Over the past decade, the Jewish establishment leadership in America – with the exception of the Orthodox, the Zionist Organization of America, and other small groups – has failed to speak up in defense of Israel and imposed a curtain of silence. This became blatantly evident during the presidency of Barack Obama, who diplomatically related to Israel as a rogue state, employing moral equivalence toward Israeli defenders and victims and Palestinian terrorists.
Much of the hostility to Israel within the Democratic Party can be attributed to the passiveness of non-Orthodox American Jews – a byproduct of the Jewish illiteracy of younger generations. Many of these consider support for social radicalism to be a far higher priority than support for Israel.
Mainstream Jewish leadership has of late failed to castigate those “non-Jewish Jews” who misrepresent Judaism by assuming leading roles in the hysterical partisan war against US President Donald Trump. Some even assert that Jewish groups endorsing the right of their members to promote anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions should not necessarily be left out of the “big tent.”
Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agitation has become endemic on most university campuses, discouraging Jews from identifying themselves and disrupting the few pro-Israel spokesmen from presenting their case.
With the election of Trump, these trends accelerated to such an extent that support for Israel by the majority of Jews can no longer be taken for granted.
Despite his weaknesses and a tendency to be confrontationist, Trump has supported Israel more than any past American president. He has also adopted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power.
Even considering that the majority of American Jews have traditionally supported the Democrats, it is incomprehensible that they stand out as the most anti-Trump minority in the nation. The fact that Trump’s daughter converted and is an observant Jew and that he has surrounded himself with Jews has not inhibited Jewish Democrats from defaming him with false claims of anti-Semitism and racism.
Compounding this, non-Orthodox Jews tend not to convey their partisan hysteria as individual Americans but rather frame their protests in a Jewish context, employing distorted ideological rationales such as comparing Trump’s restrictive immigration rules to Nazi policies and migrant detention centers to concentration camps, and using Holocaust-related slogans like “Never again.”
Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and non-Orthodox religious leaders, which in the past avoided adopting partisan political positions, openly display bias against Trump, concentrating on right-wing anti-Jewish outbursts for which they blame him and downplay widespread leftist and Islamic anti-Semitism.
One byproduct of this has been the dramatic erosion of bipartisan congressional support for Israel. Democratic radicals sense weakness and division among Jews, who now tolerate those within their own ranks who condemn Israel’s ongoing “occupation” and promote BDS.
Three extreme anti-Israel radicals – Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – won office in the recent congressional elections. In addition to intense anti-Israel rhetoric, their outright anti-Semitic outbursts include justifications of terrorism, support for BDS, allegations that American Jews held dual loyalties, and denunciations of Israel for “evil doings” and having “hypnotized the world.”
Despite this, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib to both the House Oversight Committee – the most important investigative body – and the Financial Services Committee. Omar was given a spot on the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee. The protest against these appointments was led by Trump with the Jewish establishment initially remaining silent.
The issue exploded when, a day after having passionately promoted BDS, Tlaib and Omar requested entry visas to Israel. Initially, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer indicated that their requests would be approved, but two weeks later, the government flip-flopped and rejected their applications.
The subsequent tension with the Democrats was only partially eased when Tlaib’s appeal on humanitarian grounds to visit her 90-year-old grandmother was granted, subject to her not engaging in BDS activities during her visit. But after receiving approval, following her written undertaking not to engage in such activities, she decided not to accept, citing humiliating conditions.
One cannot refute that Israel had the right to implement its own laws and deny entry to two congresswomen who had been promoting BDS, meeting with Hamas and Hezbollah supporters, engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric, and displaying an itinerary of their “Palestine” trip geared to defame Israel. And if they truly wanted to visit Israel, they could have joined their 41 Democratic colleagues in Congress who, along with 31 Republican congressmen, did so this month.
It should be noted that the sponsor of their proposed visit, Miftah, headed by Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi, is an extremist Palestinian group that has praised suicide bombers, supports BDS and accuses Israel of massacring children. Its website even published an article written by staff member Nawaf al-Zaru alleging that Jews drink the blood of Christians on Passover.
The denial of entry to undesirable foreign government officials by democratic countries has many precedents. The UK denied entry to Menachem Begin in the early 1950s, when he was a Knesset member. Narendra Modi was denied a visa to the US in 2005, when he was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. In 2002, Tarek William Saab, then a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly, was refused entry to the US. Austrian President Kurt Waldheim was banned from entering the US from 1987 until his death in 2007. More to the point, in 2012 the US denied an entry visa to far-right MK Michael Ben-Ari.
It is doubtful if American officials – including Democrats – would agree to grant an entry visa to a parliamentarian who openly supported terrorism against them and was engaged in activity to delegitimize the American government. As far as Israel is concerned, Tlaib and Omar’s pro-BDS sentiments amount to support for Israel’s destruction and their sympathy for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh is support for terror.
After Israel rejected their visa requests, they falsely accused Netanyahu and Trump of silencing them, sharing an image by the infamous cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who placed second in Iran’s “Holocaust Cartoon Competition.”
It is alleged that Israel’s reversal was influenced by Trump, who tweeted that Israel would be displaying weakness if it granted entry to the congresswomen.
Whatever the rationale justifying their exclusion, reversing the initial approval inevitably resulted in a no-win situation. In addition to the excluded pair misrepresenting themselves as martyrs, accusing Israel of racism and denial of freedom of expression, it provided a vehicle for the radicals to unite the Democrats against Israel.
In contrast to previous occasions, most of the 23 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are already on record appeasing the radicals and at best avoiding any reference to Israel.
Even former Vice President Joe Biden, currently the leading contender and considered a moderate, stated, “I will insist on Israel, which I’ve done, to stop the occupation of those territories, period.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently second in the polls, is Jewish and a former kibbutz volunteer. Yet he boycotts AIPAC, condemns Israel for maintaining the “ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” rails against the “occupation,” and sees Netanyahu as part of a “new authoritarian axis.” He undertakes, if elected president, to cut military aid and support from Israel unless it changes its policies.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, third in the polls, clearly stated she was opposed to the “occupation.” More disconcerting is the fact that she appointed Max Berger as her director for progressive partnerships. Berger was a cofounder of the virulent anti-Israel organization IfNotNow and spearheaded Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 defeat of Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. It is unprecedented for a major aspirant to the presidency to have chosen such a rabid anti-Zionist as a key aide.
Nearly all Democratic leaders, and even some Republican friends, condemned Israel’s refusal to grant the visas. A group of Democrats bizarrely sought to initiate a congressional resolution censuring the American and Israeli ambassadors, demonstrating the extent to which even congressional friends of Israel were succumbing to pressure by the radicals.
This also applies to Jews. Almost all the establishment groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, AIPAC, and the American Jewish Committee, joined the pack criticizing Israel. Whether Israel was right or wrong, this was an improper intervention by Jewish mainstream organizations which should have remained silent or at least pointed out the historical precedents.
Although the media has exaggerated and inflamed the situation, the majority of Democrats would still support Israel. Yet wide segments of American Jewry remain silent while the Democratic Party radicals gain increasing influence. Should this trend continue and result in bipartisanship breaking down, this would unquestionably undermine one of the principal pillars of Israeli security.
This is a challenge to American Jewry.
There are still large groups of Orthodox and even secular Jews who remain passionately committed to the Jewish state. What they lack is a national leadership willing to stand up and be counted and not seek to appease the radicals by ignoring the deviants distorting Judaism to promote their political agendas.
Jewish leaders and especially AIPAC must intensify their activities in the Democratic Party, the bulk of which remains supportive of Israel. The party last month explicitly condemned BDS. Even Pelosi, after condemning the Israeli government, stressed that the bipartisan relationship based on shared values and common interests must take priority over temporary political differences.
More importantly, polls show that Israel’s standing with the American public – and not only among evangelical Christians who have emerged as the most powerful political lobby for the Jewish state – is currently at an all-time high.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom