‘No political attachment’
Binyamin Netanyahu’s approach to the Israeli far right is regarded by many US Jews as highly offensive. Moshé Machover welcomes the opinion shift
In my article, ‘End of a love affair’ (Weekly Worker May 24 2018), I traced the history of the attitude to Israel of a major part of the US Jewish community: the part represented by official/establishment communal bodies. I pointed out that the ‘love affair’ - involving utter identification with Israel, blind support for it and aggressive advocacy - which started after the June 1967 war, began to show signs of severe strain during the Obama years (2009-16), and is further threatened by an open rift since the election of Donald Trump.
I will not repeat here the story told in that article and the analysis of the multiple causes behind those shifts in the relationship. But I would like to quote one document, which came to my notice since I wrote that article, and clearly exemplifies the pre-1967 cautious and detached attitude to Israel of the US Jewish establishment. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), founded in 1906, is “widely regarded as the dean of American Jewish organizations”.1 On September 10 1950, its president, Jacob Blaustein, issued an excited news release about a “document of historic significance”: a statement he obtained, during his recent visit to Israel, from prime minister David Ben-Gurion, “clarifying the relationship between Israel and the Jews in the other free democracies, especially in the United States”. Here is Blaustein’s summary of Ben-Gurion’s statement:
The prime minister’s statement makes it clear, among other things, that without any reservations the state of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of any other country; and that the Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have no political attachment to Israel. This means that the allegiance of American Jews is to America and America alone, and should put an end to any idea or allegation that there is any such thing as ‘dual loyalty’ on the part of American Jewry.2
In the period 1967-2009 this sort of defensive ‘clarification’ would become unthinkable. Political attachment to Israel was regarded by US Jewish officialdom - as well as by the US political establishment - as part and parcel of ‘allegiance to America’.
But now we are witnessing a gradual reversion to something like the pre-1967 attitude. Total identification with Israel is being questioned by an increasing number of US Jews, because it clashes with their primary allegiance to what they regard as American and Jewish values.
Binyamin Netanyahu has now made the rift a lot deeper by his engineering of an electoral pact between Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Might) - a party of disciples of the late ultra-super-racist, rabbi Meir Kahane - and the relatively more ‘mildly’ racist religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party. His motivation was to increase their chances of passing the electoral threshold of 3.25% and winning seats in the next knesset, thus ensuring him of a partner for a rightwing ruling coalition.
Most Israelis have long forgotten about the rabid rabbi; but, as Chemi Shalev has pointed out on February 24 in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, “for most American Jews - certainly those over 40 - Kahane is a household name. He’s also one of a handful of Jewish figures whose views were routinely compared to Nazi ideology.” So “for US Jewry, Kahanist caper casts Netanyahu as Prince of Darkness and Trump on steroids”.3
Voices against Netanyahu’s ‘caper’ have come from almost the whole spectrum of the US Jewish establishment, ranging from the outspoken protest by the liberal Forward, which has recently been otherwise critical of Israel,4 to the more diplomatic statements by the Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac),5 the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO),6 and the American Jewish Committee (AJC),7 whose more muted criticism is nevertheless unprecedented. The only significant US Jewish groups expressing support for Netanyahu’s dirty deal were the Zionist Organization of America and Young Israel.
However, it is important to distinguish three kinds of criticism, differing in motivation and implication. Let me list them, going from right to left.
First, there is the purely pragmatic position of the more conservative sector of US Jewry, reflected in statements made by Aipac, the CPMAJO and AJC. These would love to promote Israel and champion it, no matter how odious its policies and how bloody the atrocities it perpetrates. But this job is simply made more difficult by Israel’s prime minister promoting a party that, but for the change of name, is an organisation regarded as terroristic by the US government. So they resent being embarrassed by Netanyahu - nothing more.
Next, there are the would-be progressive Zionists who are genuinely unhappy about Israel’s current actions and policies. Typical of these is Batya Ungar-Sargon, whose article in Forward (February 20) is entitled ‘Netanyahu just invited Israel’s equivalent of the KKK to join the government’.8 She excoriates Netanyahu and his policies and refuses to defend them; the phrase “For shame” is repeated several times:
And now, the ruling coalition of the Jewish state will welcome members who wish to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, already dispossessed of civil rights by the millions, the victims of a brutal occupation in the West Bank and blockaded in Gaza.
Meanwhile, regardless of Israel’s descent into ethno-nationalism, we in the diaspora are expected to continue to provide unwavering support for a Jewish state that’s embracing the very world view - the supremacy of a country’s majority over its minorities - that has ensured our destruction for millennia.
Contrary to Netanyahu’s cynical view, Jewish rights need not come at the expense of the Palestinians.
She is, however, unable or unwilling to see that the Zionist state - which she would still like to support - is a settler state founded on the colonisation of Palestine by Jews and the ethnic cleansing of its indigenous Palestinian Arabs. How could the ‘right’ of Jews to colonise Palestine not come at the expense of the Palestinians?
Finally, the same February 20 issue of Forward included an article by Antony Loewenstein. He is a Jerusalem-based investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, The Guardian and many other newspapers, and is author of My Israel question and Disaster capitalism: making a killing out of catastrophe. His article is entitled ‘Netanyahu isn’t the problem. He’s the symptom’.9 He points out:
… Even despite inviting avowed racists into the governing coalition - Netanyahu isn’t really the main problem. Nor will removing him from office, through indictment over multiple corruption cases or a loss at the polls in April, do much to alter the political alignment of Israel’s power elite.
For the truth is, all the major candidates for Israeli prime minister support an indefinite continuation of the occupation. That’s the greater scandal that barely receives any press in the west or Israel …
To be sure, it’s hard to ignore the reality that Israel remains one of the more corrupt nations in the developed world. But these are not Netanyahu’s greatest crimes by a long shot …
He’s perfected the art of selling Israeli military expertise, turning over 50 years of occupation into a lucrative, global business of intelligence and surveillance equipment.
The walls and fences he’s built around unwanted populations have been warmly received by US president Donald Trump, the European far right and white nationalists, who admire the Jewish state’s creation of an ethno-state.
Even worse, Netanyahu doesn’t mind anti-Semitism if it’s expressed by his allies; opposing Islam and Muslim refugees, but supporting the Israeli occupation, are enough to get him on board - a short-term kind of thinking that endangers Jews everywhere.
Still, despite all these flaws, American Jews, who are increasingly disillusioned with Israel and its leadership, should look closely at who may replace Netanyahu.
What they’ll find is tribalism and anti-Palestinian racism has become extraordinarily mainstream in the Jewish state.
In fact, Loewenstein shows that Netanyahu’s expansionism and racism are shared by all his major rivals - including Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay - not to mention his rightwing coalition partners.
He concludes his commentary with words that are slightly reminiscent of my May 24 article:
The state of Israeli democracy is parlous. At the April election, only one in four of the 6.5 million Palestinians living under various forms of Israeli rule in occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza - or around 24% - have the legal right to vote.
This leaves American and diaspora Jews with a dilemma. When will the love affair with the Jewish state end - or at least become so strained that automatic support isn’t guaranteed?
That moment has arrived, with some Democrats in the US increasingly critical of Israeli policies (though the party leadership remains a close friend of the Jewish state). And young Jews in Europe and the US are vocal about their disgust with more than 50 years of Israeli occupation (notwithstanding the surging support for nationalist and pro-Israel policies in many European nations).
Older Jews are following - as they should be.
It’s foolish to believe that the removal of any leader, even a leader like Netanyahu, will radically change the political direction Israel has taken, descending ever rightward. There is no leader in Israeli politics today capable - or willing - to guide Israel into the warm embrace of the liberal, Zionist dream of a two-state solution.
This is not to defend or justify Netanyahu. He’s a corrupt menace to minorities and human rights, and must be vigorously opposed and defeated. But the reason behind his rise to power and retention of huge amounts of support is the more uncomfortable question that must be answered.
Though Loewenstein is Australian, not American, there is a growing number of US Jews who share his views. The rift with Israel grows deeper.
2. www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/508.PDF (my emphasis).↩
4. https://tinyurl.com/y4nflfyz; https://tinyurl.com/y2ocdeez.↩