White House Protest Corps

The Jewish diaspora is losing patience with Israel
April 18, 2010, 1:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


The Jewish diaspora is losing patience with Israel

Tony Karon

  • Last Updated: April 18. 2010 12:20AM UAE / April 17. 2010 8:20PM GMT


–>Justice Richard Goldstone is once again at the centre of a major ruckus in the Jewish community, this time over his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

The South African judge who headed the UN inquiry into war crimes during last year’s Gaza war had planned to attend the coming-of-age rite for his grandson in Johannesburg next month. It must have been a matter of considerable personal pain for the jurist to give up the treasured moment in order to prevent the event from being disrupted by the pro-Israel protest groups that had planned to demonstrate if he showed up.

Some in the community were so scandalised by the fact that secular politics had been allowed to poison a family’s sacred moment that synagogue officials rushed to insist that they hadn’t barred Mr Goldstone from attending. “We only suggested that he refrain from coming in order to prevent a scene,” one official told the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot. “There are many people who don’t want him there, and if he comes it could cause problems, as people are very angry with him.”

As the Goldstone bar mitzvah news broke last week, students at the University of Berkeley California were voting on a motion to divest the university from businesses deemed complicit in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Addressing students ahead of the vote, the Berkeley professor Judith Butler, who is Jewish, made an important observation. “There is hardly a Jewish dinner table left in this country – or indeed in Europe and much of Israel – in which there is not enormous disagreement about the status of the occupation, Israeli military aggression and the future of Zionism, bi-nationalism and citizenship in the lands called Israel and Palestine. There is no one Jewish voice. And in recent years, there are increasing differences among us.”

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The claim of Israel and its supporters to speak for “the Jews” and therefore to tar Israel’s critics with the brush of anti-Semitism was demonstrably false, she argued. Jews are speaking out against the occupation, even as key Jewish establishment figures publicly demand that the Obama administration end its pressure on Israel for a settlement freeze in Jerusalem.

Ms Butler might even have had Mr Goldstone in mind when she accused that “those who tell you that it is insensitive to Jewishness to come out in favour of international law and human rights” are holding on to “a monstrous view of what it means to be Jewish.”

By his willingness to subject Israel’s conduct in Gaza to the same objective moral and legal standards he had used when presiding over South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Mr Goldstone upheld the single fundamental tenet of Judaism as defined by the great sage, Rabbi Hillel: “that which is hateful unto yourself, do not do unto others”.

But Mr Goldstone’s most passionate critics on the pro-Israel side have branded his Gaza probe, in the words of his erstwhile friend, the high-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the work of “an evil, evil man” and a “traitor to the Jewish people.”

Such an apocalyptic view would certainly be shared by those who threatened to show up at a Johannesburg synagogue to protest a Goldstone family bar mitzvah. It also underscores Ms Butler’s point that nobody can legitimately claim to speak for “the Jews” when it comes to Israel.

The work of the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group Aipac has become that much more difficult since the emergence of J-Street, a “pro-Israel pro-Peace” lobby that backs President Obama’s efforts to press Israel’s reluctant hawkish government to do what is necessary to implement a two-state solution.

J-Street may be far smaller than Aipac, but its support is nonetheless substantial. More importantly, it destroys AIPAC’s ability to claim a monopoly on Jewish opinion concerning US-Israel policy.

Aipac has recently demanded that Obama stop ordering Israel on the settlement issue, while other pro-Israel supports such as Ron Lauder, the leader of the World Jewish Congress, last week publicly questioned Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security.

Such comments may be intended to warn the administration that it risks losing Jewish support if it maintains its pressure on Israel over settlements.

But Jewish Americans themselves seem to have other ideas. An opinion poll published last week found that a solid 55 per cent of Jewish Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of relations with Israel. And Obama’s overall approval rating with Jewish voters is still 10 points higher than his nationwide figure.

The obvious distance between the likes of Aipac and the sentiments of many Jewish American voters bodes ill for the Benyamin Netanyahu lobbying effort. Mr Netanyahu insists that he won’t make peace with the Palestinians until they recognise Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people”.

The Zionist dream had always been that Israel would be not only the spiritual, but also the political and physical home of the world’s Jews. That dream has faded, largely because it is not shared by a majority of the world’s Jews, who have chosen not to live in Israel, and are unlikely to move there in the near future.

Israelis can certainly count on support from America when their physical safety is threatened by suicide bombers or rockets. But much of that support evaporates when the issue is whether the Israelis can expand settlements in East Jerusalem in the name of biblical fulfilment.

Having integrated themselves into a wider society in which they enjoy the same rights and responsibilities before the law as any other citizen, many Jewish Americans appear to be losing patience with Israel’s insistence on defying international norms.

So, while Judge Goldstone’s bar mitzvah decision is a personal tragedy, it may also be a symptom of an escalating battle of ideas about Israel among Jews everywhere, a debate that could ultimately help set the stage for real progress in the Middle East.

Tony Karon is an analyst based in New York who blogs at www.tonykaron.com


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