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Netanyahu’s Alt-Zionism has no need for American Jews

Instead of firmly speaking out against the more than 190 anti-Semitic threats and attacks over the past few weeks, Netanyahu has decided to throw the American Jewish community under the bus of right-wing Israeli fanaticism.

By David Sarna Galdi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, March 16, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, March 16, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week told a delegation led by Reform Movement head Rabbi Rick Jacobs what it wanted to hear — that he was attuned to their concerns. But Netanyahu’s shocking silence during the recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States was far louder than his words.

Netanyahu, who just a couple of years ago declared that he represents the entire Jewish people, failed to show any support whatsoever for American Jewry during more than 190 anti-Semitic threats and attacks in six weeks.

How should U.S. Jews make sense of this non-sequitur?

Jews growing up in America in the second half of the 20th century were taught a very simple equation: Israel = Judaism. When American Jews sent their hard-earned dollars to the Jewish state, they believed that Israel was — in a reciprocal way — an embodiment of their values and, more importantly, their guardian.

After the Holocaust, Israel was naturally viewed as the guarantor of the common Jewish future, having absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and legally enshrining automatic citizenship for any Jew, no questions asked. Leaders of the fledgling state like David Ben Gurion, themselves born in the diaspora, were explicit about Israel’s connection to “the great Jewry of the United States, to whom Israel owes so much.” In 1960, Moshe Dayan put it quite plainly when he argued, in Canada, that his government “should not only represent the people of Israel, but the interests of all Jews.”

The metaphorical umbilical cord connecting the Jewish diaspora with the Zionist State was expressed when Menachem Begin viciously protested 1951 reparation negotiations with post-war Germany. Tremendous financial benefit to Israel, he argued, did not trump the collective self-respect, not of only Israelis, but of all Jews. The ultimately successful reparations deal was unique, argues Ofer Aderet in Haaretz, because although it was signed between two countries, it “also encompassed a third party – the Jewish People.”

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Minister Ariel Sharon (photo: Saar Yaacov, Government Press Office / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Minister Ariel Sharon (photo: Saar Yaacov, Government Press Office / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

However, the idea that a Jewish state could be trusted to represent the entire Jewish people has always been tenuous. After herself escaping Nazi Germany and working for Zionist causes, Hannah Arendt supported a Jewish national revival but argued that politics were destroying the integrity of the original Zionist idea. She worried that an exclusively Jewish Palestine, “would eventually separate itself from a larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation, develop into an entirely new people.”

The lost narrative of early Jewish opposition to political Zionism is beyond the scope of this short article; it must suffice to say that Arendt’s doubts echoed those of a litany of Jewish leaders and thinkers like Lucien Wolf, Claude Montefiore, Israel Abrahams, Simon Dubnow, Congressman Julius Kahn, Rabbi Judah Leon Magnes, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Franz Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem and many others who held doubts as to whether political Zionism had Judaism’s best interest in mind and feared the consequences of ethnic Jewish hegemony over another people.

“Will a Jewish nation save the Jews?” asked Rabbi Israel Mattuck, a leader of British Jewry between the two world wars. “It may save a small number of them; it may well destroy all the rest.”

Fifty years since the height of diaspora euphoria after the Six Day War — the idealistic, abstract Zionism of many U.S. Jews has fermented into what can be called at best, melancholy Zionism. A recent Pew Research Center Study found that only 35 percent of American Jews aged 18-50 believed that caring about Israel is an essential part of their Jewish identity. “Israel isn’t a brand some American Jews want to identify with,” admitted Liran Avisar, the CEO of Masa Israel.

Globally plugged-in young American Jews who protest for refugee rights and attend LGBT weddings face jarring headlines about Israel’s idolization of a soldier convicted of the manslaughter of an incapacitated Palestinian, laws legalizing theft of Palestinian land and discriminating against Muslim prayer, large-scale demolition of Israeli Bedouin communities, and the exclusion of egalitarian prayer from Judaism’s most holy communal space. Though Netanyahu wants to force Palestinians to announce, on-all-fours, that Israel is “Jewish,” it’s uncertain whether a 21st century American Jew would concede as much.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., February 15, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., February 15, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

How are American Jews to understand the Israeli prime minister’s actions, which breathe new life into the dry bones of historical doubts of Israel’s concern for Judaism at large? Is his cozying up to anti-Semitic Evangelical preachers and the most offensive U.S. president in memory — at the expense of U.S. Jews — a return to the “Negation of the Diaspora” theory? Or is it the crystallization of a new, frightening brand of Zionism so distorted from the past that it can only be called, Alt-Zionism — a rabid dog wagged by its extremist, Jewish fundamentalist tail? The current government’s Alt-Zionism demonizes the press, decapitates the Israeli Supreme Court, rids the Knesset of Arab representation, passes unjust laws that threaten to turn Israel into a pariah apartheid state, and has no need for any diaspora Jewry that doesn’t fund the Judaization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Driving a wedge between Israel and U.S. Jewry while threatening their already wilting symbiosis is corrupt on a profound, Big-History scale. A country where Jews are safe is imperative. A world without the Jewish diaspora, however, is unthinkable.

Benjamin Netanyahu fancies himself a historically significant leader, a kind of Jewish Winston Churchill; he has gone on record repeatedly about his deep admiration for the British prime minister who risked isolation and unpopularity before World War II rather than negotiate with Nazi Germany. But Netanyahu, in throwing the American Jewish community under the bus of right-wing Israeli fanaticism, has proven himself to be more of a Marshal Pétain.

David Sarna Galdi is a former editor at Haaretz newspaper. He works for a nonprofit organization in Tel Aviv.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      “However, the idea that a Jewish state could be trusted to represent the entire Jewish people has always been tenuous. After herself escaping Nazi Germany and working for Zionist causes, Hannah Arendt supported a Jewish national revival but argued that politics were destroying the integrity of the original Zionist idea.”

      As a matter of historical interest, another prominent figure, Albert Einstein, was also deeply skeptical about creating a “Jewish state”:

      “Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook, Hannah Arendt and twenty-five other prominent Jews, in a letter to the New York Times (December 4, 1948), condemned Menachem Begin’s and Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud party as “fascist” and espousing “an admixture of ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.”

      http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/01/einstein-on-palestine-and-zionism/

      Reply to Comment
      • Tomer

        He didn’t said that I am jew from Israel and he never told nothing like this and all the Israelis know that American jews are importent (there some idiots but they litlle of the society)

        Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      Except that the regressive left is the most threatening purveyor of modern anti-Semitism in America:

      http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Chicago-university-mysteriously-covered-in-antisemitic-posters-484381

      Traditionally liberal Jews understand that the threat comes mostly from “their” side of the aisle, since the alt-right is pathetically weak. The supposedly alt-right Trump doesn’t care one iota about what’s said on 4chan. But the regressive left is on the verge of taking control of a major American political party. Everyone can see that this means liberal Jews would be forced to choose harassment and assault (as “Zionists”) or allegiance to a party machine run by Hamas sympathizers. The much-hyped American Jewish split from Israel is not going to happen for this reason alone. +972, JVP and Open Hillel hype Israel’s affection for Trump because they desperately want American Jews to disavow Israel, but this strategy will convince very few that alt-right frogs are a greater danger to Jews – at school, at synagogues, and even on the street – than Keith Ellison, Cornel West, Linda Sarsour and their acolytes already are.

      Reply to Comment
      • A Quiet Observer

        Look up “Oded Ellner” or “Operation Samson” and you will quickly understand why Netanyahu and his friends in the more militant, hardline Israeli ideologies these days do not care about the United States.

        They don’t see us – even the Jews here, unless those Jews very explicitly and loudly support Israel – as allies. They see the States as a nation of goyische slaves to be used in war, cast aside when “used up”, and eventually enslaved to fulfill certain Talmudic prophecies.

        The compassion and honest Judaism of, say, Hillel is nowhere to be seen.

        As an American of mixed but Jewish ancestry…it breaks my heart to see it. Evil is alive and well in the Israeli government; but evil is alive and well in ours, too.

        My ancestors didn’t act like this.

        “America is easy to manipulate.” “When America is used up, we will cast it aside and let it blow away on the wind.” –Benjamin Netanyahu

        Reply to Comment
    3. Juan Thompson

      The only person indicted so far for the attacks is a Max Blumenthal acolyte who used to work for Glenn Greenwald. The only antisemitism in the United States comes from followers of Mohammed and their allies.

      If you are truly concerned about antisemitism, then deal with the pathologies of the Palestinian people and the Israeli Left.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Liz

      The Israeli government is keen to make friends with those whom it believes will try and protect it from having to end the occupation. It doesn’t care if these are extreme right-wing parties known for their anti-Semitic views so long as they hate Muslims even more and are more likely to support Israel than the Palestinians. Jews who expect a more ethical leadership need to understand what is most important to the Israeli right.

      Reply to Comment
    5. bev morse

      bs hype – president bannon attempting to divide and conquer jewish community.

      Reply to Comment
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