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Trump is pushing American Jews away from Israel — and that's a good thing

Now that the U.S. is being faced with a racist Trump regime, American Jews are being reminded of their own history of oppression, forcing them to make a choice: which side are we on when it comes to Israel?

By Michael Sidman

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)

Blind support for Israel has kept American Jews from supporting Palestinian liberation for too long – but the Trump administration, in one of its accidental silver linings, has finally created the perfect incubator to bring American Jews and Palestinians together. For decades American Jews, guided in no small part by mainstream Jewish organizations, have actively and vocally lent their support to far-right extremist politicians and policies in Israel.

Our otherwise liberal community, which has historically stood staunchly with the American progressive left, was swayed for decades by the tactics of Israeli Jewish supremacists, racists, and xenophobes in Israeli government and society. Many have chalked it up to the phrase I’ve heard far too often: “progressive except for Israel.” We are now coming to understand that this hypocrisy has expired.

The Israeli government has for too long falsely packaged its extremist agenda as liberal. It has portrayed its raison d’être protecting a liberal minority against perceived enemies (Palestinians and their supporters) – and we ate it up. It was our unwavering support that lent the Israeli government the appearance of moral legitimacy for decades. It was our support that allowed Israel to erode its own democracy. And it was our support that led Israel to the brink, where it has left itself with only two choices: be an apartheid state or a fully democratic state with true equal rights for all of its citizens.

Palestinian youths climb the Israeli separation barrier in Bil’in, tearing down fencing from the top of the wall, February 17, 2017. (Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youths climb the Israeli separation barrier in Bil’in, tearing down fencing from the top of the wall, February 17, 2017. (Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Mainstream American Jewish organizations and a surprising number of pulpit rabbis have helped guide the American Jewish community in its unquestioning support for Israel. They exploited anti-Semitism and the real trauma of the Holocaust to try to make the case that Israel was somehow unique in the world — that the laws of morality need not apply to it. American Jews were fed a contradictory mythology, that Israelis were both masters of their domain and yet somehow a persecuted minority on the brink of destruction.

It is similar to the trend we see now among white conservatives who somehow feel as if civil rights for all have somehow eroded their own. The New York Times reported that white men in America believe they are the most powerless demographic, and that straight white men view themselves as a persecuted group. In both cases, in both countries, these are bald-faced lies.

Now that America is being faced with a similarly fascist and racist Trump regime, the American Jewish community is being reminded of its own history of oppression and persecution, as well as its cherished values, forcing us to make a choice: Which side are we on? I’m reminded of Yom Kippur services, when we beat our chests and beg for forgiveness. As I make a list of immoral policies that we have condoned in Israel, and that are now threatening our own democracy, I do the same:

For walls of segregation.
For ghettos.
For scapegoating Muslims.
For rendering Muslims silent and invisible.
For calling the other a terrorist and ignoring the terrorist that is one of mine.
For banning and incarcerating refugees.
For deporting refugees back to genocidal regimes.
For abandoning women.
For fostering religious extremism under the guise of freedom.

American Jewish history binds us to the Palestinian cause. We can understand their persecution, we can understand their diaspora, we can understand their struggle to keep their culture alive, and we can understand their desire for self-determination. As we have seen every day since the election, Muslims and Jews are coming together across the country, realizing that we are natural allies, brothers and sisters in the righteous fight against our foes. This alliance will only last if we recognize Israeli oppression and rampant militarism for what it is.

Israelis protest outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv against Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban, January 29, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Israelis protest outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv against Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban, January 29, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

I once had a liberal Israeli politician tell me that while she appreciated Jewish American opinions on Israel, she wished we would stay out of their decisions. It feels like a common Israeli refrain: give us your money and support everything we do, but mind your own business. I was a devoted Zionist all my life. I learned the Israeli national anthem when I was in Kindergarten. I went to a Zionist school. I had my bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. I led Birthright trips. I worked for Zionist organizations. I was taught that Israel was my country. I was taught to give Israel my money.

For a long time, I fought back — demanding that Israel is my country too, and that my voice needed to be heard. In the end, however, I realized that Israel is not my country. The IDF is not my army. The Israeli prime minister is not the king of worldwide Jewry. The Israeli occupation is, however, sustained by American support, largely due to Jewish American pressure.

For one simple reason, young American Jews are turning away from their community’s blind support for Israel and its occupation — it is the right thing to do. When we finally begin to see Israel with clear eyes, we can help it become the country it was meant to be: a haven, not just for Jews but for all, where Jews can practice their autonomy without infringing on the basic human rights of any neighbor.

Michael Sidman is a communications director and writer in New York City. His personal life and career have focused on human rights issues in Israel/Palestine and the United States.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      “And it was our support that led Israel to the brink, where it has left itself with only two choices: be an apartheid state or a fully democratic state with true equal rights for all of its citizens.”, the author states. Here’s Assaf Harel, Israeli TV host, delivering a 5 minute talk explaining that Israel has been an apartheid state for ages:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6q_ODwPT0&feature=youtu.be

      “Israeli TV Host Implores Israelis Wake Up and Smell the Apartheid in Palestine”

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        The hatred did not start with “Israeli apartheid”. Before there ever was “Israeli apartheid” or Baruch Goldsteins or even the Irgun, there were massacres, hatred and terrorism by Palestinian Arabs of Palestinian Jews.

        I really don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that blaming everything on Israel for the situation as it is today is not the answer.

        I also know that people like this remind me of a person sitting on a branch of a very tall tree and furiously sawing the branch of the tree on which they sit while yelling at the top of their voice: “look how righteous I am”.

        I hope it never happens but if people like these get their wish and Israel will stand isolated and defeated, we will just see how even these idealistic do gooders will be treated by the victorious “noble Palestinian Arabs who never put a foot wrong” and never contributed to the mess that exists today.

        As I said, I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that idealistic do gooder dreamers who sit on top of the branch of a tall tree while sawing it off from under themselves, have not got the right answer. The trouble with us the Jewish people is that we over intellectualise everything. Other people when they are in a war, they do everything to win the war. And after they win, good people come forward and do their best to make sure that everyone gets treated fairly. Not before the end of the war though, they don’t worry about such nicities.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          …and the man is wrong. As bad as the Palestinian’s situation is, it is wrong to describe their predicament as apartheid. Otherwise, we may as well describe the situation as apartheid for all wars in which one side or the other is on the losing side and they suffer. The thing is, we never do that. But somehow Israel is different. How dare they be on the winning side at this time? Shame on us for winning and making the “poor Palestinians” suffer while the war has still not ended and the Palestinian Arabs refuse to end it because ending it the way WE want to end it would not leave THEM with the ability to be able to be poised to have another go at us and to try to finish us off. Yea, right, shame on us for being so inconsiderate towards them. Sheeeeesh…

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @AJew (from AnotherJew): When an army wins the war and then proceeds to knock down the other sides civilian housing to make space for its own population, maybe the correct term isn’t ‘apartheid’, but it’s a step in that direction.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Yea yea Bruce. So don’t call it what it isn’t. You are going down the slippery slope.

            Knocking down houses after someone from those house murders Jewish civilians may not be nice. But it is also not nice when one of your loved one is the one who is the one who got murdered. Or doesn’t that matter if that is just “another Jew” and not you?

            You’d be surprised what other (non Jewish) armies did to each other during THEIR ‘life or death’ wars and nobody said as much as bah to them at the time. Much later they may have come forward and repented but that was after they became victors and had a secure peace. In general, winning sides tend to be ruthless in their conduct of the war. Existential wars are not for the faint hearted. The ones who are faint hearted tend to find that victory is hard to come by and at best, the war goes on endlessly. Wars, especially existential wars, were never meant to be a sunday school picnic conducted by the ladies auxiliary. The Arabs seem to know that but some of us don’t. And those some of us do what you people do and give ammunition to our enemies. Hey, you’d be surprised how potent the power of propaganda is!

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            Very few of the home demolitions have anything to do with terrorism. They have to do with territory.

            http://972mag.com/

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            I actually don’t accept that assertion. Most settlements were built on unpopulated crown lands or in places which Jews used to own and live prior to 1948, such as the Jewish quarter of East Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. Places from which Jews were ethnically cleansed by the Arabs in 1948. Jews had every right to return to those places after another war of aggression in 1967 which the Jordanian army lost.

            Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      Basically just a rant with no evidence whatsoever to back it up, and some facially ludicrous claims thrown in for no reason in particular. “American Jewish history binds us to the Palestinian cause.” Ummmm…what? Since when did American Jews fight a war to conquer swaths of the United States and expels its inhabitants? You know the vast majority of Palestinians view Israeli Jews as colonizers and usurpers, and want them physically expelled, right? The BDS mouthpieces who’ve learned to manipulate gullible Western liberals weren’t elected to rule Palestine, Hamas was…

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      This is the latest in a series of odd pieces here which seems to think American Jews, as supposedly “good progressives” are finally going to turn against Israel, once and for all. There was a previous piece that said somehow “progressive” American Jews (the majority) are going to view the head of the Arab list in the Knesset, Odeh, as the one who best represents “progressive” American Jewish views in Israel.
      All of this assumes that American Jews are as hyperpoliticized as the writers and that they spend almost all of their waking moments thinking about Trump, Netanyahu and the Palestinians. This, of course, is nonsense. Few people in the world spend their time thinking about politics, and most people in the world, including the Arab countries, care about Israel, the Palestinians and the settlements in a political sense, just as they don’t care about how their Arab/Muslim brothers are slaughtering each other in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc.
      Same with American Jews. While it is true, that American Jews identify less and less with Israel, this has NOTHING to do with any particular policies Israel is following. It is simple indifference due to assimilation. Just last week, the Conservative movement passed a new regulation accepting intermarriage. These intermarried families are not going to identify with Israel nor do they pay much attention to what is happening there. There, of course, is a precedent. It was the same during the supreme crisis of European Jewry in World War II. Most American Jews sat on their hands and did nothing, fearing that speaking up would prevent a few wealthy Jews from joining prestigious non-Jewish country clubs.

      The idea that since most American Jews oppose Trump, means that they are going to hate Netanyahu who is friendly with Trum,, and since they hate Netanyahu, they are going to oppose Israel and thus they are going to view Odeh as their spokesmen for American “progressive” Jewish views in Israel (assuming that they have no problem with Odeh’s fellow Islamic Knesset members views on LG.., women’s rights, religious pluralism, etc) is fanciful.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      I am chocked by the title of this opinion piece. An assimilated Jew in the USA intends to give us lessons of democracy. He would be happy if Jews did not make alya. I think that some American (and Israeli) leftists went nuts.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      This is a remarkably powerful, articulate, comprehensive statement by Michael Sidman. Bookmark this page. Refer to it to orient yourselves every time you see American Jews being silenced and alienated and marginalized by Jewish institutions.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Well, any Hebrew-illiterate, Judaism-ignorant, intermarried, feminist, assimilated American “Jews” are welcome to join BDS / PLO. Everyone has a right to be a Cuckoo Leftist and I defend their right. Good riddance.

        Reply to Comment
    6. AJew

      “perceived enemies (Palestinians and their supporters) – ….”

      So Palestinian Arabs and their supporters are not REALLY our enemies? They are JUST our “PERCEIVED enemies”?

      Okay dokey… why didn’t we realise it? Hey quick, tell Hamas (well over 50% of Palestinian Arabs either sympathise or fully support Hamas), quick, tell them that they are not really the enemies of Israel. I don’t think Hamas has been informed either. They too seem to think that they are our enemies…

      …and why stop there? Tell the PLO too. They too seem to have in their charter our destruction despite promising to remove it years ago to Clinton. The fact that our destruction is still in their charter kinda makes me think that they too are not too friendly to us. And that pesky peace deal which they constantly postpone by refusing to even negotiate, that too kinda makes me think that we are still in a state of war with them and that we are in fact kinda enemies … especially since they still try to kill us at every opportunity …. you know… random stabbings… car rammings …. shootings…. and rewarding the families of “martyrs” for murdering Israelis. Not to mention the praise which the PA heaps on those “poor, poor martyrs who we manage to jail or eliminate after they murder Israeli Jews… that’s kinda enemy like unless I am mistaken?

      … oh but wait… the supporters of the Palestinians, surely THEY at least are not our enemies? Let me mull on it for a micro second… yea they are. Anyone who wants to institute a boycott on a country are not too friendly are they? I mean let’s not quibble, they are our enemies.

      …and yes, Benny baby, please page mark this article. Cherish it and be proud of it. I am not surprised that someone like you is besotted by it. It is soooooo you, Benny, enjoy it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Every sentence speaks truth. It really is a remarkable hitting on all points of obfuscation by the right wing. Point after point. Not a wasted sentence. Bravo, Mr. Sidman.

        To the sins we ask forgiveness for at Yom Kippur add this:

        For the sin which we have sinned against You, we say on Yom Kippur, for the sin of tzadi’at ra, of hostile intention, of wicked scheming, of taking advantage of a neighbor who has less power, or is more trusting, or has no defense.
        http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/a-special-place-in-hell/a-message-for-jews-in-a-charred-mosque-at-yom-kippur-1.388534

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Gotcha, Benny, I understand you loud and clear. WE are their enemies but they are NOT our enemies. They never have been, right? Sheeeeesh…..

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “For the sin which we have sinned against You, we say on Yom Kippur, for the sin of tzadi’at ra, of hostile intention”

            You got that one wrong too Benny as you do everything else. That word of yours does not mean what you claim it means. Stop trying to show off your non existent knowledge about Judaism. You just come across as an ignoramus.

            Reply to Comment
    7. david platt

      Peter if you say Israeli’s are not racist then stand up and voice it by not blindly supporting an apartheid government

      Reply to Comment
      • Sparks

        What apartheid government?
        Not Israel . Maybe the HAmas government in Gaza???

        Reply to Comment
    8. ESLombard

      Husseini had been Hitler’s guest during the war and encouraged him to believe that the Nazis would destroy the Palestinian Jews. He expected that with the armies of the Arab League members, Husseini used the occasion of Israel’s Independence to attack without necessary planning.
      Finally, my point is that all these events suggest that the Palestinian Arabs were in colusion to destroy Israel. Why are we so gullible as to treat the Arab League and Palestinians as though they’d been on our side and why are we treating several generations of Palestinians as though they had been on our side and why should we buy the contrived saga of suffering Palestinians ? What are we guilty of?

      Reply to Comment