Israel will never be a bipartisan issue again because Jews are divided
By Philip Weiss
The prayers of the Israel lobby are united today on one hope. That with the end of Trump’s extreme pro-Israel, pro-Netanyahu policies, we will return to a period of “normalcy” in which both political parties happily support the “two-state solution” and bottomless aid to Israel even as it swallows more territory. Israel will stop being a “political football,” as the liberal Zionist group J Street implores. “For Kamala, Israel isn’t a political football,” Douglas Emhoff, Kamala Harris’s Jewish husband promised, per Democratic Majority for Israel.
Or as AIPAC says: “Whatever other issues divide us, America stands with Israel.”
Can they do it? Can the Israel lobby patch itself back together and speak with one voice to Democrats and Republicans? I don’t think so. The Israel lobby is divided forever, because the Jewish community is divided on the Israel question, and that divide will continue to spur political debate.
American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Biden (about 3 to 1). Most of those Biden Jews also surely support Israel. But it’s not like there’s any unity between American Jews and Israeli ones. Israeli Jews supported Trump by three to one. “I believe the bonds between the people and the United States and the people of Israel are unbreakable and we can never let anyone drive a wedge between us,” Kamala Harris told the American Jewish Committee last year, but those bonds are being broken by Jews themselves.
That fracture reflects the deep divisions inside the American Jewish community.
On the right are the pro-Trump Jews, many of them orthodox, who support anything Netanyahu does, and who helped Trump win Florida. They are backed up by Christian evangelicals; and also by giant American donors. Three big Republican donors (Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson and Bernard Marcus) will continue to foster pro-Netanyahu, anti-Iran stances inside the Republican Party that will determine U.S. policy for 2-1/2 months and will soon characterize the opposition to Biden in the Congress.
Mike Pompeo, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton — will all compete to be standard-bearers for the pro-Israel right in Republican Party.
The mass of Jews who voted Democratic are represented by a range of mainstream pro-Israel organizations like J Street, the ADL, Israel Policy Forum, even AIPAC, all of which strive for or give lip service to the “two-state solution.”
But this cycle has seen the rise of a young progressive Jewish camp on the left. J Street’s survey of Jewish voters shows that more than one in five American Jewish voters under 40 support boycotting Israel– the same delegitimization that Kamala Harris, whom those Jews voted for — told the AJC she is dedicated to fighting.
The two organizations that represent Israel-critical Jews, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, both back up Israel’s biggest critics in the House of Representatives: Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Betty McCollum and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These are the same Democratic representatives that Democratic Majority for Israel and the American Jewish Committee always tell us are just a fringe. But that contingent has been enlarged by this election, by likely three members.
Today IfNotNow is rallying its following in defense of Raphael Warnock, one of the two Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia, from smearing over the fact that he criticized Israel for human rights abuses from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
IfNotNow is also trying to discredit AIPAC over its acceptance of Trump– “AIPAC belongs in the dustbin of history, along with Trump” — and trying to excommunicate the Republican Jewish Coalition, the leading pro-Israel group in that party, for standing by Trump:
They should have no place at any Jewish communal tables ever again.
And I remember when it was just the rightwing Jews that tried to do the excommunicating!
Of course the young Jews don’t have a lot of power inside the Jewish community. If they did, Raphael Warnock would not have issued a five-page statement saying that he stands with Israel and supports the munificent US aid to Israel, and characterizing the BDS campaign as antisemitic. Warnock disavowed his earlier statements because he needs to raise money and the older Jewish community is key.
But liberal Zionists are keenly aware of IfNotNow’s presence. (It’s their children, after all.) J Street regards IfNotNow as the communal future, and it has thrown in with Warnock’s defense, surely because Trumpism is a greater threat than any concern about Warnock’s views on Israel.
J Street is also publicizing the American Jewish contempt for Netanyahu, 61 unfavorable to 31 favorable, saying his favorability has “plummeted” among Jews from his speech to Congress against the Iran deal to his “embrace of Trump and Trumpism.”
Trump was able to shatter the U.S. consensus in Mideast foreign policy because he had that 31 percent behind him– led by Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson. That rightwing alliance is not going away. “Netanyahu could again seek to grandstand in the US Congress against the policies of a Democratic president,” Yossi Alpher of Americans for Peace Now says of the Biden administration. Yes, imagine how that would go down!
This is not a picture of unity, it’s disarray. The American Jews don’t like the Israeli Jews, the liberal Jews don’t like the Orthodox Jews, and the left wing American Jews are trying to excommunicate the rightwing ones.
These divides will only get rawer, and the loss of bipartisanship is a loss of power. The day is not that far away when mainstream Democratic politicians will stop talking about the two-state solution and start talking about standing up for the rights of the oppressed.
DISTRIBUTED BY PAJU (PALESTINIAN AND JEWISH UNITY)