Here and There: Mind the gap

What the U.S.-Israel divide means.

‘ON CAMPUSES worldwide, we find groups dedicated to demonizing and isolating Israel. Often devoid of historic truths, students – including some Jewish ones – readily identify with the Palestinian narrative' (photo credit: FLICKR)
‘ON CAMPUSES worldwide, we find groups dedicated to demonizing and isolating Israel. Often devoid of historic truths, students – including some Jewish ones – readily identify with the Palestinian narrative'
(photo credit: FLICKR)
More than 75% of American Jews voted Democratic in the recent US midterm elections. Having good friends in the US, this came as no surprise to me. What does come as a surprise is the link made between the barbaric shooting of 11 Jews whilst at prayer in a Pittsburgh synagogue and US President Donald Trump. The US was known as the “Goldene Medina,” especially for those Jews wishing to escape the pogroms of Russia and Poland. It has been a country where Jews have generally felt at home, which is why the Pittsburgh murder came as a terrifying shock.
I was recently at a dinner table with one guest who lives in the US, a couple who made aliyah from the US some 47 years ago, and two other couples – now Israelis but originating from the United Kingdom. When the conversation turned to the midterm elections, all three Americans were vehemently anti-Trump, implying that his Charlottesville comments suggesting that there were good and bad people on the Right and Left might well have created a conducive atmosphere for the killing of the Jews in Pittsburgh. The ex-Brits perceive the Pittsburgh murderer’s hatred of Jews as the sole reason for his action and, in common with the majority of Israelis, believe that Trump, in spite of a persona not always to their taste, has proven to be positive for Israel.
America has a gun culture that allows easy access to killing machines, enabling the slaughter of innocents. While blaming Trump for not introducing tighter gun control, his detractors were in total denial that the phenomenon of murdering innocents had been in existence for years under previous presidents, including Barack Obama.
Many on the Left blame antisemitism on those who hold right-wing views. They consider the term “nationalist” a dirty word, projecting concepts of fascism, which, understandably, we Jews abhor. Natan Sharansky recently spoke of those European countries considered nationalistic, who are supporters of the State of Israel yet who continue to practice antisemitism in their countries. His measuring rod for determining whether to accept or reject the friendship of such states is his “three D’s” definition of antisemitism: demonization, delegitimization and double standards. He strongly condemned those prepared to separate antisemitism from anti-Zionism and vice versa.
Israel’s detractors consider the Law of Return, giving priority to Jews who wish to come and live here “nationalism,” but removing this question from its historic context ignores the reason why Jews require a state of their own. No other people have been subjected to barbaric antagonism and brutality for so long – including the annihilation of six million of its souls simply because of their religion.
A June 2018 American Jewish Committee survey shows a widening gap between American and Israeli Jews. While a majority of Americans view Israel in a positive light, a GBA Strategies survey discovered that millennials are more split on their attitude toward Israel than Jews 35 years old and older. This ominously impacts the future of the US Israel-relationship.
Universities produce tomorrow’s leaders. Because Israel looks to the US as its main reserve of support, the future should be of deep concern to Israel.
On campuses worldwide, we find groups dedicated to demonizing and isolating Israel. Often devoid of historic truths, students, including some Jewish students, readily identify with the Palestinian narrative. In common with British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, they claim to draw a line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, firmly believing that to be against the one Jewish State is not antisemitic. However, while it is proper to offer informed criticism of the policies of the governments of all nations, including Israel, it is not acceptable to obsess on Israel, constantly seek to delegitimize it and question its right to exist.
I SPOKE with Gaby Roth, 24, a recent graduate from Michigan University, where she spent considerable time fighting BDS. She succeeded in persuading the central student government that the passing of a BDS resolution would lead to further division on campus, cause economic harm to the university and students, pointing out that certain elements and the history of the BDS movement (such as its founders and language used) are inherently antisemitic. She argued that BDS offered a one-sided solution that distorts the truth and discounts the legitimate rights and concerns of one of the two parties involved in the conflict.
Roth believes that it is important to understand that Jewish students want to identify with liberal causes, but often find themselves excluded because their pro-Israel stand is perceived as anti-liberal. As examples, she cited The Women’s Rights and Women’s March movements, which exclude Zionists. Too often Israel is viewed as a dividing point for liberal-thinking students.
A further example of this exclusion was when Richard Spencer – an American white supremacist whom many view as a neo-Nazi – requested to address the Michigan students. Meetings held to discuss this excluded the participation of students perceived as Zionists, who were viewed as anti-liberal.
While recognizing the need for more education on Israel, Roth believes inclusiveness and dialogue with the other is of prime importance. To this end, she and her friends organized lunchtime meetings between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students. This proved to be a great success. I was reminded of my own participation in The Israeli Middle East Model United Nations (TIMEMUN) day held a few years ago at the American International School. I learned that for three days prior to TIMEMUN, the project brought together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers. I took the opportunity to speak individually to an Israeli and a Palestinian participant as to how they felt about the experience. Both responded, “I came to confront an enemy and found a person.”
Roth wishes that the Israeli leadership would project an image of wanting peace with its neighbors, as she fears the opposite is what is projected to the wider world.
BACK TO the beginning. The US midterm elections are over and we in Israel are looking toward our own elections. Our relationship with the United States remains of paramount importance where, hitherto, major Jewish organizations have contributed to a vital understanding of Israel. The time has come for our government to take responsibility for a younger generation that is turning away from Israel.
Israel has won physical battles, but, tragically, we are losing the battle of connecting to our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. Under the umbrella of the Foreign Ministry, we need a minister for Diaspora youth. It is clear that left to the local communities, the link between Israel and the Diaspora is weakening by the day.
At Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, there is a quote of the late Abba Kovner, a Holocaust survivor and a poet: “To remember the past, to live the present and to trust the future.”
There can be no doubt that we must remember the past if we are to appreciate the present, but trusting the future is no longer enough. We must actively contribute toward our collective tomorrow.
The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.