(Revulsion) American Judaism Reacts to Netanyahu Racism (Jewish Daily Forward)


About Israel and the occupation, we have all seen a broad spectrum of opinion going back already to the early 1980s. But even among left and liberal-left American Jews I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of reaction to a Prime Minister of Israel. Revulsion is the only word for it. I don’t this is going to be forgotten after Netanyahu’s recent speech to the U.S. Congress about Iran, eviscerating  the bi-partisan consensus that the Jewish establishment worked for generations to secure; after his public tearing up the 2 State Solution consensus, around which the Jewish establishment has spilled blood, sweat, and tears against the anti-Zionist left, especially on U.S. campuses; after the racist incitement against the Palestinian citizens of Israel who did nothing more than exercise their right to vote.

The revulsion goes beyond the typical expression of moral outrage common among Jewish leftists and left-liberals. It’s deep and visceral, stomach churning and acidic. Like the urge to vomit, it’s the response with which one responds in the face of something rancid. Rightwing American Jews are already trying to walk back Netanyahu’s pre-election statements, the ones against a 2 state solution and against the Israeli-Arab vote. “He didn’t mean it” is not going to pass the smell test. What repels is the contempt for people, the gift for shameless expression, the brutality and cynical manipulation. After 47 years of military occupation, this is the face of Israeli political power.

I’m posting below the editorial at the Jewish Daily Forward. It represents the position of so many of us who are going to have to thread the needle, “supporting” the State of Israel and its people (all of them) against what looks like is going to a radical rightwing government, the most rightwing government in the history of the country. They know it’s not going to be easy, and, for many, no longer even possible to strike this balance.  Rightwing Israel is running out of excuses; and American Jews are running out patience.

Some thirty years in the making, you  can find the editorial here. It reflects upon the political and moral havoc wrought by a reckless and racist prime minister. The editorial represents mainstream American Jewish opinion, which remains overwhelmingly liberal. I’m posting it below:

How Can We Support Israel’s Ideals — but Not Bibi’s Ugly Rhetoric?

Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprising and decisive victory in the Israeli elections has created a wrenching dilemma for many American Jews: how to continue to love Israel while a government that violates many of our community’s values is in place.

This may not be an issue for those who unequivocally support Netanyahu’s aggressive, nationalistic stance, and cheer the fact that he won by dismissing the two pillars of American Mideast policy: the creation of a two-state solution with the Palestinians and the pursuance of a nuclear deal with Iran. The Bibi chorus of our community is already gloating, excusing the candidate’s offensive words about Arab voters, quickly accepting his “clarifications” and falling back on the ancient pull of peoplehood to rally American Jews once again.

It may not work so well this time.

The denial of Palestinian statehood aspirations and the blatant resort to racist statements that Netanyahu expressed in the last days of his campaign won’t soon be forgotten or reconciled, no matter what he now says. And even though the prime minister has voiced a valid critique of a potential deal with Iran, the manner in which he used the U.S. Congress to defy a sitting president has left a lingering resentment in many of us.

Thus, the dilemma. For years we have been told that we must put aside our liberal values – the values that have allowed us to prosper into the Diaspora’s largest, most proud and significant community – when it comes to Israel. Ignore the occupation. Ignore the domination of an ultra-Orthodox rabbinate.

Recognize, instead, that Israel’s tough neighborhood and its supposedly existential threats demand that it employ a different set of behaviors. Focus, instead, on its raucous democracy, innovative economy, extraordinary people, and on the thrilling promise of Zionism.

That promise still ignites us. But Zionism has always contained within it a struggle between pursuing the legitimate aspirations of the Jewish people for sovereignty in its ancient homeland and contending with the rights of others who also have long lived on that land. After six decades, it is not unreasonable to hope for progress in resolving that struggle. Instead, we are farther away than ever.

This clearly bothers many American Jews from a distance more than it concerns Israelis at home. This election was a narrow vote for the status quo, propelled by the fear that only a continued hard line approach will keep Israel secure. As believers in democracy, however flawed it is in Israel or here, we respect that vote.

But the status quo is never static. The occupation and settlement growth can’t continue indefinitely without dramatic change or renewed violence. For one thing, Israel’s already fraught diplomatic and economic relations with Europe will certainly worsen.

It will be harder to contain the growing resentment on college campuses and the growing alienation of many younger Jews. And it will much harder to support the unquestioning amount of U.S. financial, military and diplomatic aid that Israel receives every year when its government sometimes works against American interests and policies.

By winning an unprecedented fourth term, Netanyahu has proven to be a brilliant political strategist. He has the right to call himself the modern King of Israel.

But he’s not the King of the Jews. He didn’t need our votes to win, of course, nor should we feel compelled to blindly support him. The question now for us is how to maintain a genuine connection to Israel and what we believe are its deeply grand and humanistic values while distancing ourselves from a leader who stands for the opposite.



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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5 Responses to (Revulsion) American Judaism Reacts to Netanyahu Racism (Jewish Daily Forward)

  1. zeev says:

    well said
    but what are we to do?

  2. milx says:

    Do progressive Turkish ex-pats write articles like this whenever Erdogan gets re-elected? I suspect not, and propose that this is because their relationship to Turkey is a relationship of familial/cultural affinity, while the relationship of progressive American Jews to Israel is strictly political.

    • milx says:

      nb speaking as someone w/ an explicitly theological affinity to Israel I really don’t care which govt is in charge of the secular State. All I care about is that Jews living in Israel are protected and either Bougie or Bibi were going to make sure of that. In terms of any discriminatory practices of the govt if I care at all (and tbh it’s hard to work up any outrage about a govt I didn’t even vote for) it’s about exactly the same as how I care about Bernie Madoff – terrible, gross Jew that I know will be used by anti-Semites to defame an entire People. Other than that, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      I do think that last few weeks have been really interesting in terms of watching the realignment of the primary Jewish national dialectic from Ashkenazi/Sephardi to American/Israel and I’ve never more felt like I lived in Bavel (to go back to another, much older, diasporic/nativist dialectic).

    • zjb says:

      No, I disagree. Turks just aren’t as prominent a diaspora community as are the Jews in the U.S.. I can’t really speak for Turkish ex-pats because I don’t follow their press. Re: liberal-progressive Jew, we too have invested a lot of heart and soul into Israel. I am not sure if you count me as progressive, but I can speak to my own deep familial and personal ties to the place –as can many other liberals and progressives, at least of my generation.

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