I’m honestly at a loss to understand just what Israel is trying to achieve these days.
I think the coalition believes itself to be working for a safer Israel, but it’s so painfully obvious that what they’re actually doing is hounding people, literally across the globe, for disagreeing with them, while also turning the clock back on bedrock democratic principles, that I go right back to scratching my head.
Exhibit A: This Wednesday, the Knesset held an inquiry into the allegedly anti-Israel policies of the avowedly pro-Israel American-Jewish organization J Street.
Now, reasonable people may reasonably argue that J Street is wrong-headed. Reasonable people may reasonably say that there are more effective ways to work for peace and security (for Israel and/or the region) than pursuing a two-state solution as facilitated by the American government.
Reasonable people, on the right and left, make this argument all the time, in fact. I happen to disagree with them, but that’s the way the democratic cookie crumbles: People get to say what they think, and disagree with what you think. Yay democracy!
But Israel’s current government appears to have zoomed right past “reasonable” to “bat-guano crazy.”
According to member of Knesset (MK) Nissim Ze’ev, J Street’s positions represent “sheer hatred toward the State of Israel and the government’s policies, more terrible than that of Israel’s worst enemies.” The committee investigating the group has called on J Street itself to “purge from its ranks” an imagined cadre of Israel haters, and on the Israeli government never to meet with its representatives. Yeahhhh…. No.
Let’s be crystal clear: Those demanding that J Street dance to the current coalition’s tune aren’t defaming one or two or twenty people. They’re talking about close to 200,000 American Jews, 2,500 of whom recently gathered at a conference at which phrases like “Israel’s right to self-defense” were regular applause lines. They’re talking about an organization the only goal of which is to further the Netanyahu government’s own stated goal: A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The MK who called for the inquiry, Otniel Schneller (from Kadima — you know, the “centrist” party?) actually said this about J Street (he actually said this):
If they say… ‘if Israel accepts our radical left-wing diplomatic positions, then we love Israel’ – it is a conditional love. ‘If you don’t accept our ideas, then we will support Iran or the Palestinian Authority.’ I don’t want love like that. Don’t love me at all.
“We will support Iran or the Palestinian Authority”? Have you lost your damn mind, Otniel? No, really. I think you should go check.
And furthermore, dude, you know what? I don’t love you.
I have a feeling I wouldn’t even like you very much, but that’s not the point, and neither are you.
My devotion to my home is not a devotion to any government, party, or member of Knesset. It’s to my home. God save us if we all have to march lock-step after a single Israeli party or government — have you seen how often parties break up and disappear over there? And how often whole governments just fall apart?
No, thank you. I do not want to love you. I love my home, and I will continue to do whatever I can to help it achieve durable peace and genuine security, in spite of you — and in spite of the months and months of demonization of the Israeli left and their American Jewish supporters that led up to this sorry excuse for Knesset activity.
Exhibit B: The Knesset recently passed not one, but two laws that would have made the Jim Crow-era South quite proud:
The first [law] is known as “the Nakba bill,” in reference to the Arabic word for “catastrophe” commonly used by Arabs to describe the birth of Israel in 1948. Arabs who are Israeli citizens often commemorate Israeli independence by noting their losses — the destruction of hundreds of villages and the exile of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
The new law allows the Finance Ministry to remove funds from municipalities or groups if they commemorate Independence Day here as a day of mourning or reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The original bill, which produced much alarm and was altered, would have imposed prison sentences.
The second new law… establishes admissions committees for small communities in the Negev and Galilee, areas with large Arab populations…. [Communities] may set up committees to screen potential residents for whether they fit in socially. At the last minute, a rider was added barring discrimination based on race, gender or nationality, but critics contend it will still serve to keep Arabs out of Jewish communities.
Honestly, I don’t think a lot needs to be said about Exhibit B. It kind of speaks for itself. (Though it bears noting that these laws also come after months and months of similar behavior on the part of government and quasi-government bodies, such as the ruling of state-paid rabbis that forbids Jews from leasing property to non-Jews [read: Arabs]).
So, whatever Israel’s current crop of leaders may think they’re doing, what they’re actually doing (aside from dismantling any remaining scraps of hope for Israeli democracy) is vigorously, almost violently, alienating the American Jewish community. And along the way, turning this Israeli into a proud American Jew.
Three-quarters of Jewish Americans have said they want to see a two-state solution; 73% say they want to see active American involvement in achieving that solution; 70% of the community is likely to vote for Barack Obama again. It’s rather a liberal, civil rights-loving crowd.
But you know what? Fine. For years, Israel has been telling American Jews that our very prayers are worthless, so fine! We’ll just take our siddur and fuck off then.
But if Israel really and truly doesn’t want us sticking our noses, and our annoying ideas about pluralism and civil rights, into its business? Then this government had best understand: Our wallets go, too. And so does our willingness to exert any political pressure on anyone for its sake.
It won’t be an organized thing — no genuine lover of Israel among American Jewry will ever say “Hey, kids! Let’s stop writing checks!” It’ll just… happen.
As it already is happening, with a generation of American Jews that’s growing farther and farther away, not just from Israel, but from Judaism, in no small part of Israel’s policies and behavior.
So I don’t know what the hell Israel thinks it’s doing, but I can tell you what it is doing: It’s actually shooting itself in the damn foot. And not incidentally paving the way to national disaster.
*One of the nicer promises to be found in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which can be read in full here.