Analysis from Israel

While some Israeli minorities might plausibly say this (ultra-Orthodox Jews upset by American Jewish pressure for religious pluralism, radical leftists upset by American Jewish support for Israel), it’s hard to see those minorities alone adding up to 21 percent of respondents. But why would any mainstream Israelis, who have traditionally been appreciative of Diaspora Jews’ political and financial support for Israel, now feel that overseas Jewry has become a negative factor, a force contributing to social divisions?

If I had to answer in four words, I’d say “the New Israel Fund.” But the NIF is merely the most visible face of a deeper problem, as demonstrated by another shocking poll released last month: Mainstream American Jews are increasingly siding with Israel’s enemies on issues that many Israelis consider fundamental to their country’s well-being.

The poll in question, by the American Jewish Committee, surveyed American Jewish opinion on a range of issues. But two questions were particularly noteworthy.

The first asked respondents what they thought about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Supporting the embassy move used to be a mainstream American Jewish position. Yet in this poll, only 16 percent of respondents favored moving it immediately. Even more shocking, only another 36 percent supported moving it “at a later date in conjunction with progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.” A full 44 percent said they didn’t want the embassy moved, period.

Most Israelis want international recognition of Jerusalem as their capital. Palestinians, by contrast, overwhelmingly oppose it. So on an issue where Israelis and Palestinians are clearly at odds, American Jews overwhelmingly opted to side with the Palestinians against Israel. Almost half didn’t want the embassy moved at all, and most of the rest wanted to give the Palestinians de facto veto power over the move–which is the real meaning of saying it should happen only “in conjunction with progress” in peace talks. And needless to say, recognition of Judaism’s holiest city—the focus of Jewish prayers for millennia–as Israel’s capital is hardly a trivial issue.

This same divide was evident on a question about establishing a Palestinian state. Fully 55 percent of the AJC’s respondents said they favor establishing a Palestinian state “in the current situation.” Only 40 percent opposed it.

The “current situation,” lest anyone forget, is one in which Palestinians adamantly refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or drop their demand to relocate millions of Palestinians to Israel; in which every Palestinian party–including Mahmoud Abbas’s supposedly “moderate” Fatah”–lauds anti-Israel terror, incites it, pays generous salaries to terrorists, and educates its children to hate Israel; in which most Palestinians say their ultimate goal isn’t a Palestinian state, but Israel’s eradication; and in which Hamas, one of the two major Palestinian parties, still openly proclaims that goal.

Consequently, as repeated polls have shown, most Israelis believe a Palestinian state under current conditions would be inimical to their well-being. Far from bringing peace, they believe it would simply turn the West Bank into a base for anti-Israel terror, just as Gaza has been since Israel withdrew from that territory in 2005. Thus, on an issue that’s literally life and death for Israelis, a majority of American Jews sided with the Palestinians against mainstream Israelis.

Are most Israelis actually familiar with this poll data? Of course not. But they intuit it from the behavior of one of the most high-profile American Jewish organizations in Israel – the NIF.

The NIF has become toxic not just for Israeli rightists but also centrists and even the soft left. As an example, take Women Wage Peace, a group seeking to mobilize Israeli and Palestinian women to lobby for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In an interview last month, its founders said they decided to stop accepting money from the NIF after their first year in operation because they wanted to broaden their base beyond the hardcore left and feared association with the NIF might drive away the centrists they sought to recruit.

Nor is this surprising. That same month, in response to a tweet asking whether Israel is “an evil country” or “just committing ethnic cleansing on a regular basis,” the NIF’s Israeli president, Talia Sasson, tweeted, “It is both.” Also that month, Ruchama Marton, founder and president of one of the NIF’s best-known grantees, Physicians for Human Rights, published an op-ed in Haaretz advocating for BDS.

In other words, the NIF has no problem with a chief executive who publicly calls Israel “evil” and falsely accuses it of systematic ethnic cleansing. And despite claiming that it doesn’t “fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs,” it has no problem with its grantees’ chief executives publicly promoting BDS. Given this, is it any wonder that even soft-left groups like Women Wage Peace don’t want to be associated with the NIF?

Nor can the NIF be dismissed as a fringe organization. Unlike, say, the widely condemned Jewish Voices for Peace, the NIF is well within the mainstream American Jewish fold; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, today the president of America’s largest Jewish denomination, the Reform movement, used to chair one of its grant committees. And with annual donations topping $26 million in 2016, from a long list of donors, it clearly has a non-negligible support base. It’s not in the top financial tier of American Jewish organizations, but neither is it anywhere near the bottom.

A generation ago, an organization whose executives and grantees spouted anti-Israel canards or advocated anti-Israel boycotts would have been as toxic among American Jews as it was among Israelis. That fact that today’s NIF instead has broad support among American Jewry tells Israelis everything they need to know about how far away from Israel many American Jews have moved.

Given this, it’s not surprising that a growing number of Israelis view Diaspora Jewry negatively. The only question is whether anything can be done to close this widening rift before it’s too late.

Originally published in Commentary on October 24, 2017

One Response to The Embassy, the NIF, and the U.S.-Israeli Jewish divide

  • Ricky S says:

    EG writes that a Palestinian State would “simply turn the West Bank into a base for anti-Israel terror”. Actually, it could be a base for full-scale warfare, not just small terror actions.

    Iran has already stated it wants to supply weapons to the West Bank, as it does to Gaza and Hezbollah. A new Arab state would build a runway and Iranian military transports would land and unload weapons nearly every day. Hamas is already trying to take over the Arab West Bank, and the Iranian “Corridor to the Sea” is moving Hezbollah closer day by day. So Hezbollah, the Iranian “Foreign Legion”, would also be active in the Palestinian State, perhaps as active as in Lebanon.

    A war between Israel and Iran is on the horizon. I expect Iran to try to widen their corridor at the expense of Jordan. This would bring Hezbollah closer to Israel.

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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

It’s no secret that many liberal Jews today view tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world,” as the essence of Judaism. In To Heal the World?, Jonathan Neumann begs to differ, emphatically. He views liberal Judaism’s love affair with tikkun olam as the story of “How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel.” In fact, he believes tikkun olam endangers Judaism itself. Anyone who considers such notions wildly over the top should make sure to read Neumann’s book—because one needn’t agree with everything he says to realize that his major concerns are disturbingly well-founded.

Neumann begins by explaining what he considers the modern liberal Jewish understanding of tikkun olam. It is taken, he says, not just as a general obligation to make the world a better place, but as a specific obligation to promote specific “universal” values and even specific policies—usually, the values and policies of progressive Democrats.

He then raises three major objections to this view. The first is that the only way to interpret Judaism as a universalist religion with values indistinguishable from those of secular progressives is by ignoring the vast majority of key Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, and millennia of Jewish tradition. After all, most of these texts deal with the history, laws, and culture of one specific nation—the Jews. The Bible’s history isn’t world history, nor are its laws (with a few exceptions) meant to govern any nation but the Jews. Judaism undeniably has universalist elements. But to ignore its particularist aspects is to ignore much of what makes it Judaism, which therefore corrupts our understanding of Judaism.

The second problem is that if Judaism has no purpose other than promoting the same values and policies touted by non-Jewish progressives, there’s no reason for Judaism to exist at all. Consequently, the tikkun olam version of Judaism really does threaten Judaism’s continued existence, and it’s no accident that the liberal Jewish movements that have embraced it are rapidly dwindling due to intermarriage and assimilation. After all, why should young American Jews remain Jewish when they can do everything they think Judaism requires of them even without being Jewish?

This also explains why, in Neumann’s view, tikkun olam Judaism endangers Israel. If there’s no reason for Judaism to exist, there’s certainly no reason for a Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is anathema to the tikkun olam worldview because it’s the embodiment of Jewish particularism—the view that Jews are a distinct nation and have their own history, culture, and laws rather than being merely promulgators of universal values. Thus it’s easy to understand why tikkun olam Jews increasingly abhor the Jewish state.

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