By RON KAMPEAS WASHINGTON (JTA) – Two states, pluralism and civil rights could be said to sum up the Israel agenda for mainstream Jewish groups over the past two decades.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements on the eve of the prime minister’s victory in Israeli elections Tuesday suggests that the government that emerges from current coalition negotiations is unlikely to make progress on any of them.
His 11th-hour campaign tactics have raised significant questions among American Jewish leaders about his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and equal treatment of all Israelis. And the likeliest coalition government will include haredi Orthodox parties, whose rejection of non-Orthodox streams has been a cause of tension with U.S. Jews for decades.
Though Netanyahu has moved to contain the fallout from his vow that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch and his urging supporters to counter the “droves” of Arabs coming out to vote, for many liberal American Jews, the prime minister exacerbated a deep sense of unease with the direction that Israel is heading.
“I’ll be frank, it’s anger and it’s pain that we feel at having watched the prime minister of Israel use fear-mongering and scare tactics tinged with racism to claw his way to 23 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of the liberal lobby J Street, in his address at the opening of the group’s conference here on Saturday night. “I know and I share the anger in this room at seeing the prime minister, in order to save his political life, confirm what so many people already knew — that he is utterly and completely opposed to Palestinian statehood. And then, to watch him shamelessly and cynically try to walk it back in a matter of 36 hours.”
The two largest religious streams in American Judaism, the Reform and Conservative movements, both issued statements last week condemning Netanyahu’s Election Day appeal to Likud voters to head for the polls to counterbalance the votes of Arab-Israelis.
“Because we proudly and unreservedly continue our unflagging support for the State of Israel, its citizens and its values, we must condemn the prime minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote,” the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement Thursday. “It is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the prime minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called the statement “disheartening” and a “naked appeal to his hard-right base’s fears rather than their hopes.”
Netanyahu moved quickly post-election to contain the damage. In interviews last week with MSNBC and National Public Radio, he insisted that he remains committed to a two-state solution but that circumstances do not allow for one because of Palestinian intransigence and ongoing turmoil across the region. He said his Election Day appeal was meant not to suppress Arab voters, who he claimed were being mobilized by a “foreign funded” get-out-the-vote operation, but only to inspire his own supporters.
Yet Netanyahu’s imagery, and his implication that some voters are to be feared, was unsettling to some in the American Jewish community fresh off commemorations marking the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in support of voting rights for African-Americans. Both the Reform and Conservative movements sent leaders to join in the commemorations earlier this month in Selma, Ala.
“I feel the same deep distress as all of you, as part of an American Jewish community rightfully proud of those among us who went to the South and took part in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s to fight for the right of all Americans to vote, and now ashamed that the prime minister of Israel would turn the notion of Arab citizens exercising their right to vote into a scare tactic to turn his supporters out at the polls,” Ben-Ami said in his address.
Also unsettling for U.S. Jewish groups was Netanyahu’s apparent equivocation over his commitment to two states, a key rhetorical point for mainstream pro-Israel groups that have long argued that Israel is more willing to sacrifice for peace than its Arab counterparts.
The day before the vote, Netanyahu told the NRG news website that “anyone who would today create a Palestinian state and evacuate territory would concede territory to extreme Islam to attack Israel.” Asked if it meant that as prime minister he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said, “Indeed.”
In a sign of how deeply invested many Jewish groups are in the two-state outcome, several of them embraced Netanyahu’s “clarification” that he still supports a two-state solution — just not right now.
“We welcome the prime minister’s clarification of his position on a two-state solution and a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” the Anti-Defamation League said. Similar statements were released by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Netanyahu seems determined to build a right-wing coalition, which means that the most strident advocates of two states will remain in the opposition. The first party he invited into government is Jewish Home, which rejects a Palestinian state. The Obama administration has signaled it will treat Netanyahu as having abandoned two states until he is able to prove otherwise.
Netanyahu’s outgoing government, in place since January 2013, was the first in decades to keep haredi parties in the opposition. Tensions had been higher between Israel and the U.S. Jewish leadership during Netanyahu’s previous term, from 2009 to 2013, due to concerns over treatment of women by haredi government officials and the non-recognition of non-Orthodox movements.
Unless Netanyahu attempts to forge a national unity government — something both he and the opposition Zionist Union have already counted out — he will need the 14 seats of two haredi parties to secure a safe majority. Those parties, in turn, will likely demand posts at ministries where they will be able to wield power in areas of civil law.
Our New Jewish Reality
By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead
Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.
To read the full story on the CBC website, go to https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/israel-gaza-vivian-silver-1.7027333
Israeli show satirizing students in the US who give blind support to Hamas
If you want to take a break from the tension that comes with following every bit of news associated with Israel’s war on Hamas watch this hilarious video satirizing the stupidity of US college kids who give unqualified support to Hamas: https://twitter.com/LeviYonit/status/1721272323087401428?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1721272323087401428%7Ctwgr%5E833a2a425e6d7029d6ef37b7c9042c1d81dbf8ba%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fisraeli-satire-shows-mocking-of-us-student-support-for-hamas-goes-viral%2F