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An American Jew on the Israel-U.N.-Obama brouhaha



The Jewish vote in America, while not particularly large, is influential. Jewish voters have traditionally been Democrats since Franklin D. Roosevelt created his coalition in the 1930s. Republicans have long attempted to wrest control of the Jewish vote for themselves, but have failed, for two reasons. First, Jewish sympathies tend toward liberalism. Secondly, the Republican marriage with the religious Christian right made many Jews uncomfortable. The one place where Republicans believe they have been able to make inroads to Jewish voters has been via the politics of the State of Israel. This is exactly what they’re doing now.

It needs to be said that there is no single “Jewish attitude” in America about anything, but in particular, Jewish attitudes towards the settlements are decidedly not uniform. Most Jews I know feel they cannot defend the settlements. They support Israel, of course, and defend her right to exist in the face of the insanity propounded by Hamas, which still insists on driving Jews into the Mediterranean. But they also feel that Israel is being led by a very rightwing government under Likud and Netanyahu, a government that is Israel’s equivalent of the Tea Party-evangelical alliance in this country.

The thing to realize about Israel is that that it, too, has a problem with religious extremism, the plague that infects so many countries. The cause of this in Israel, as I see it, is the presence of so many ultra-orthodox Russian immigrant Jews, a super-conservative fifth column that plays much of the same role in Israel as Cuban-Americans do in our own politics: driving it further and further to the right, fueled by unreasoning religious beliefs, and based on hatred of those whom they consider their enemy: in the case of Florida Cubans, the remnants of the Castro regime; in the case of Israeli Russian Jews, Palestinians, whom some orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel have referred to as pigs.

Just as I believe American Christians have no right sticking their theology into our politics, so I believe pro-settlement, anti-Muslim Israeli Jews need to stop interfering in the peace process in the Middle East. The settlements are provocative, as they are meant to be. There’s no question they’re an obstacle to peace. It’s unclear why Netanyahu has allowed his policy to become so mired down into settlement politics. Nearly the entire world is critical of Israel’s settlement policy, and indeed, of its entire posture with regard to the Palestinians. Republicans now are hoping to do mischief to the Democratic-Jewish alliance in America, and they may make some headway. But not much, I think; American Jews are too sensible to actually believe that Republicans have any real love of Israel. In fact, the reason why evangelicals speak so warmly of Israel is simply because they believe the rapture cannot happen until certain conditions are met within Israel—and if there’s no Israel, then there won’t be a rapture, and no second coming of Jesus. Therefore, Christians support Israel—for now—while Jews realize, or should realize, that Republicans have an ulterior and sinister motive in supporting Israel. When and if the rapture actually occurs, Jews will be in a very uncomfortable position, since the new Christian overlords will desire to convert them—if necessary, as they have done in the past, through force. So this marriage of Christian Republicans and Jews makes for very bizarre bedfellows, indeed.

The thing I, as a Jew, resent the most is seeing these Republicans, led by Trump, use Jews for political advantage, with the settlements and other Israel policies made into wedge issues. Republicans are not the friends of Jews or the Jewish state of Israel. Netayahu’s reactionary settlement policies do not have the support of a majority of American Jews. President Obama has done the courageous thing in abstaining on the recent U.N. resolution. Obama knows, as does every honest foreign policy expert, that the settlements have been an unmitigated disaster that has cost Israel most of its friends around the world and decreased its security. To be against the settlements is not to be against Israel, as Likud and the Republicans falsely say. In fact, yesterday’s incredible allegation by Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., to the effect that Obama personally orchestrated the Security Council vote, appears little more than a desperate attempt by the right—including Netayahu and Trump—to deflect ongoing attention from Electiongate, which has been so damaging to the legitimacy of Trump’s election.

Look, Obama has always looked to ensure Israel’s long-range security. Trump and the Republicans, on the other hand, are looking to secure, not the state of Israel or the well-being of Jews, but the votes of Bible Belt evangelicals, who look to the Book of Revelations for their answers to complicated questions. That is pitiful on their part. On Trump’s part, it is dangerous and sickening, but hardly surprising for a man who has spent years pandering to the basest instincts of the Republican Party. I completely agree with David Horovitz, of the Times of Israel, who recently editorialized, “Benjamin Netanyahu is waging diplomatic war against the world, and notably against Israel’s only vital ally, the United States. We’ve never seen anything like it. It won’t win Israel any new friends.” That’s for sure, including Donald Trump, whose “friendship” Israel ought to look at with unvarnished skepticism. With friends like that…

  1. Thank you for writing what I have been having trouble explaining to some of my more conservative friends. As a Jew, I am concerned about the reactionary extremism I see in Israel – and here, of course – and have not been happy with Netanyahu for quite some time. I fear it will get worse before it gets better, especially with the upcoming change in the Oval Office.

    Here’s to better times, my friend. As Benjamin Franklin said, although in somewhat different circumstances, “We must all hang together, or we most certainly will all hang separately.” L’Chaim!

  2. David Weintraub says:

    I largely agree, minus one issue.

    Many US Jews are very disconnected from the Jewish struggle. My dad is first generation, and my uncles (all now deceased) fought in World War 2 (not Nam). So my family personally understands the struggle, and what it means to help others.

    Problem is, most people my age, and younger, are of the following generation. The struggle is merely a story to them, one their grandparents potentially dealt with. To a lot of Jews, especially wealthy, they care about the almighty dollar, and will align themselves with any politician who allows them to keep it. Whatever excuse the Republicans use to portend to defend Jews, these Jews point to those same excuses.

    It’s the sad reality.

    The Chinese are the new Jews of the 1950/60s.

  3. Christopher O'Gorman says:

    You nailed it Steve. The settlements are the issue, and Netanyahu is a war-monger. Obama got this correct.

  4. Ron Freeman says:

    Hi Steve- First, we had a mutual friend in Rich Miller! Here’s my take. Israel is roughly the size of NJ. The Middle East is close to the same size as the 48 US states. I wish Israel’s neighbors were reasonable but I fear their ultimate goal is to drive the Jews in to the Med sea. So the question is why does Israel continues to promote settlement growth? Though there may be specific political reasons for specific settlement projects, the overarching reason Israel promotes settlement growth is security. Under the armistices lines, Israel was cut off by the West Bank, and enemy borders were close to population centers. For example, the distance between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and the Mediterranean sea is only about 9 miles.
    If you look at Israel’s justifications for its settlements, from Ariel to the E1 Plan, they largely involve establishing a foothold on land it can use to protect itself (though one of the largest Israel settlements, Ma’ale Adumim, is also intended to provide cheap housing to people who can’t afford to live in Jerusalem). Former International Court of Justice justice and State Department Legal Advisor Stephen Schwebel defended the settlements as justified by military necessity, saying:
    (a) a state [Israel] acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense;
    (b) as a condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that State may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use of force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defense;
    It is commonly claimed that the establishment of Israeli settlements constitutes a land grab, however this claim does not stand up to scrutiny. The settlement blocs Israel wishes to keep in an agreement with Palestine comprise only a few percent of the West Bank, and Israel is willing to transfer an equal amount of land in exchange for those settlements.
    In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an offer to the Palestinians in which Israel would retain some settlement blocs and transfer an equal amount of land from behind the armistice lines to Palestine. Given that Israel is willing to transfer to Palestine as much land as it wishes to keep, the settlements cannot sensibly be framed as a land grab: they grant Israel no additional land.
    In terms of danger: the settlements experienced a good deal of violence during the Second Intifada: hundreds of Israeli civilians died. However, since Israel installed a wall surrounding most of the settlement population, terrorist incidents have been substantially reduced, meaning that security is less of an issue for settlers now.
    I recognize this may be somewhat more of an answer than you were looking for, and it does cover more than you may have expected, but hopefully it gives you a better idea of the context of the settlements and why Israel pursues them. I suppose the TL;DR version of this is that Israel is promoting settlements on land that isn’t Palestinian for security reasons.
    As for American Christians I believe their intentions are good and based on a religious idea of blessing those that bless Israel. Pretty simple. As for Democrats vs Republicans ( I’m an independent), I believe their both phony and I could never put my faith in either party to do the right thing. I gave up on the Dems awhile back!

  5. Ron Freeman, I’m sorry you’ve given up on Dems, who I believe represent the most thoughtful way forward. I don’t know you, but I fear you have been infected by decades of non-stop lies about Democrats from the rightwing attack machine of fox “news” etc. They mastered the art of the Big Lie, which worked for Hitler and now has worked, bigtime, for Trump. As for Israel, yes, your answer was a little wordy, but I absorbed its message. My reply: Israel will never have security if it does not withdraw from most of the settlements and return the land to the Palestinians. There are a billion Muslims surrounding Israel, and they’re pissed off. We have got to give them the land they feel they deserve, in exchange for their peaceful recognition of Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

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