Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to US Congress on March 3, 2015, with US Speaker of the House John Boehner and President pro tempore of the US Senate Orrin Hatch applauding behind him.
The discord for some US Jewish liberals who attended the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) Brainstorming Conference in Long Island the other week is not just the disconnect reported between views of American Jewish leaders and the positions of Israelis representing the country’s new, more right-wing government. It’s the continuing misperception by those with J Street-type criticisms of Israel, who believe they represent the majority of mainstream Jewish thinking stateside while simultaneously being frustrated their views remain in the minority among most Israeli Jewish voters.
US and Israeli JPPI conference attendees were reportedly “talking past each other,” despite heavyweights in attendance like Henry Kissinger, Martin Indyk, Ron Prosor and Natan Sharansky – with breakout sessions described in the NY Jewish Week as especially “dark.” But that’s why the Israeli “tough love” response supposedly communicated – namely that American Jews should instead “mind their biz,” spend energy on our own assimilation problems and not armchair direct Israel’s realistic bomb-shelter security concerns – does have new resonance.
It’s the same message former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin gave to US machers years ago, which also ruffled liberal feathers. This was before Rabin’s Olso handshake was co-opted by the Left and used to substantiate its ongoing “kumbaya,” wishful- thinking approach to Middle East negotiations.
Consequently, the message being conveyed again today to the US Diaspora is: “back off.”
Don’t undermine the new government’s Palestinian positions by pushing unrealistic two-state solutions given Israel’s still intractable interlocutors. And this may be just the kind of realpolitik, in-your-face slap some US liberal Jews need.
There is clearly a further polarization today of Jewish political positions, both in Israel and in the US. In Israel, the majority voted for an even more security-directed government. Moreover, it is the Likud view of the Middle East conflict as still being intractable, driven by Islamic supremacist religious ideology, which prevails. Those who instead believe the solution to the country’s long-term security concerns is support for more Palestinian “rights” and more unreciprocated land concessions have lost. They and their Obama administration allies remain in the electoral minority.
Here in the US, however, this point of departure for Jewish liberals is not necessarily the same clear-cut, Left-Right split. For instance, some liberal US Jews who backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran – like Prof. Alan Dershowitz – still remain supportive of President Barack Obama and Democrats on most domestic issues. However, on the Middle East they follow the more realistic, security-minded positions of progressive democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
These liberal Jewish “realists” see the Obama administration’s Middle East and Iranian policies today as dangerously naïve.
It is this split now at the US water’s edge where an internecine conflict is taking place among the Jewish community. And it’s producing some very strange bedfellows.
Some liberal-progressive “realists” find they have more in common with conservatives and Republicans like Ted Cruz on international politics, while still abhorring their positions on abortion, healthcare and other social issues. Further, multiple groups, both progressives and those from the Jewish Right, are pushing back even harder today against the input of J Street “liberals,” whom they believe completely undermine the Zionist position.
Progressive “realists” see them motivated by naïve wishful thinking and politically correct Islamophobia obfuscations.
That’s why the anti-Islamist but uber-Left TV comedian host Bill Maher calls himself the true liberal in today’s hate speech debate.
Further, groups like NY-JCC Watch are now bearing down hard publicly on UJA-Federations for supporting the New Israel Fund.
Regarding Israel, US Jewish Middle East “realists” – Left, Right and Center – are no longer surrendering the debate to “liberals” they see as continuing to give away the store.The author is a former director of marketing and communications for UJA-Federation of New York.
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