Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Big Media David: Israel Doesn't Care About American Jews

I've been on a travel kick this week -- came back to DC for a wedding, stayed for Mother's Day, and now am departing for Minnesota for my wedding tasting(!) -- and, as you may have noticed, haven't really been able to blog. Frankly, given how terrible this week has been, I don't mind being mostly off the grid.

But I did make time to write a column for the Forward on what's been a very painful realization for me: While American Jews care a lot about Israel, Israel doesn't give a damn about American Jews.

We've spent all this time and energy to foster a sense of "connection" between American Jews and Israel, only to discover that it flows almost entirely one way. We'll step up to bat time and again to defend Israel in debates and controversies, even when we're unsure of the wisdom of their particular policy choices. But when we try to assert reciprocity, what do we get?

  • A sneering disdain for the two-state solution, or basically any efforts to secure political equality for Palestinians;
  • A busted Western Wall agreement;
  • Continued fealty to an ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate that openly discriminates against the denominations that represent most American Jews; 
  • Invocations and prayers by viciously bigoted Evangelical preachers guaranteed to make American Jews blanche; and
  • A level of snuggling up to Donald Trump that might as well constitute a taunt.

On any one of these issues, one might be able to say "Israel's a democracy, it gets to make it's own calls." Nobody is saying American Jews should be able to dictate Israeli policy. But we could justly say Israeli Jews should consider American Jewish perspectives, just as we've often (very often) heard that American Jews should consider Israeli viewpoints. But when time and again, over and over, we're completely ignored to the degree that there's barely even the pretense of considering the position or status of American Jews as a data point of consideration -- well, it becomes very obvious how much we matter in the scheme of things.

Israel, it seems, has made a calculated decision that it can do without American Jews. Whatever we can give them -- votes, aid, opposition to BDS, whatever -- they can get from other sources. Now one might have thought -- and many of us did think -- that the relationship between American and Israeli Jews wasn't one built solely on necessity or self-interest; it didn't depend on what one party could give to the other, it was a relationship grounded on a sense of shared identity and camaraderie. But no longer think that's true. Israel has decided it doesn't need us, and -- more importantly -- that if it doesn't need us, it doesn't care about us.

1 comment:

Joe in Australia said...

1) I consider myself pretty liberal, but I find it hard to take the two-state solution seriously myself.
2) Israel is not to blame for Americans' decision to elect Donald Trump, or the things that follow from that. Particularly, Israel is not to blame for Trump's choice of speakers at the opening of at the US embassy.
3) Furthermore, it's extraordinary to see you attack Israel for accommodating Trump, contrary to US Jews' desires. Israel might say that US Jews ought to have thought of that before electing him. Trump is notoriously petulant, mercurial, and vindictive: why aren't you doing something about him? As US citizens you have at least some protection against political retaliation. This assumes that Republican Jews aren't a thing, of course, which we both know to be false.
4) As regards the Western Wall and Orthodox Rabbinate, the answer is probably to take Israeli citizenship so you can override the democratic wishes of the people who actually live there. It's certainly not less moral than declining to have skin in the game, but expecting to have a veto anyway.