Mosaic magazine has been running a fascinating series about why American Jews are drifting away from Israel. All the contributors (correctly) ascribed this drift primarily to the dilution of American Jewish identity through a combination of rampant intermarriage and attempts “to universalize every aspect of Judaism,” as one contributor, Jack Wertheimer, put it. But among the secondary factors contributing to this development, one has been oddly overlooked: the difference in lived experience between Israeli Jews, still surrounded by enemies who truly want to kill them, and American Jews, currently enjoying an era of (possibly short-lived) safety almost unprecedented in Diaspora Jewish experience. To understand just how significant this experience of safety is, it’s worth comparing American Jewish attitudes with those of Jewish communities in Europe.
Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer, who covers European Jewish communities extensively for his paper, once summarized attitudes toward Israel as follows: “the further east you go, all the way to the Caucasus, Jews become steadily more right-wing, more stridently pro-Israel, and less prepared to countenance any form of concessions or compromise towards Israel’s enemies and rivals.” Nor is the reason hard to find: In places where anti-Semitism and persecution are lived experiences or fairly recent memories, Jews consider a strong Israel an asset.
Pfeffer said Russian and Ukrainian Jews have told him that “When Israel bombs Gaza and kills Palestinians, our neighbors here fear and respect us.” But there’s a simpler reason why Jews who feel threatened want Israel to be strong: A strong Israel is one that will still be around to welcome them if the day comes when they need someplace to flee. And many European Jews consider this a real possibility.
Daniel Ben-Simon, who wrote a book about French Jews’ response to anti-Semitism, estimated back in 2012 that “almost one in two French Jews maintains a residence in Israel. It’s a sort of insurance policy, just in case the situation in France gets even worse.” Today, some of those Jews have started moving: Immigration to Israel hit a 15-year high last year, and French Jews led the pack, with 7,900 immigrants, an all-time peak.
Not far behind, however, were Ukraine and Russia (7,000 and 6,000, respectively), where Jews were fleeing political instability, economic turmoil and conflict in eastern Ukraine. This is particularly noteworthy because intermarriage rates in Ukraine and Russia are even higher than in America, and many immigrants from those countries are either intermarried themselves or the children or grandchildren of intermarriages. In other words, the drift away from Israel caused by intermarriage in America hasn’t been replicated in Eastern Europe, for the simple reason that there, unlike in America, intermarried Jews and their children can still imagine needing the refuge Israel provides.
The anomaly of American Jews’ feelings of safety is also reflected in voting patterns. Not long ago, Jews in other Western countries supported left-leaning parties as reliably as American Jews did. But today, they are increasingly shifting their support to center-right parties; in Britain, France, Canada and Australia, for instance, most Jews now vote conservative. This isn’t because they’ve become less economically or socially liberal than their American peers; it’s because the specter of anti-Semitism (initially masquerading as anti-Zionism) has suddenly risen from its very shallow grave and is concentrated mainly in two communities: Muslims and the hard left. A prime example is the recent spate of anti-Semitism scandals in Britain’s Labour party, which prompted former BBC director Danny Cohen to declare last weekend that he couldn’t imagine any Jew voting Labour today: “it would be like being a Muslim and voting for Donald Trump, how could you do it?” Thus outside America, Jews have increasingly reverted to the age-old practice of voting for the party they think will protect them.
And this brings us to a third reason why Jews who feel less secure are more likely to sympathize with Israel: Anyone who has experienced insecurity understands that sometimes it leaves you with no good choices; only a choice between two evils. How, for instance, is a British Jew to vote if he loathes the Tories’ economic and social policies but also abhors Labour’s increasingly open anti-Semitism? For him, both choices are bad; he can only try to pick the lesser evil.
And having faced that situation, he’s more likely to understand that Israel, too, faces unpalatable choices in dealing with very real threats. The status quo in the West Bank clearly isn’t ideal, but withdrawing would likely make the situation worse, as it did in Gaza. Bombing Gaza in response to Hamas rockets isn’t ideal, but letting Hamas bombard southern Israel with impunity would be worse.
American Jews never experienced as much anti-Semitism as their European counterparts did, but even for them, fear of persecution was at least a living memory until recently. They had parents or grandparents who fled persecution in Europe, or who had experienced the genteel anti-Semitism of the “gentleman’s agreement,” whereby Jews were quietly excluded from many American companies, hotels, clubs and even colleges.
Thus, those American Jews could still imagine needing Israel as a refuge – if not for themselves, then at least for their brethren in Europe. They could still feel, like Ukrainian and Russian Jews today, that Israel’s military victories made them more respected by their neighbors (it’s no accident that American Jews’ affection for Israel soared after its stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War). And they could still understand that Israel, confronted by enemies who genuinely want to destroy it, has no ideal solutions available; instead, it must choose among multiple evils.
Given what is happening on American campuses nowadays, I’m not convinced those bad old days won’t return. But for now, basking in the safety America has provided, too many American Jews have forgotten the lessons of millennia of Jewish history. And in the process, they have also forgotten one of the key universal values they so pride themselves on upholding, that of compassion for those not blessed with similar safety – all the Jews who may yet need the refuge Israel provides, and the Jews busy ensuring that refuge will still exist when it’s needed.
Originally published in Commentary on April 20, 2016
Like every major Islamist attack in Europe, last week’s terror attacks in Brussels left many Israelis wondering whether Europeans will finally understand what Israel faces. Unfortunately, such attacks are more likely to intensify anti-Israel activity in Europe. To understand why, it’s worth reading an article from the Islamic State magazine Al-Naba that propounds a surprising thesis: Jihad against Israel doesn’t take precedence over jihad anywhere else.
The article, translated by MEMRI, argued that the “Palestine first” slogan, which has reigned supreme for almost seven decades, has led good Muslims to ignore all the other places where jihad is no less necessary, or even more so. Indeed, it said, Muslims’ top priority should be purifying lands already under Islamic control, for both religious and practical reasons. Religiously speaking, “The apostate [tyrants] who rule the lands of Islam are graver infidels than [the Jews].” And practically speaking, defeating Israel won’t be possible without first destroying neighboring Arab regimes that are its “first line of defense.” Consequently, “Waging jihad with the aim of replacing the rule of the Jews with a regime like that of those who currently rule Gaza and the West Bank is jihad that is null and void,” because it would just replace infidel Jews with infidel Muslims.
But fighting Jews also doesn’t take precedence over “fighting the Crusaders and all the polytheists in the world,” the article stressed. In fact, “Muslims everywhere should fight the infidels nearest to them,” since that’s where they have the best chance of succeeding.
That last sentence sums up why Islamic State’s approach is Europe’s worst nightmare. For decades, Europe had a cushy arrangement: All the world’s jihadists were so fixated on Israel that they were willing to overlook longstanding hatreds against “Crusader” Europe, as long as Europe would help them wage war on Israel. As Manfred Gerstenfeld pointed out this week, many European countries — including Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy — tried to take advantage of this offer: They sought deals under which Palestinian terrorists could operate freely in their countries – usually without fear of arrest, but with swift release guaranteed if arrests were necessitated by American pressure – and in exchange, the terrorists wouldn’t attack those countries.
Not only did this largely protect Europe from jihadist terror, but it even seemed to avoid the main pitfall of most appeasement deals. The usual problem with appeasement is that the aggressor, after gobbling up the prey the appeaser threw him, then goes after the appeaser from an even stronger position, since one enemy is already out of the way. That, for instance, is what happened when Europe gave Hitler first the Sudetenland and then the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1938-39, only to see him turn around and gobble up the rest of Europe a year later.
But Israel, against all odds, showed no sign of collapsing; it kept getting stronger despite decades of unrelenting attacks. So to Europe, it must have seemed the perfect solution: The crocodile could keep attacking Israel forever, and Europeans would be permanently safe. All they had to do was make sure the beast remained fixated on Israel by maintaining a steady drumbeat of anti-Israel outrage.
Yet now, suddenly, that tactic no longer works – and like any weakling confronted with a bully, Europe is cravenly trying to divert the bully’s attention back to his former victim.
That’s precisely why Islamic State’s rise over the last few years has coincided with an upsurge in anti-Israel activity by European governments, including the European Union’s discriminatory decision to start labeling settlement products, moves by several European parliaments to recognize a Palestinian state, and France’s recent push for both an anti-Israel Security Council resolution and an international conference conducted under threat of recognizing “Palestine” if Israel doesn’t capitulate completely. All these are frantic efforts to restore the jihadist status quo ante – first, by refocusing world (and especially Muslim) attention on Israel, and second, by weakening Israel enough that it once again looks like a tempting target for jihadists, rather than one too strong to be tackled without first bringing down several other countries.
Eventually, a new generation of European politicians might figure out that this won’t work. Even if Islamic State is eventually pushed out of Syria and Iraq, its ideas are now loose in the jihadist universe and can’t be put back in the bottle; thus Europe would do better to team up with Israel against the common threat rather than helping the jihadists play divide and conquer. But for older politicians, veterans of decades in which diverting the crocodile’s attention to Israel actually worked, this paradigm shift will probably prove impossible. They are far more likely to keep escalating against Israel in a desperate effort to bring back those halcyon days when jihadists believed, as Al-Naba put it, “that no other issue should be raised until Palestine was liberated.”
And this brings us to the left’s standard recipe for improving relations with Europe – quitting the West Bank. As I’ve noted before, all available evidence rebuts the theory that territorial concessions can buy European love. But that’s doubly true if Europe is now seeking to divert the jihadists’ attention to Israel because it won’t be able to stop at giving them the West Bank. It will have to move on to encouraging them to attack pre-1967 Israel, which the jihadists also consider “occupied territory,” for the same reason Europe had to give Hitler the rest of Czechoslovakia six months after giving him the Sudetenland. Appeasement requires keeping the crocodile fed, so once he’s gobbled up one juicy tidbit, you have to throw him another.
In short, Israel’s relations with Europe will probably get much worse before they get better, if they ever do. All it can do is protect itself from the fallout as best it can by continuing to bolster economic and diplomatic ties with the rest of the world.
Originally published in Commentary on March 30,2106
The Israeli media were virtually unanimous yesterday in headlining a new Pew survey of Israeli opinion. All highlighted the finding that nearly half of Israeli Jews support expelling Arabs. The only reporter who thought to ask an expert what this figure really means was Haaretz’s Ofer Aderet. But to understand the expert’s answer, one other fact is helpful: Just a day before Pew published its survey, two of the Knesset’s three Arab parties publicly condemned the Gulf Cooperation Council for declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization, on the grounds that this declaration might benefit the country in whose parliament they serve.
Aderet queried Professor Sammy Smooha about the Pew finding because he’s Israel’s leading expert in Jewish-Arab relations, having tracked the subject since 2003 through a series of comprehensive annual polls. Smooha said Pew’s results disagreed with his own polls, which consistently found that about three-quarters of Israeli Jews support coexistence with Arabs. He offered two explanations for this divergence.
First, the Pew question was vague and confusing. Respondents were asked simply whether they agreed or disagreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” That’s easy to answer if you believe that Arabs should either always be expelled or never be expelled. But what if, like many Israelis, you believe the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no?
Many center-rightists, for instance, favor expelling Arabs who openly support terror or seek to undermine Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, but not other Arabs. Many center-leftists believe East Jerusalem Arabs (most of whom are permanent Israeli residents but not citizens) should be forced to become part of the Palestinian Authority whether they want to or not, but not other Arabs. Thus for these respondents, the answer would depend on whether they interpreted the word “Arabs” in Pew’s question to mean “all Arabs” or “some Arabs.”
Smooha argued that most respondents who agreed with the statement interpreted it as meaning “some Arabs,” because if you read it to mean expelling all Arabs, the idea “is unrealistic and unfeasible.” Indeed, no Israeli party advocates expelling all Arabs, and very few individuals do; even diehard anti-Arab racists tend to make exceptions for the Druze, for instance.
His interpretation is reinforced by looking at voting patterns. According to Pew, rightist and religious Jews overwhelmingly support expelling Arabs. But the only right-wing party that actually advocates expelling sizable numbers of Arabs – Yisrael Beiteinu, which wants to swap certain Arab towns for the major settlement blocs under a final-status deal with the Palestinians – won a mere six seats in the last Knesset elections; the other rightist and religious parties, which advocate no such thing, won a combined 51.
In contrast, Pew found little support for expelling Arabs on the left. Yet the leading center-left faction – Zionist Union, with 24 seats – is also the one Israeli faction that advocates expelling large numbers of Arabs right now, as opposed to under some distant final-status agreement: The Labor Party, which accounts for most of Zionist Union’s seats, recently adopted a plan to unilaterally hand East Jerusalem over to the PA, thereby removing hundreds of thousands of Arabs from Israel.
In short, Pew’s results don’t fit actual voting patterns at all unless you conclude that most center-leftists interpreted its question as meaning “all Arabs,” and therefore disagreed, while most rightists interpreted it as meaning “some Arabs,” and therefore agreed.
This brings us to Smooha’s second explanation: He believes Pew’s finding primarily “reflects alienation and disgust with the Arabs more than it attests to agreement to grant legitimacy to the government to expel them.” In other words, many Israelis chose to interpret the question as meaning “some Arabs” – a position they could support – because they wanted to demonstrate their “alienation and disgust.”
But why would Israeli Jews want to do that? And why would they want to expel “some Arabs” to begin with? First, because they’re sick and tired of hearing Israeli Arab leaders openly support anti-Israel terror. And second, they’re sick and tired of ordinary Arabs – the ones who claim to support coexistence, and who I believe in many cases genuinely do – not only refusing to disavow these leaders, but reelecting them to the Knesset year after year.
The Hezbollah controversy, which broke after Pew’s survey was conducted, is a perfect example. Hezbollah has killed thousands of Israelis and tens of thousands of non-Israeli Arabs. Yet the Balad and Hadash parties both condemned the GCC for declaring it a terrorist organization, because Balad thought the decision “serves Israel and its allies in the region” and harms “anyone acting against Israeli aggression,” while Hadash thought it serves Israel’s interests, helps maintain the “Israel occupation” and “proves that Gulf states are totally loyal to neo-colonialist and Zionist forces, the enemies of Arabs.”
All this was too much even for the far-left Haaretz, which usually defends Arab MKs’ every outrage. In a blistering editorial, it pointed out that Hezbollah attacks also kill many Israeli Arabs (most of whom live in the north, which is Hezbollah’s primary target) and demanded, “Could it be that the representatives of the Balad and Hadash parties are willing to accept this, just as long as Jews are killed too?” It then lambasted “the absence of diplomatic logic” in claiming that Hezbollah fights the “Israeli occupation” when it actually does no such thing, being too busy dominating Lebanon and helping to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
Finally, it wrote, these parties, “with their own hands … are crushing Israeli Arabs’ struggle for equal rights and recognition of their unique status in the Jewish state” by lending support to the claim “that Israeli Arabs are enemies of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Memo to Arab MKs: When even Haaretz won’t support you, you’ve really lost every last Israeli Jew.
I’ve explained before why Israeli Arabs keep reelecting these parties despite claiming that they don’t reflect the voters’ priorities. But however justified the explanation, the combination of ever more outrageous behavior by Arab MKs and the growing “alienation and disgust” reflected by the Pew poll clearly creates a combustible situation. And at some point, if a new and different Israeli Arab leadership doesn’t emerge, it’s liable to explode.
Yet rather than helping to cultivate such a new leadership, both American Jews and Israeli leftists have been enthusiastically supporting the very Israeli Arabs who are doing the most to destroy coexistence. Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh, for instance – who condemned the GCC for declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization, but won’t condemn Palestinian knife attacks because “I don’t think it’s my place to tell the people how to resist” – was feted by Jewish groups when he visited America last year.
Thus, it’s high time for Arabs and Jews alike to realize that supporting arsonists like Odeh is no way to foster coexistence. Otherwise, the “alienation and disgust” reflected in the Pew poll will only keep growing.
Originally published in Commentary on March 9, 2016
NGO Monitor has just published an important study of the funding of Israel’s premier left-wing “nongovernmental” organizations. The first fact that arises from the study is no surprise to anyone who has been following the issue: Far from being “nongovernmental,” these groups are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the European Union and its member states. But the second fact did surprise me: The New Israel Fund, which has become the bête noire of pro-Israel activists both in Israel and abroad in recent years, is actually a comparatively minor donor to these groups. If it closed up shop tomorrow, its grantees would still manage just fine.
The study examined the funding of 27 organizations from 2010 to 2014, using the financial reports the groups filed with Israel’s registrar of nonprofit organizations. It also compiled a complete database of all donations to these groups during those years. The groups in question are the usual suspects, including B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and many others whose main activity nowadays seems to be trying to tarnish Israel’s name overseas.
Overall, the report said, these groups raised more than 261 million shekels in 2010-2014; at current exchange rates, that comes to $66 million (all dollar conversions are my own). Of this, a whopping 65 percent – some $43 million – came from foreign governments (primarily European), either directly or indirectly.
Twenty of the 27 groups received more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments, and three of them – Yesh Din, Terrestrial Jerusalem, and Emek Shaveh – received over 90 percent of their funding from these governments. The largest governmental donor was the EU, followed by Norway and Germany.
In contrast, the NIF accounted for only 12 percent of these organizations’ total funding, less than a fifth of what they received from their governmental sponsors. Indeed, the EU alone – not including its member states – provided more than two and a half times as much as the NIF did. The NIF isn’t even the largest private-sector donor. That honor, unsurprisingly, goes to a European group: the Sigrid Rausing Trust, a London-based foundation started by a Swedish philanthropist, which provided the groups in question with 14 percent of their funding.
Based on the very small selection of NIF supporters I know personally, I’ve always suspected that most NIF donors are well-meaning, pro-Israel Jews who genuinely seek to make Israel a better place according to their own lights. I dislike many NIF grantees and many NIF officials, and I wish those well-meaning Jews would find a more constructive channel for their donations, but they clearly have as much right to donate to their preferred Israeli causes as Jews of any other political persuasion have to donate to theirs.
Yet even if I’m wrong in my assessment of the NIF’s supporters, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. And those numbers lead to an unavoidable conclusion: Pro-Israel activists have been busy picking fights with fellow Jews when the real enemies are hostile foreign governments. By focusing so much of our ire on the NIF, we have effectively been giving the real culprits a pass. And it’s long past time for us to correct this error and start focusing our ire where it belongs – on the EU and its member states.
Originally published in Commentary on January 19, 2016
Ever since an arson attack apparently perpetrated by Jewish extremists killed three members of a Palestinian family last July, the left has used it to launch a sweeping assault on religious Zionists in general and religious settlers in particular. The perpetrators weren’t mere “wild weeds,” leftists asserted, but a product of systematic racism and incitement in the religious community. And as long as the perpetrators remained unknown, this claim was hard to refute: Without knowing who they were, it was impossible to know their motives. But with the suspects having finally been indicted this week, it’s now clear this assertion is bunk. Nor is that my verdict alone: It’s the verdict of none other than the reporter covering the case for the far-left daily Haaretz – a paper that can’t be accused of any sympathy for either settlers or the religious community.
Last week, when reporters already knew who the suspects were but the rest of us were still in the dark due to a gag order, Haaretz ran a front-page analysis by settlement reporter Chaim Levinson titled “Jewish Terror Doesn’t Happen Because of Radical Rabbis, but in Spite of Them.” It’s worth reading in full, but here’s the gist:
Today’s Jewish terror doesn’t happen because of the rabbis. It is a protest against the rabbis, staged by young Jewish extremists … They regard the rabbis as too moderate and willing to compromise. They consider rabbis Dov Lior and Yitzchak Ginsburgh – whose names are whispered in the television studios as the arch-terrorists of our generation – as moderates because they don’t back violence.
The problem with the Jewish extremists of today is not the places they study, but the fact that they don’t study. If they were students in Lior’s much-maligned Nir Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba instead of wandering the hilltops of the West Bank, probably they wouldn’t have gone out and set fire to a family home in the dark of night.
The proof is crystal clear: None of Lior’s students are involved in the current terror activities. If he were to teach this, his students would probably follow his teachings. But that is not his way…
Yosef Haim Ben-David, who burned Mohammed Abu Khdeir to death in July 2014, did not grow up in the religious Zionist movement. Nor did the minor who stabbed several Palestinians in Dimona last October. Neither did Shlomo Pinto, who mistakenly stabbed a Jewish man in Kiryat Ata that same month.
Ginsburgh and Lior’s students, who imbibe their racism with gusto, may share their worldview but understand that burning and killing Arabs is not the way.
This week, after the gag order was finally lifted, Levinson published a profile of the main suspect, Amiram Ben-Uliel. And the profile proves his point. Ben-Uliel actually is the son of a mainstream religious Zionist rabbi and grew up in a settlement. But he dropped out of school as a teenager, left his family’s home, and largely severed contact with them. In fact, he largely severed contact with the entire mainstream religious community, as evidenced by what I personally consider the profile’s most telling detail: When he married a fellow extremist two years ago, the only guests at the wedding were the couple’s parents.
That might not sound shocking to American ears, since private weddings aren’t unheard of in America. But Orthodox Jewish weddings are massive community affairs. Guest lists typically number in the hundreds, and it’s considered a mitzvah to attend and help the bride and groom rejoice. Nor does community involvement end there: A traditional Orthodox wedding is followed by seven nights of parties, the sheva brachot, at which the newlyweds are the guests of honor. Each is typically hosted by a different relative or friend, and each must include at least one guest who didn’t attend the wedding or any of the earlier parties.
In short, in Jewish tradition, weddings aren’t private affairs; they are communal events deliberately designed to welcome the young couple into the community. Thus, by having a private wedding, Ben-Uliel and his bride were explicitly and pointedly turning their backs on their community and its religious traditions.
Other alleged members of this hardcore radical group have similar profiles. Mordechai Meyer, for instance, also grew up in a mainstream religious home in a mainstream settlement. But like Ben-Uliel, he dropped out of school and abandoned his family home as a teenager.
Indeed, these radicals are the antithesis of mainstream religious Zionists and settlers, who view the Israeli state as “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption” (to quote the prayer for the state), and therefore as something to be cherished. The radicals, in contrast, view the Israeli state as “The Kingdom of Evil” – the title of a tract written by one, Moshe Orbach, which details their methodology: using terror to sow such chaos and create such deep internal rifts that it will eventually destroy the state, clearing the way for them to build a religious kingdom in its stead. It’s the methodology embraced by every terrorist organization in history. But it has nothing to do with either the tactics or the goals of mainstream religious Zionism.
In fact, “inciting rabbis” have never had anything to do with Jewish terror. As Levinson correctly noted, this “is a cliché that took root in the 1990s after the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.” What he didn’t note is that it was wrong then, too. Michael Ben-Yair, the attorney general at the time, investigated the matter thoroughly and concluded that assassin Yigal Amir wasn’t influenced by any rabbi or by any broader “climate of incitement.” And like Haaretz, Ben-Yair can hardly be suspected of rightist sympathies; he’s a radical leftist who accuses Israel of “apartheid” and urged the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state even without an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.
As Levinson aptly concluded, “The way to deal with terror is to stop terrorist activity. Investigating rabbis might make Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon happy, but it is not connected to today’s reality.”
Yet unjustly smearing an entire community isn’t simply irrelevant; it’s downright counterproductive. The only thing it will ever achieve is to further deepen Israel’s internal divides. And that’s exactly the outcome the Jewish terrorists are seeking.
Originally published in Commentary on January 7, 2016
Many well-meaning people still believe that “pro-Palestinian activists” are exactly what the term sounds like – people anxious to better the Palestinians’ lot by ending “the occupation” and creating a Palestinian state. But Haaretz journalist Amira Hass provided a window onto these activists’ true nature in a column this week: They are people for whom even Hass – a self-described non-Zionist who deems Jewish immigration to Israel a “crime” and Palestinian violence against Israel a “right” – is a “Zionist,” and therefore beyond the pale. In short, they are people whose world has no place for any Israeli Jew of any political persuasion, and for whom the only “pro-Palestinian” future worth contemplating is one where Israel ceases to exist.
To understand just how extreme a worldview is required to label Hass too “pro-Israel,” some background is in order. Hass is Haaretz’s longtime Palestinian affairs analyst, but she’s unique among the Israeli journalists covering this beat in that she doesn’t live in Israel; she has lived for over two decades among the Palestinians, first in Gaza and then in Ramallah. This isn’t merely out of journalistic dedication; it’s where her avowed sympathies lie.
She states explicitly that she isn’t a Zionist. As she put it in the abovementioned column, during a panel she moderated at last week’s Haaretz conference in New York, “The newspaper’s representatives made it clear that Haaretz is a Zionist publication, that its opposition to the occupation stems from Zionist principles. I found it appropriate to distinguish myself from this stance.”
In this same column, she wrote that overseas Jews who move to Israel “would be choosing to participate in another crime,” a message she said she has delivered at forums ranging from the Haaretz conference to meetings with South African Jews. As she correctly noted, this is the antithesis of Zionism, which “preaches in favor of the immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel.” In contrast, she appears to favor letting Palestinians immigrate to Israel; at any rate, she devoted several paragraphs to decrying Israel’s refusal to let them to do so.
Moreover, she believes Palestinians have a “right” to kill Israelis; in a now-infamous column in 2013, she wrote, “Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” That those stones are lethal weapons whose victims are primarily innocent civilians – the list of Israelis killed by Palestinian stone-throwers ranges from infants through toddlers to senior citizens – evidently doesn’t cause her any moral qualms.
So what could Hass possibly have done to enrage those “pro-Palestinian activists” to the point of accusing her of the worst crime in their book – Zionism? In her own words, “The thing that apparently angered them most was that I dared claim that the use of weapons does not advance the Palestinians’ cause today.”
This claim was not, heaven forbid, advanced “because of my Israeli identity” – i.e. out of any squeamishness about the murder of her countrymen. It’s just that in any armed conflict between the Palestinians and the vastly better-equipped Israeli army, the Palestinians are inevitably going to lose. Or to put it in her own, more pejorative, terms, the Israelis’ “capacity for destructive revenge is bigger.”
This, incidentally, is also the stated position of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He, too, has repeatedly said that while he considers “armed struggle” legitimate in principle, he believes it has proven counterproductive in practice and should therefore be eschewed. So in the eyes of these “pro-Palestinian activists,” Abbas would also apparently qualify as a despised “Zionist.” And since he did, once upon a time, win election on this platform (though he’s now in the 11th year of his four-year term), all the Palestinians who once voted for him are presumably also “Zionists,” and therefore similarly beyond the pale for these “pro-Palestinian” purists.
Granted, the activists in question were South African, and the South African branch of BDS has long been even more pro-violence and more virulently anti-Semitic than the rest of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. But the difference is one of degree rather than kind; “pro-Palestinian” activists elsewhere are also often both pro-violence and anti-Semitic.
Judging by her column, Hass learned nothing from the fact that even she was ostracized as too “Zionist” by these activists. But other well-meaning liberals ought to do so. “Pro-Palestinian activists” who have no place even for Amira Hass in their world have no place for anyone who seeks anything other than Israel’s violent demise. Thus by cooperating with such activists, liberals are not promoting a peaceful two-state solution; they’re promoting the activists’ goal of a world without Israel.
Originally published in Commentary on December 23, 2015
I admit to getting a kick out of seeing anti-Semites inadvertently help the very Jewish state they dream of destroying. And it happens more often than you might think, as was driven home by three very different news reports this week.
The first is that some 8,000 French Jews moved to Israel this year, topping last year’s all-time high of 7,000. Immigration is always good for Israel. Not only does each group of immigrants bring its own ideas and strengths that contribute to making Israel a better place, but the country simply needs a critical mass of people to survive as a Jewish state in an Arab region. Indeed, had it not been for the millions of Jews who immigrated since 1948, Israel might not have survived.
Most immigrants to Israel are Zionists; they genuinely care about the Jewish state. But even so, most of them wouldn’t have left comfortable lives elsewhere had there not been a push factor as well as a pull factor; that’s why most American Zionists still don’t come. And usually, anti-Semitism has been part of that push factor, just as it is for French Jews today.
So thank you, anti-Semites, for turning a country of 800,000 people into one eight million strong. It would never have happened without your help.
The second news item was the announcement of a planned trilateral summit between the leaders of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus. For most of its history, Israel’s relationships with Greece and Cyprus were chilly; in contrast, it had close ties with their longtime enemy, Turkey. It was only when Turkey, under the leadership of the virulently anti-Semitic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, turned against Israel that a rapprochement with Greece and Cyprus began, since all three countries now had a common enemy.
In other times, this might have seemed a poor strategic bargain. Greece and Cyprus have weaker militaries than Turkey, offer smaller economic markets, and don’t provide diplomatic entrée to the Muslim world. But in a month where the West has just given Iran a pass on two major violations of its shiny new nuclear deal – failing to come clean on its past nuclear work and conducting a banned missile test – it’s a godsend.
Why? Because Iran now knows for certain that it can cheat its way to nuclear weapons with impunity, which means Israel will someday face a choice between bombing Iran or letting Iran get the bomb. But bombing will be harder than it would have been before the nuclear deal because the deal gave Russia a green light to finally supply Iran with its advanced S-300 aerial defense system. And Israel lacks experience with the S-300; the allies its air force traditionally trained with, including Turkey, mainly use American weapons platforms.
But Cyprus, which has long had close ties with Russia, bought an S-300 back in 1997, which it later transferred to Greece. And since Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are now friends that conduct joint military exercises, Greece reportedly let the Israel Air Force practice against its S-300 this spring to devise ways of defeating it.
So thank you, Erdogan, for enabling the IAF to get the training it will need if it ever has to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. It wouldn’t have happened without your help.
Finally, there’s the annual UN Human Development Index, which was published this week. Israel ranked 18th on this index, which is based on income, education and life expectancy; that puts it above both the EU average and the OECD average, and also above several individual countries (like France, Belgium, and Austria) that have higher per capita incomes, have been around much longer, and haven’t been at war for the last seven decades. Inter alia, Israel has the world’s second-lowest infant mortality rate (though since Belarus ranked first, I admit to wondering about the veracity of some of the UN’s data); it ranks fourth in life satisfaction; and it has the highest fertility rate of any country in the “Very High Human Development” category (2.9 births per woman), compared to fertility rates below replacement rate in every EU country, and even in America.
What do any of these statistics have to do with anti-Semitism? Two things. First, Israel has benefited tremendously from the generosity of overseas Jewry; in particular, many of its hospitals and universities were built with help from abroad. All these donors were obviously motivated by Zionism; they wanted to contribute to building the Jewish state. But the fact that Israel’s very existence has been under threat since its inception served as an additional spur. Helping fellow Jews in a very powerful Jewish impulse, and even today, overseas donations to Israel spike whenever there’s a war. In other words, had it not been for the constant threats, the Diaspora Jewish generosity that has helped Israel grow and thrive so impressively might not have reached the proportions that it did.
Second, precisely because of those constant threats, Israel simply couldn’t afford mediocrity in certain areas. To fight wars against enemies who were vastly numerically superior, for instance, it needed the very best military technology, and its investment in weapons development ultimately spurred a civilian high-tech boom. Similarly, for decades it was unable to import agricultural produce from its neighbors, so it had to be able to grow food despite having very little water; hence, innovations like drip irrigation and wastewater recycling (in which Israel is the undisputed world leader) were born.
In short, without the constant hostility, Israel probably wouldn’t have come as far and as fast as it has since 1948. So thank you, anti-Semites, for spurring Israel to become a pretty amazing place to live. We couldn’t have done it without your help.
Originally published in Commentary on December 17, 2015
Note: The following piece is from a symposium published in Commentary Magazine‘s November issue. Contributors were asked to respond to the following question: “What will be the condition of the Jewish community fifty years from now?”
Today’s Jewish world has two main centers: America and Israel. But by 2065, if current trends hold, it will have only one—Israel.
One reason is simple demographics. Today, the two communities are of similar size. Israel, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), has 6.3 million Jews. America, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, has between 5.4 to 6.8 million, depending on whether you count only “core Jews” or the “enlarged” population, which includes “persons of Jewish parentage” and “non-Jewish household members.”
But America’s core Jewish population has barely grown over the past half-century. True, in 1960, the “enlarged” population was only 5.4 to 5.5 million. But since intermarriage was much less common then, this population—identical to today’s core Jewish figure—primarily comprised core Jews. Its subsequent increase has thus come mainly from counting non-Jews as Jews.
Israel’s core Jewish population, in contrast, has more than tripled, from 1.9 million in 1960.
This divergence will only increase. According to a Pew Research study released this year, American Jewish fertility is below replacement rate, at 1.9 children per woman. Israel’s Jewish fertility rate, according to the CBS, is a robust 3.05. Thus, while America’s Jewish population is suffering natural decline, Israel’s benefits from strong natural growth. And though European Jewish emigration may bolster both, past experience indicates that any large-scale exodus would disproportionately benefit Israel.
Thus 50 years hence, Israeli Jews will far outnumber their American kin, which alone would ensure Israel’s predominance. But Israel will also probably have the more Jewishly committed community.
American Jews are increasingly opting out. In a 2013 Pew poll, 32 percent of those born after 1980 defined themselves as “Jews of no religion,” compared with only 7 percent born in 1914–27. And compared with Jews “by religion,” Jews “of no religion” were more than twice as likely to intermarry, almost seven times as likely to raise their children non-Jewish, more than five times as likely to deem being Jewish of little or no importance, more than twice as likely to feel no attachment to Israel, and less than a third as likely to care about belonging to a Jewish community. In short, their contribution to American Jewry is almost nil.
Only 28 percent of all American Jews, moreover, deemed “being part of a Jewish community” essential to their Jewish identity. American Jews’ outsized impact on world Jewry has stemmed largely from their capacity for collective action both at home and abroad. But organized communities are important vehicles for mobilizing collective action; as more Jews shun such communities, American Jewry will inevitably be diminished.
In Israel, by contrast, opting out is hard to do; like it or not, you’re part of an enormous Jewish collective—the State of Israel—whose decisions affect everyone. And perhaps partly in consequence, Jewish engagement is booming.
A 2007 Guttman Center study found that while 68 percent of Israeli Jews over 60 years old defined themselves as secular, only 37 percent of adults under 30 did so; the rest placed themselves on the broad spectrum from traditional-but-nonobservant to ultra-Orthodox. And even secular Israelis rarely abandon Judaism entirely. In another Guttman Center survey, from 2009, sweeping majorities of Israeli Jews deemed it important to observe Jewish lifestyle rituals such as circumcision or shivah (over 90 percent), celebrate Jewish holidays “in the traditional manner” (85 percent), keep kosher at home (76 percent), and have a special Sabbath-eve meal (more than two-thirds).
More than two-thirds also attributed importance to studying classical Jewish texts such as the Bible and the Talmud. Study options for secular Jews have mushroomed accordingly, from jam-packed Shavuot learning sessions to full-year pre-army programs.
Thus by dint of both size and commitment, Israel seems set to become the world’s predominant Jewish community, replacing the current American–Israeli parity.
Of course, this assumes Israel’s survival. American Jews increasingly seem to doubt such survival is possible unless the intractable Palestinian conflict is somehow resolved. As one distinguished American Jew warned: “Regardless of what the United States does, Israel’s diplomatic isolation will increase unless there is a general settlement. Without a fundamental change, Israel could wind up in an international diplomatic ghetto, with the United States her only friend. Even in the United States, Israel’s position will not be secure unless she changes her policy.”
Actually, that’s from December 1973; it’s New York Times journalist James Reston’s summary of Henry Kissinger’s views. Since then, Israel’s Jewish population has more than doubled, its GDP has quintupled, and it has opened diplomatic relations with dozens of additional countries.
The future contains no guarantees. But previous rumors of Israel’s impending demise have proved greatly exaggerated.
Originally published in Commentary in November 2015
EU bureaucrats won’t like the comparison, but in one significant respect, the officials who approved discriminatory labeling requirements for Israeli products earlier this month bear a marked resemblance to the Palestinians who have been knifing Jews throughout Israel for weeks now. Clearly, there’s no similarity between labeling requirements and murder; the two aren’t remotely comparable. But the underlying attitude is remarkably similar: Neither the EU bureaucrats nor the Palestinian stabbers seem to care how many Palestinians they hurt as long as they can hurt a few Jews in the process.
Both the stabbings and the labeling promise to wreak havoc on the Palestinian economy – or to be more specific, on the ability of thousands of Palestinians to support themselves and their children. With regard to the violence, this ought to be self-evident. In an article earlier this month, for instance, reporter Brett Kline described the despondent mood in tourism-dependent Bethlehem now that clashes between slingshot-wielding Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have driven the tourists away. But the angriest comment, Kline reported, came from Hamadah, a construction foreman working in the Betar Ilit settlement:
He has just been informed that following the attempted stabbing of a soldier at the entrance to the settlement by a 22-year-old mother of two from Husan village across the road, work has been suspended indefinitely. And residents of Husan, home to thriving construction material depots and auto repair shops, cannot leave the village.
“What was she thinking,” he fumes, referring to the stabber. “Who the hell is she? … The woman is being fed in hospital. But how will I feed my family?
Indeed, the situation has gotten so bad that Palestinian businessmen in Hebron have begun trying to stop the violence on their own. And it could easily get worse. Last week, following a deadly attack in Tel Aviv perpetrated by a Palestinian who had just received a permit to work in Israel, the Israeli government suspended 1,200 other recently issued entry permits pending a security review. Should more permit-holders perpetrate attacks, Israel could eventually be driven to bar Palestinian laborers almost entirely, as it did during the second intifada. The impact on the Palestinian economy would be devastating: According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 92,000 Palestinians work in Israel (not including the settlements). That’s 13 percent of all employed Palestinians in the West Bank.
Yet the labeling requirement could prove almost as deadly for the West Bank economy, because for all the EU’s claims that it simply wants to “give consumers accurate information,” it’s obvious that the goal is to ultimately shut down Israeli businesses in the territories, either by making them unprofitable or simply by persuading owners that the new labeling rules are more hassle than relocating would be. Indeed, several companies have already reached that very conclusion in recent years, the most famous being SodaStream, which relocated from the West Bank to the Negev in September.
Israeli businesses in the territories, however, rely almost exclusively on Palestinian labor. Around 20,300 Palestinians are employed in the settlements, according to the PCBS; that’s almost 3 percent of the West Bank’s employed Palestinians. And other Palestinians work as suppliers to Israeli businesses. Thus every business closure or relocation throws hundreds of Palestinians out of work; the Israeli Foreign Ministry estimates that in total, 30,000 Palestinians could lose their jobs.
That price might be justifiable if Palestinians themselves considered it worth paying. But, in fact, they don’t. Just this past June, a poll commissioned by the Washington Institute found that fully 55 percent of West Bank residents wanted “to see Israeli companies offer more jobs inside” the West Bank (emphasis added).
Granted, both the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian NGOs back the EU’s move. But that’s because neither PA officials nor NGO officials have to worry about making a living; both enjoy lavish European funding.
Ordinary Palestinians, in contrast, do have to worry about how they’re going to feed their families. That’s why Shaher Saad, secretary general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, publicly urged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to prevent the closure of Israeli industrial parks in the West Bank as long as no suitable employment alternatives exist: He was reflecting the views of the people he represents – ordinary workers.
K., a Palestinian employed by an Israeli date farm in the West Bank who says everyone in his village works for Israelis, summed up the problem succinctly in a recent newspaper interview:
“Labeling is a mistake, because workers will have a problem with it,” he said. “If products won’t be sold, where will we work? A marketing problem means a problem for us with employment.”
But for all the similarity in the economic impact of their actions, there’s one important difference between the knife-wielding Palestinians and the EU bureaucrats. The stabbers are overwhelmingly teenagers, and nobody seriously expects teenagers to think through the consequences of their actions. The EU bureaucrats, in contrast, are ostensibly responsible adults, who are supposed to know better.
Originally published in Commentary on November 25, 2015
The murderous terror that swept Paris on Friday is all too familiar to Israelis, and Israel has developed multiple strategies for dealing with such attacks. But the most remarkable aspect of Israel’s response to terror is not its intelligence or military capabilities, important though these undoubtedly are. It’s how the victims’ families and friends cope with their grief and pain. One might think this would vary widely from individual to individual. Yet one particular response has become so common that it has practically achieved the status of a norm: commemorating the victims by launching some concrete project to make Israel a better place.
A classic example was coincidentally highlighted by last week’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. A commercial supplement produced in honor of the gathering by Haaretz detailed various federation-supported projects, including one called Nirim in the Neighborhoods that seeks to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents by means of wilderness therapy. What caught my eye was how this program got started: It was founded by a group of Israeli naval commandos to commemorate one of their comrades, Nir Krichman, who was killed during a counterterrorism operation in the West Bank in 2002. The program was subsequently adopted by the entire unit, and to this day commandos regularly accompany the teenage participants on the wilderness treks that constitute the therapy’s key element. Thirteen years later, Nirim claims that 95 percent of its 300 graduates have successfully turned their lives around and extricated themselves from poverty.
The story of Nirim’s founding is far from unique, as I’ve noted elsewhere. The Koby Mandell Foundation, for example, was established by Koby’s parents after the 13-year-old was murdered by terrorists in 2001; it runs programs to help traumatized siblings of terror victims. The Malki Roth Foundation was established by Malki’s parents after the 15-year-old was murdered by terrorists that same year; this organization, inspired by Malki’s devotion to her disabled sister, helps families care for special-needs children at home. The Benji Hillman Foundation, which assists lone soldiers, was started by Benji’s parents after he was killed fighting in the Second Lebanon War of 2006; it was inspired by his concern for lone soldiers in his own unit. And the list could go on.
Nor are social-service organizations the only form of commemoration. When Jonathan Einhorn fell in the Second Lebanon War, for instance, his parents chose to commemorate his love of the land by building a public park filled with native Israeli flora. After Gilad Shtokelman fell in the same war, his parents decided to build their small community’s first synagogue in his memory.
The projects are as diverse as the individuals they commemorate. But they all have one thing in common: the desire to honor a loved one’s life by leaving Israel a better place than they found it.
This approach differs markedly from the standard Palestinian response when loved ones are lost due to the conflict, especially if the “victim” died committing a terror attack against Israelis. All too often, the response has consisted of publicly urging fellow Palestinians to murder more Israelis – like the father of suicide bomber Sa’id Khutari, who responded to his son’s murder of 21 Israelis at a Tel Aviv nightclub in 2001 by proudly declaring that he’d be happy if all his sons became suicide bombers. For people like Khutari’s father, the evident priority is not building Palestine, but tearing down Israel.
Yet the Israeli approach also differs from the demonstrations and candlelight vigils that have become Europe’s default response to terror. Such demonstrations and vigils obviously do no harm, but neither do they do much good: Despite involving masses of people, they ultimately fade away without a trace.
The Bible famously proposes a seemingly binary choice: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: Therefore, choose life.” But in reality, there are two different ways of choosing death. One is to choose it actively, as the Palestinians and so much of the Arab world have: responding to grief and pain by sowing more grief and pain. But the other is to choose it passively, by not responding to grief and pain with any action at all.
Israelis, however, have repeatedly taken the third option: responding to grief and pain by actively working to make some little corner of their world a better place. And that’s precisely why Israel, against the odds, has become the thriving country it is amid a region that is falling apart. Faced with terror, Israelis have overwhelmingly chosen to build rather than destroy. And they have thereby chosen life.
Originally published in Commentary on November 16, 2015