I am connected to Israel by an unbreakable bond. And I am a liberal American Jew. But the Israeli election campaign did more to wound liberal American Jews than anything in my lifetime. And it forced me to ask: So what am I supposed to do now?
We make a big deal out of Israel being the sole democracy in the region. But without a two-state solution Israel can’t be a Jewish democracy. Without a partner Arab state Israel becomes a single country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan where either everyone gets to vote, leading inevitably to an Arab majority, or a refusal to let Arabs vote, which means we have no argument left when Israel is accused of apartheid. What else would you call it? It will be apartheid.
Of course Israel lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. Certainly the experience when Gaza was returned to the Palestinians casts a dark shadow over any potential détente. But the status quo cannot stand. We don’t have a choice. And time is running out.
Even worse, in the eyes of the west, here and in Europe, Israel has lost the high ground, even lost the benefit of the doubt. It is blamed for continuing to stand in the way of any resolution. Building settlements in the disputed territories and erecting a wall against Arab terror make it harder to reach any agreement. But that seems to be exactly what Netanyahu intends when he says there will be no Palestine on his watch.
Israel has had right-wing governments before, and we could live with it. But he has done two things now to alienate me and people who think like me. He has used anti-Arab racist fears to drive his voters to the polls, and he has aligned himself with the right wing camp (read GOP) in America. He openly preferred Romney over Obama, but so long as he didn’t mix in U.S. politics it didn’t matter. But now he has ginned up a divide between Republicans and Democrats here in America. Liberal American Jews have overwhelmingly voted Democrat for generations. The movements for civil rights for blacks, women, gay men and women are part of our DNA. But Bibi has thrown in his lot with America’s right wing, which has long been seen as the last bastion of racism, sexism, and, frankly, nutty ideas about government. Have you seen the picture of Bibi with Sarah Palin? What does that say?
He has positioned Republicans as Israel supporters and publicly disregarded and disrespected our president and, by extension, discredited Democrats. So where does it leave me? And where does it leave people who ostensibly represent me?
AIPAC is screwed. It may want to support Israel in everything it does, but what do its lobbyists say now to Dems when Israel’s president turns out to be the most electable (though ineligible) candidate in the GOP presidential primary?
Our other institutions are moving to the right as well. We need an active Jewish voice on college campus, but Hillel won’t even dare speak at a J-Street convention where 1,000 university students wanted to hear them.
Right now J-Street is the group speaking for liberal American Jews. It is a pro-Israel organization that believes we are obliged to speak out when Israel’s government is damaging Israel’s and The Jewish people’s long term interests. It wants a vibrant debate, but demands we remain true to our own Jewish values – those values nurtured over the decades.
The latest and most damaging Israeli campaign took place not in Gaza or the territories. It was held in full view in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in Haifa and Ashdod. Netanyahu won the battle; he was reelected prime minister. But the damage left behind is felt in New York and Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.
And in Washington.