In the aftermath of the intense debate over the Iran agreement, a pervasive noxious cloud has enveloped the American Jewish community. An appeal has been issued from organized Jewry to tone down the level of vitriol against fellow Jews.
The White House’s strategy to politicize the debate to overcome the congressional majority against the deal won the day. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ill-timed visit in the spring didn’t help either.
Democratic Jewish Americans were forced to choose between party loyalty vs. independently judging the dangers of the agreement for American and Israeli national security interests. The administration’s strategy challenged the American Jewish Diaspora on the very meaning of what it means to be a pro-Israel American Jew.
The president persuaded the majority of Jewish congressional legislators to back his deal. This infuriated Democratic and Republican Jewish Americans opposed to the agreement, who think security interests were compromised for a partisan victory and a presidential legacy. Progressive American Jews trust the president on Iran, and believe him when he says this is the best deal that could have been negotiated, the only other choice being war. Political allegiance suffocated independent thought for those who reflexively supported the president.
As I have reminded members of Congress, this is not the end but the beginning of a new reality with Iran. As the president has said, the agreement leaves Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism that remains both fiercely anti-American and anti-Semitic. Over the next 16 months, the president will do whatever is in his power not to undermine this deal by imposing any new congressional sanctions on Iranian human rights violations or terrorism. American Jewish supporters of the agreement will be challenged to remain supportive of the president and defend the Islamic Republic if Iranian financial, military and technical support to Hamas, Syrian President Bashar Assad, or Hezbollah succeeds in killing more Americans and more Jews in the near future.
What will truly intensify the divide within American Jewry is the likely event that the president turns his attention back to his vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The American progressive Left is at the forefront of encouraging the president to re-engage and pressure Israel to make concessions, as they provide much of the ammunition to criticize the current Israeli government. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace actively call for a one-state solution, i.e.
the destruction of Israel. The progressive J Street organization whose positions have been embraced by the administration gives legitimacy to pro-boycott advocates by providing a Jewish platform for them to speak from, angering mainstream American Jewry.
The Iran deal brought to the fore the divide in the American Jewish community. A younger generation steeped in universalism is uncomfortable with Jewish particularism, especially Zionism. They find no hypocrisy in both condemning Jewish nationalism while championing Palestinian national aspirations.
Palestinian Arab misogyny, corruption, anti-Semitism and homophobia seem beside the point, and shouldn’t get in the way of a Palestinian state.
Many young Jewish adults are predisposed to thinking the worst of Israel, as they have heard little but criticism of Israel during their formative years in some congregations.
On campus, they find university professors who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel, and often cross the line from legitimate criticism to anti-Semitism. Jewish students who want to defend Israel must confront the growing SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) movement, which refuses dialogue and advocates the destruction of Israel.
So what are some possible remedies to lower the flames of vitriol between Jewish Americans with differing political outlooks? IT BEGINS with education. I recently spoke to a Reform congregation about my meetings in Congress on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the talk, I heard from many people who were surprised by how much information was new to them. Too often in our hyperpolarized world, we listen to and read only points of view we agree with.
If American Jewry is to come together, we must begin with the American synagogue. American Jews have a delicate balance in their relationship with their rabbis on political issues. Too many rabbis mix their personal politics with their teaching of Jewish values.
American Jews need to respectfully insist that personal politics in the guise of teaching Jewish values should find no home at the community’s pulpit. The alternative will be synagogues that turn into monolithic places of thought, where congregants of differing viewpoints feel unwelcome, and vote with their feet.
American Jews of all persuasions, like their Jewish brethren in Israel think they know everything! However if American Jewry could show some humility and restraint in telling a fellow Democratic nation that it knows what is best for that country’s security interests, it would lower the flames within American Jewry. All one needs to do is realize that it is Israeli mothers and fathers that place their children in harm’s way. American Jews of the Left and Right can also come together to support Congress to create new sanctions for Iranian human rights abuses and terrorism.
This has bipartisan support in Congress, so it should be a consensus issue.
One issue all American Jews should be able to come together on is fighting the growing menace of anti-Semitism on college campuses, especially when it is hides behind anti-Zionism. Last week the California Board of Regents acknowledged that anti-Semitism on the UC campuses is a real problem.
American Jews should endorse our State Department definition of anti-Semitism which says that if you use a different standard for Israel than for any other nation, or if you question Israel’s right to exist, or if you use Nazi symbols to describe Israel, that is anti-Semitism, plain and simple.
We all want our American Jewish kids on the college campus to live in a safe environment. This would be a great place to start and for American Jewry to say with a single voice, no to anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.
Finally, no matter where you stand on the Iran debate or what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coming together to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose goal is the destruction of Israel, should be common ground for the overwhelming majority of synagogues of all denominations. So how about Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox synagogues in America come together with a banner or ad that says: “Wherever We Stand, We Stand With Israel, Wherever We Stand, We Stand Against Boycotts” American Jews need to find common ground, lower the rhetorical flames of infighting, and support a strong US-Israel relationship for the benefit of both nations.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Post. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.