Slip-sliding away: American Jewish support for Israel

“A large majority of Israelis, nearly four in five, believes Israel’s future is dependent on the country’s ties to American Jewry, a new poll of Israeli public opinion has found,” reports the Times of Israel.

If the poll is accurate, then Israelis are in for a shock.

As we reported last month, a recent poll of American Jews by the Pew Research Centre confirms that American Jews are turning away from Israel, with nearly a third (31 per cent) saying they did not feel attached to the Zionist state and another 39 per cent feeling only “somewhat” attached.

That’s not all.

Spare a few moments to read this. The writer, Brad Rothschild, is not a peace activist but an American Jew and a former speechwriter for Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gad Ya’acobi. In a blog post, also published in the Times of Israel, he describes his journey from believing in “Israel right or wrong” to acknowledging the ugly reality of the Zionist state.

…with Israel and the US increasingly at odds over the prospect of peace with the Palestinians, can Israel still count on the unconditional support of American Jews?

More than 20 years ago I asked myself the same question about where my loyalties lay. It was right after the end of the first Gulf War and then President George Bush Sr was pressuring the Israelis to attend a regional peace conference with the goal of initiating direct negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Israel’s prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Shamir, was reluctant to attend and I remember thinking for the first time about where I would stand if the United States and Israel found themselves on opposite sides of a dispute.

Of course I supported Israel; it’s the state of the Jews… My support for Israel was unquestioned… Several months later, after graduating college, I moved to Israel to see if it was where I really belonged.

The two years that I spent in Israel proved to be defining ones for me. I lived both on a kibbutz and in Jerusalem; I discovered a love for the Hebrew language and for Hebrew culture. Most importantly, I met all kinds of Israelis – secular and religious, sabras [Israelis born in occupied Palestine] and new immigrants, rightists and left-wingers, Jews and Arabs. I learned the country’s history by talking to the people who lived it on a daily basis. But for the first time, I also was exposed to the realities of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and saw how Israel’s domination of the Palestinians was doing grave damage to both sides. The more time I spent there, the more I began to think differently about “my Israel, right or wrong”…

In the years since [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination, I have watched, though not in silence, as Israel has become less democratic, more intolerant and noticeably more intransigent in its refusal to relinquish the West Bank and allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it. I have stood in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park and listened to racist lawmakers rail against African “infiltrators”. In Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood I have witnessed Jews attempting to dispossess Palestinians of their homes. And I have listened to Israeli teenagers lecture about how Arabs are “different” than we are and need to be dealt with harshly…

I am not blind to the complex reality of the region and I certainly do not hold Israel solely responsible for the lack of peace, but I am saddened by what I see Israel becoming. In this sadness I am not alone. As an American and as a Jew, my loyalties lie with democracy, pluralism and freedom. I am now and will always be on the side that upholds these values. If American Jews are questioning their support for Israel, perhaps it says something more about Israel than it does about American Jews.

Today, if faced with the same question that I asked myself all those years ago, I doubt that I would come up with the same answer. The fact that Israel exists is no longer sufficient to guarantee my unquestioning loyalty…

We may not agree with all the sentiments expressed by Brad Rothschild but there’s no doubting that where once American Jewish support for Israel was akin to a Pavlovian reflex, nowadays one can only say it’s slip-sliding away, slip-sliding away.

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