American Jews’ support for Israel is being tested by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s hard-right rulers.
“Israel is no longer a star in the American flag?” says an indignant rightwing cabinet member, defiant over President Biden’s cautionary tone concerning Netanyahu’s authoritarian moves to take over the judiciary and end checks and balances.
Netanyahu (in an eerily similar predicament to Trump) is acting to protect himself from prosecution while the right wing is seizing power to overrule the Supreme Court’s pesky interference to declare its theocratic actions unconstitutional. This has brought out the most significant anti-government protests across Israel probably in its history.
The reaction is rich, considering it has been the United States that has protected, financed, and defended Israel when the tiny nation has stood all alone in the world. And hypocritical, considering how Netanyahu repeatedly showed his contempt for Obama, openly supported Trump, and (at the invitation of Republicans), addressed Congress to demand the U.S. cease negotiating the joint nuclear deal with Iran. (Trump immediately withdrew, prompting renewed nuclear activity by Iran).
Perhaps Israel is emboldened by its Abraham Accord treaties with Arab neighbors previously pledged to its destruction.
Saudi Arabia, reportedly negotiating to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, is making it conditional on a civilian nuclear program and security assurances from President Biden, a steep price for an agreement long sought by Israel.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has just renewed relations with Iran, Israel’s mortal enemy which is also in league with Russia. So figure.
The authoritarian move by Netanyahu gives ammunition to those who want to break US’s strong, expensive, and up until now, unwavering support for Israel at a time when antisemitism is rising, sympathy and support for Israel is waning and pro-Palestinian factions are becoming more powerful.
It puts American Jews in the Trump MAGA camp if they continue to support Netanyahu’s far-right regime- ironic because of the blatant antisemitism that underlies the Trump cult.
This isn’t a recent conundrum – it has been building since Trump consciously divided American Jews into liberal and right-wing camps, even suggesting “how could American Jews be Democrats” (if he actually knew or cared about the values that are central to Judaism he wouldn’t ask).
But he scored undying support among conservative and orthodox (right-wing) American Jews by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In clips aired on the Unholy podcast, reported in Vanity Fair, Trump went on a lengthy rant about how American Jews aren’t loyal enough to Israel, invoking a longtime antisemitic trope about Jewish people and allegiances to other countries.
Speaking to journalist Barak Ravid, Trump said, “There’s people in this country that are Jewish that no longer love Israel. I’ll tell you the Evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country. It used to be that Israel had absolute power over Congress and today I think it’s the exact opposite, and I think [Barack] Obama and [Joe] Biden did that. And yet in the election, they still get a lot of votes from Jewish people…which tells you that the Jewish people, and I’ve said this for a long time, the Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel. I mean, you look at The New York Times, The New York Times hates Israel, hates them, and they’re Jewish people that run The New York Times, I mean the Sulzberger family.”
But it is very much the artificial, manufactured quandary that Americans are put into, along with the rightwing’s appropriation of the flag and what is a “patriot” when in fact, the values that are being defended by “liberal” Americans and “liberal” American Jews are foundational to both the United States and Israel.
And for the longest time, Israel could count on American support, when a scant 1% of the population is actually Jewish, because the tiny nation could hold itself out as the only true democracy in the Middle East, as vital an ally to the United States as the United States to Israel.
But American Jews do have a role to play. Israel is very much dependent upon American support, and support from American Jews – financially, politically and militarily and diplomatically. It will be harder to counter the growing pro-Palestinian faction in Congress and the United Nations if American Jews are given cause to waver in their support.
That is what is being challenged now, and why it is very dangerous for Israel to be seen by Americans as abandoning democracy, even as they hope to retain the support of White Christo Fascist MAGA Republicans.
New York Times’ reporting, U.S.-Israel Tensions Over Judicial Overhaul, garnered hundreds of comments like this: “Israel has extremely powerful advocates in the United States. We give Israel too much attention, money and political power. It’s time to cut them off and let them make do on their own. After all, ‘Israel would make its own decisions’.”
“Does Netanyahu understand, or care, that he is alienating American secular Jews who have long been the backbone of Israel’s support in the U.S.?”
In December, Abraham Foxman, the former longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Jerusalem Post, “I never thought that I would reach that point where I would say that my support of Israel is conditional. I don’t think that it’s a horrific condition to say: ‘I love Israel and I want to love Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that respects pluralism. If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.”
“It’s not one thing. It’s a whole package of things, which is bringing us back to the Middle Ages,” Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “So it’s undermining democracy in terms of the legal system. It’s cutting back on human or equal rights for all whether it’s LGBT or whether it’s the Conservative movement or the Reform movement.
That realization – of losing the support of Biden and American Jews – has factored in Netanyahu’s call to delay the decision until after Passover and “invite compromise” on his judicial overhaul.
But this could be the same delay ploy that Trump uses over and over – delay and distract. And the parallels to American politics are profound.
Passover is a celebration of one of the rare victories in the 5783-year history of the Jewish people.
It recalls our 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, freedom, and is foundational to the values we share, our empathy for others who are oppressed, victimized, terrorized, displaced and dispossessed.
The two key concepts from Passover are: “Let my people go” and “You were strangers in a strange land.”
Indeed, American Jews defend Israel by standing with Israelis to protect democracy against authoritarianism.