On Sunday, Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing religious Jewish Home Party and Minister of Education and Diaspora Relations stated:
“There is an unprecedented crisis between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. They like to say its because of the Western Wall, or the Palestinian question or other ideological problems. That’s not true. The reason is a major problem of assimilation and that more and more Jews around the world don’t care about their Judaism and don’t care about Israel. That is the whole story.”
That is certainly not the whole story. Assimilation is and always has been a real problem. However, the gulf between diaspora Jews and Israel is widening thanks to actions of the Israeli government on many fronts. Part of the Italian Jewish community is upset about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming meeting with Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads a far-rightist party. Hungarian Jews are upset at Netanyahu for his close ties with Hungary’s Viktor Orban. American Jews are still smarting from Bennett’s US visit following the Pittsburgh shooting, and his chiding of them for criticizing Trump’s administration, who many US Jews consider responsible for the atmosphere that led to the massacre.
Israel’s burgeoning ties with Saudi Arabia could not have happened at a worse time in terms of its relations with American Jewry. Last week, one of Israel’s strongest supporters, Max Boot, wrote an article in the Washington Post entitled: An Israeli tech firm is selling spy software to dictators, betraying the country’s ideals.
In the article, Boot wrote: “Israel’s light is dimmed when veterans of its famed armed forces, whose mission is to defend the Jewish state’s freedom, misuse their expertise to aid oppression in other countries.” Boot, a former Republican and a leading “Never Trumper,” was immediately attacked by Israel supporters for turning on Israel. However, Boot has always been a friend of Israel. Friends have the right and in some cases the responsibility to criticize specific actions of other friends, even when that criticism is unpleasant to hear. Frankly, when I learned we provided tools to the Saudis to persecute their own citizens, I wrote a blog post stating there are days I am embarrassed to be an Israeli.
Truthfully, Max Boot should raise larger questions about how the power technology may be giving agencies of State, and the ways these innovations are being utilized — whether Israeli or other tech. Nevertheless, I will leave that topic for a separate article.
The mistakes of Israel’s current government should not, however, excuse the recent article by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times, entitled: Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-semitism.
Goldberg asserts: “The conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that depends on treating Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people everywhere.” She presents a historical narrative which shows that many Jews were not Zionists. Goldberg implies that since not all Jews are Zionists, then being anti-Zionist is not anti-semitic. However, the narrative she furnishes only highlights her own historical ignorance. It is true that until World War II the American Jewish community was divided between Zionists and non-Zionists. That division effectively ended with the Holocaust, when the overwhelming majority of American Jews realized Jews needed their own State to defend themselves. A major survey conducted in 1948 after the establishment of the State of Israel, showed that 90% of the American Jewish community supported American recognition of the State of Israel. Ninety six percent said that the community should support Israel. In terms of the specific type of aid, 93% of the respondents to the study felt that Jews should send money. Eighty-three percent supported the sending of munitions and 51% supported sending fighting men. Today, those numbers have clearly dropped, according to a recent Pew Poll on 69% of Jews in the US feel an attachment to Israel.
Goldberg further misunderstands the agreement between AJC President Jacob Blaustein and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Blaustein was indeed no Zionist by the definition of Ben Gurion, who believed all Zionists should move to Israel. Ben Gurion stated in a speech to the American Jewish Committee delegation that Blaustein headed, which had come to Israel to investigate how the AJC could help Israel “the State of Israel represents and speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of the Jews who are citizens of any other country”. Blaustein at the time was very concerned about the charge of dual loyalty potentially directed at American Jews. Blaustein responded to Ben Gurion by thanking Ben Gurion and pledging further cooperation by AJC and American Jewry to help Israel. It should be noted that this was part of wider exchange that at the time paved the way for wealthy Americans to give Israel their whole-hearted financial support. So, while Blaustein may not have been a Zionist based on the terminology of the time, he was a strong supporter of Israel. Today he would be defined as a Zionist
Goldberg continues: “Now, however, Israel has foreclosed the possibility of two states, relentlessly expanding into the West Bank and signaling to the world that the Palestinians will never have a capital in East Jerusalem.” She ignores the fact the Palestinians are the ones who turned down every offer of a two-state solution, which included East Jerusalem as their capital — including proposals from both Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert . It is easy to say that the last proposal by Olmert was 10 years ago, however the Palestinians never made a counteroffer. Thus, convincing many Israelis that they are not willing to except anything but their maximum demands. Moreover, despite the fact that every Israeli withdrawal has been met with additional hostility, instead of peace, a majority of Israelis still support a two-state solution — although most have lost faith that we will achieve it. According to a poll done by the Israel Democracy Institute in August of 2018-- 50% of Jewish Israelis believe the Palestinians should have their own state, while 43% do not. 56% of Israelis, Arabs and Jews do not believe however, that a two-state solution can be achieved now.
Disturbingly, the core of Goldberg’s article maintains that supporting BDS is not an antisemitic act, even if its goal is the creation of unitary, non-Jewish state in what was Palestine. I beg to differ. Criticizing Israel is not antisemitic. Criticizing the current or any other government of Israel is legitimate. Every American should have the right to criticize Israel or its government. But calling for one state, which would effectively eliminate the only Jewish State in the world is undoubtedly anti-semitic. Advocating a one-state solution inherently contends there can be 40 countries that define themselves as Muslim, but zero as Jewish. That calculation is not a critique of Israel, it is a declaration that Israel should not exist as a Jewish State — and that is anti-semitic.
Finally, on the off-chance Bennett happens to be reading. Forty years ago (in my youth ,before I first moved to Israel), I believed that diaspora Jewry would indeed assimilate and disappear. However, a week ago, on a Friday night, I stood in front of a full room in a Conservative synagogue in Stamford, CT packed with people who had come to both celebrate their Judaism, through participation in a Friday night service and hear me speak about American Jewry and Israel in the Trump era. Those Jews are not assimilating and disappearing. They have not stopped caring about Israel and their Judaism. However, they are having a tough time identifying with an Israel that has so identified with President Trump. They are having a hard time connecting with a country that is being pulled ever further to the right by your party, and they are having an impossible time understanding why your party has consistently worked to block their stream of Judaism from being recognized. Nothing justifies the statements advanced in the Goldberg article, but Minister Bennett, perhaps you should look in the mirror before you criticize diaspora Judaism.