Jewish world–there, too, the refusal to “say outright” that things are good in Israel despite the problems is causing serious long-term damage.

As evidence, consider Sara Hirschhorn’s op-ed in Haaretz last week, with the self-explanatory title “Liberal Zionists, We Lost the Kids.” In it, the Oxford University lecturer lamented that young British Jews are turned off by Israel–not, as so frequently claimed, by “the occupation or the settlements,” but by “the very premise of a self-defining State of the Jews, back to 1948.” And to her credit, she acknowledged that liberal Zionist adults are largely responsible for this development: If liberals are to convince their children that a Jewish state is worth having, she wrote, “Above all, we can’t only catalogue the (many) shortcomings—we must constantly and convincingly express what still makes us proud—in spite of it all—in the State of Israel today.”

But of course, they rarely do. All you hear from most liberal Zionists nowadays, both in Israel and abroad, is a vile caricature of Israel: occupation, settlements, racism, discrimination, every evil in the modern pantheon. And when that’s all the kids have ever heard, why wouldn’t they end up thinking a Jewish state is a bad idea?

Problems obviously shouldn’t be swept under the rug; Israel is a good place to live precisely because it tries so hard to keep improving. But you can have too much of a good thing, and with regard to obsessing over Israel’s flaws, that point was passed long ago for both Israeli Arabs and Diaspora Jews.

Thus in both communities, as Bisharat and Hirschhorn correctly pointed out, the road to beneficial change begins with ceasing to focus only on the negative and remembering the highlight the positive as well. Saying outright that even Arabs “have it good” in Israel, unlike in so many Arab countries, might be an excellent place to start not just for Israeli Arabs, but also for Diaspora Jews.

Originally published in Commentary on November 11, 2016

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Germany Redefines Most Anti-Semitism Out of Existence

Last week, the German Interior Ministry released a report on anti-Semitism which stated that during the first eight months of this year, a whopping 92 percent of anti-Semitic incidents were committed by right-wing extremists. That sounded suspicious for two reasons, which I’ll get to later, but since I don’t speak German, I couldn’t scrutinize the report for myself. Fortunately, the German daily Die Welt found the results equally suspicious, and this week, Benjamin Weinthal of the Jerusalem Post reported on some of the problems it flagged.

Weinthal explained that in a federal report on anti-Semitism issued by the German government earlier this year, “the crime of ‘Jew-hatred’ is classified in the category of ‘politically motivated right-wing extremist crime.’” But once Jew-hatred has been declared a right-wing crime by definition, most of its perpetrators will inevitably be classified as far-right extremists, even if they shouldn’t be.

Die Welt cited one particularly blatant example from summer 2014 when Israel was at war with Hamas in Gaza. The war sparked numerous anti-Israel protests, and during one, 20 Hezbollah supporters shouted the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” at pro-Israel demonstrators in Berlin. Hezbollah supporters are Islamic extremists, not neo-Nazis, even if they chose to taunt German Jews by hurling Nazi slogans at them. Nevertheless, the incident was classified as a far-right extremist crime, thereby neatly removing a case of Islamic anti-Semitism from the statistics.

There are two good reasons for thinking the linguistic acrobatics, in this case, represents the rule rather than the exception. First, a 2014 study of 14,000 pieces of hate mail sent over a 10-year period to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin found that only three percent came from far-right extremists. Over 60 percent came from the educated mainstream–professors, PhDs, lawyers, priests, university and high-school students. And these letters were definitely anti-Semitic rather than merely anti-Israel; they included comments such as “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition?” and “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”

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