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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

American Jews and Israel

In April, the synagogue Lunch and Learn discussion group considered J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami (from a profile in Moment Magazine). J Street is a "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby group that he created after working for Howard Dean, and a comment about the Middle East peace process set off a firestorm: "The thing that struck me was how many people quietly would say the same thing that I was saying, which is, 'I can’t believe this is the way the Israel issue plays out.' These were big donors in Democratic Party politics, Jewish donors. So I was convinced there was a large group of people who just didn’t have a vehicle for engagement in American politics to express their views."

Obviously his position totally resonates with me, as it did with several other people in the lunch discussion. However, several other people were completely insistent that if American Jews question Israel in any way, then American will withdraw it's financial support and Israel will cease to exist. I think this is a bizarre leap of logic, but it's pretty prevelant.

Anyway, what do you know, but the NY Times has a very interesting article today about this very issue:

On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree
by Paul Vitello

Criticizing Israel has long been the equivalent of touching a third rail in many Jewish families and friendships, relegating disagreements to a conversational demilitarized zone where only the innocent and foolhardy go.

. . . “You raise a question about the security forces or the settlements and you are suddenly being compared to a Holocaust denier,” said Phillip Moore, 62, a teacher in a Detroit suburb. “It’s just not a rational discussion, so I keep quiet.”

. . . Many other prominent Jews, representing the conservative organizational leadership that has been the dominant voice of the Jewish community for decades, have also recently criticized the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel. Some have even accused the White House of sabotaging the foundations of the Jewish state.

. . . But while those voices have been strong and their message unmistakable, a newly outspoken wing of Israel supporters has begun to challenge the old-school reflexive support of the country’s policies, suggesting that one does not have to be slavish to Israeli policies to love Israel.

“Most Jews have mixed feelings about Israel,” said Rabbi Tamara Kolton of the Birmingham Temple, a secular humanistic congregation in Farmington Hills. “They support Israel, but it’s complicated. Until now, you never heard from those people. You heard only from the organized ones, the ones who are 100 percent certain: ‘we’re right, they’re wrong.’”

. . . “People are tired of being told that you are either with us or against us,” Jeremy Ben-Ami said. “The majority of American Jews support the president, support the two-state solution and do not feel that they have been well represented by organizations that demand obedience to every wish of the Israeli government. If you had taken their word for it, Obama should have gotten 12 percent of the Jewish vote. But he got 80. That should say something.”

. . . The questions that Jews are now facing are rooted not in being for or against Israel, but in the shadings of difference over how to achieve peace, and the complexities of the relationship between Israel — a state whose government is now dominated by nationalist and ultrareligious politicians — and the predominantly liberal-leaning and secular base of Jewish support in the United States.



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