American Jews don’t understand Israel

American Jews do not understand the role of right-wing political factions in Israel.

March 5, 2019 22:43
4 minute read.
American and Israeli flags

america israel 311. (photo credit: courtesy)


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As much as they talk about it (incessantly) and as much as they write about it (voluminously), American Jews do not understand Israeli elections. They haven’t understood what happened in the past several elections and they don’t understand what is about to happen on April 9.

I’m not referring to the essential differences between voting procedures in the United States and those in Israel. Not the concept of coalitions and the need to secure more than 60 of the 120 Knesset seats to comfortably govern. Not referring to the party system where one votes for a list, not an individual. All this is explainable.

American Jews do not understand the role of right-wing political factions in Israel.

The “Israeli Right” is automatically deemed “extremist” in the hearts and minds of American Jews.

It is as if the two are synonyms. Not to say that there aren’t extremists and radicals on the Right in Israel, especially on the extreme Right, but that does not mean that Israel the country is racist or that the mainstream right-of-center is racist. Americans Jews, and for that matter even American non-Jews, do not make the distinction.

It’s a cultural difference and a political difference. Most American Jews define themselves as left of center, not Center-Left – simply solid Left and even more so. They view anything not in tandem with their open Left political philosophy as Neanderthal.

So for them, it follows logically that no right-of-center or Center-Right ideology or political policy has any value. Those ideas are quickly and summarily dismissed as racist. It’s the very same attitude the mainstream Jewish community has toward President Donald Trump, Republicans, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

These Jews connect ideologically with the Haaretz view of the world. In their minds, Makor Rishon is the quintessential example of fake news. They gain their talking points from Haaretz and they mimic Haaretz’s gestalt of the Right – and the Right includes Likud, Netanyahu and all the parties further to the Right.

Witness the coverage by American mainstream media and by Jewish American mainstream media of the newly-formed union of Israel’s “Right” parties.

With the exception of just a handful of outlets, American mainstream media marches in lockstep on the issue of the Israeli Right.

There is condemnation of everything that is considered Right - and the more Right it is, the more they heap on the condemnation.
American Jews do not understand – and herein lays the crux of the problem – that the vast majority of Israelis sit in the Center-Right of the political spectrum. They have not understood, they do not, they cannot.

In 2011, when Israel raised the required minimum votes to get into the Israeli Knesset, the small parties were effectively eliminated.

For small parties to succeed, they partner and hopefully get the necessary four or five seats they need, depending on the percentage of the voting population. It’s partner up or shrivel up. There is no alternative.

No racist party can stand for election in Israel. The law is clear.

In order to run in Israeli elections, party platforms and the statements of party leaders are evaluated by a committee – and not just any committee. The head of the Election Committee is a member of the Supreme Court. This idea is paramount in Israeli democracy.

Some American Jews and Jewish leaders don’t like the parameters or the decisions of the Election Committee; some are unaware of the process. But the process is a democratic one. It is set up to preserve democracy and it prevents hateful parties from obtaining a powerful platform. Preaching hatred and violence is not acceptable in Israeli democracy and it has, in the past, disqualified both Jewish and Arab parties from running for election.

But hate and racism sell. Positioning right-wing political factions in Israel as racist is a magnet for the American media industry.

It is entertaining, and in the end, today’s media is an entertainment medium. And people, especially people with a liberal bent, are drawn to stories about racism, even if the story is only partially true. Yes, Otzma Yehudit is the outgrowth of a formerly racist party that was deemed illegal. Yes, Otzma sits on the edge of acceptable. But on the edge is not over the top.

Yesterday’s Kach is not today’s Otzma. Like them or not, approve of them or not, Israelis know and accept that difference. Not so for American Jewry. In the end, the Israeli voter will determine whether the party gets into the Knesset.

Israel is a vibrant and exciting democracy. That is not going to change, even if Haaretz and American Jews disagree with the politics and policies of the current government or of the government that will be elected and coalitioned into power in April.

The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.

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