WASHINGTON: An opinion poll published in June shows deep divisions between Israelis and American Jews. The survey of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found that 77 percent of Israelis approved of President Donald Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, while only 34 percent of American Jews did. Eighty-five percent of Israelis supported the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, upending decades of U.S. foreign policy and an international consensus that the city’s status should be decided through peace negotiations. Only 46 percent of American Jews supported the move.
The poll also found that 59 percent of American Jews favor the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel but only 44 percent of Israelis supporting the idea.
Differences over Religion and State
The two communities also differ sharply on matters of religion and state, particularly on the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs in Israel. The vast majority of American Jews identify as either Reform or Conservative, the more liberal streams of Judaism. In Israel, Reform and Conservative rabbis cannot perform weddings, preside over funerals, or conduct conversions.
American Jews overwhelmingly support religious freedom and separation of religion and state. Israel, quite to the contrary, is a theocracy. There is no such thing as civil marriage. If a Jew and a non-Jew wish to marry, they must leave the country to do so.
Mixed-gender prayer debate
On one of the most contentious issues, regarding mixed-gender prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, 73 percent of American Jews express support, compared with just 42 percent of Israelis.
Asked to choose a familial metaphor to describe how close they feel to each other, 31% of the Americans and 22% of the Israelis went so far as to respond “not part of my family” about the other. Only 28% of the Israelis consider American Jews “siblings” and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way.
Writing in The Jerusalem Post (International Edition, June 15-21, 2018), Illuminating the Israeli-American Jewish Divide Lawrence Grossman, the AJC’s director of publications, notes that,
“The message of the AJC survey is clear. If the concept of a global Jewish community…is to retain any meaning, each of the two major components must develop a greater appreciation for the priorities and needs of the other. If not, the next AJC survey will find even more American and Israeli Jews writing off those in the other country as ‘not part of my family.'”
In another recent survey, only a minority of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians. When 18-34 year-olds were asked if they were “very attached” to Israel, only 11% said yes, compared to 45% of those 50 and older. Only 40% of the young said they were “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.”
Part of the reason for this alienation is Israel’s retreat from democratic values
Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the intolerance and racism which is increasingly seen in the Israeli society is not democratic. American Jews once believed that Israel shared their views in liberal democracy and religious freedom.
They are coming to understand that it does not.
In June, for example, Israel’s lawmakers killed a bill calling for “equality for all citizens” even before it was introduced in the Knesset. On June 5, the Knesset issued a press release stating that its presidium group, consisting of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, voted to disqualify a proposed bill that called for Israel “to be defined as a state of all its citizens,” to be placed on the Knesset’s agenda.
By its own admission, the Knesset mentioned that this was an “unusual” move since it is
“the first time proposed legislation has been disqualified before being discussed in the plenum (the entire assembly of Knesset members) during the past two Knesset terms.”
Mondoweiss (June 6, 2018) provided this assessment:
“…What content in this bill was so shockingly offensive that Israeli lawmakers could not even allow it to be discussed….? The bill’s major offense lies within its simple objective, which is ‘to anchor in constitutional law the principle of equal citizenship while recognizing the existence and rights of the two, Jewish and Arab national groups living within the country.’ The proposed bill also called for ‘separation of religion and state, while guaranteeing the freedom of worship for all.’ Since Israel defines itself as a democratic state, it should, therefore, be a state providing equality for both Jewish and Arab citizens.”
People without a state
At the present time, 4.5 million Palestinians, in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza are effectively under Israeli control but are stateless people. They are neither citizens of Israel or any other country. They are not entitled to many of the same fundamental rights that Israel claims to respect. The roughly 1.7 million Palestinians who do hold Israeli citizenship face “institutional, legal and societal discrimination,” according to a U.S. State Department report on human rights.
Mohamed Mohamed, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund For Education and Community Development, asks,
“In the 21st century, where else can one find segregated roads like the ones that exist in the West Bank? Where else can one find a state that allows its towns to pick and choose which ethnic and religious groups can live in their communities?…Until Israel changes its prejudiced and bigoted system, it will never escape the label of an apartheid state.”
Many Israelis lament the policies of their government.
In the article As Israelis, we call on the world to intervene on behalf of Palestinians (The Guardian, June 29, 2018 by Ilana Hammerman and David Harel, they call on the world to “intervene on behalf of the Palestinians.
“The State of Israel is facing a catastrophic situation which could, alarmingly soon, lead to extensive bloodshed…We represent a group of intellectuals and cultural figures central to Israeli society..We are patriotic Israeli citizens who love our country…We are horrified by the situation and fear deeply for our lives and the lives of our offspring, and for the lives of the 13 million Jews and Arabs who live here…Ever since 1967, not a single Israeli government has put a stop to the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Moreover, in recent years, the official and openly stated ideological policy of the elected Israeli government has it that this land, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, belongs in entirety to the Jewish people, wherever they may be.”
Hammerman and Harel argue that,
“In the spirit of this ideology, the processes involving oppression, expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians living in the West Bank are broadening and deepening…Israeli courts are in the process of legitimizing the destruction of entire villages and the Knesset is passing new laws that steadily decrease the ability of the courts to have a say at all. Others legitimize the additional expropriation of private Palestinian land in favor of the settlements built on them. These acts of one-sided expropriation violate those parts of international law that protect civilians of occupied territories, and some are even in violation of Israeli law.”
Fifty-one years of military rule on the West Bank has seen Israel take over large quantities of land and has placed more than 600,000 Israeli citizens there in hundreds of settlements. It supplies them with roads, water, and electricity and has financed their health, education and cultural institutions. It has given these settlers the same civil and political rights enjoyed by citizens living within its own sovereign territory. At the same time, Israel is squeezing the living space of Palestinian residents, who enjoy no civil or political rights.
In calling for international intervention, Hammerman and Harel declare:
“Since all the actions are being carried out in violation of international law, the resulting situation is no longer just an internal Israeli issue. The international community has taken many decisions intended to curb these actions, but none has ever been accompanied by enforcement mechanisms…And so a destructive, violent and exploitive reality is becoming the norm in these areas. We, who are located in the midst of this reality believe the international community must help, since that community alone is responsible for enforcing compliance with its treaties and with the decisions of its institutions…If peace is not established in this part of the world very soon,..there will be no future for us and the Palestinians.”
Israel ‘s ethnic intolerance
Also particularly alienating to American Jews is the growth of religious, racial and ethnic intolerance in Israel. In March, during his weekly sermon to the nation, Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, called black people “monkeys.” Yosef’s fellow chief rabbi, Yisrael Lau, had already used this term to describe black people, on his very first day in office.
Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and head of the Council, of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria, issued a religious edict saying “a thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail.” He said that Arabs arrested for terrorism could be used for medical experiments, and ruled that Jewish law forbids employing Arabs or renting homes to them.
Ovadia Yosef, a deceased former Sephardi chief rabbi, said that the sole purpose for non-Jews “is to serve Jews.” His declaration was later endorsed by some 250 religious figures.
An Israeli member of the Knesset from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party, engaged in a radio debate in June in support of the prime minister. Appearing on the 103 FM radio station, Miki Zohar argued that most Israelis would support Netanyahu because they are Jewish and,
“The whole Jewish race is the greatest human capital, and the smartest,
and the most understanding, and sometimes the best educated.”
In June, the new chairman of the Jewish Agency, Buzki “Isaac” Herzog, called the high rate of marriage between Jews and non-Jews in the United States “a veritable plague,” and something he would do his best to fight.
According to the ideologies which underlie Gush Emunim and other West Bank settler groups, non-Jews have “satanic souls.” One of the rabbinic leaders of this group, Yitzhak Ginsburgh, speaks freely of Jews’ genetic-based spiritual superiority over non-Jews:
“If you saw two people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish life first. If every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, it is a part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA. If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has an infinite value.”
Confronting fascism and racism in Israel
Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell, one of the world’s leading authorities on fascism, laments that Israel is confronted with growing fascism and racism. He writes:
“I frequently ask myself how a historian in fifty or one hundred years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in Israel start to realize that the state that was established…on the ruins of European Jewry…had developed into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants. When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully others, Palestinians or Africans, began eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign entity?”
Israel repeatedly refers to itself as a “Jewish state.” But in the view of an increasing number of American Jews, its current direction represents a rejection of the Jewish moral and ethical tradition. Slowly, more and more American Jews, who believed Israel shared their values, are coming to the realization that it does not.