An Update on Israel and American Jewry on Israel Independence Day 2014

Monday evening begins Israel Independence Day-Yom Haatzmaut- which is preceded by Israel Memorial Day-Yom Hazikaron. What I write below is not a celebratory piece, but an attempt to frame recent events taking place recently regarding Israel and American Jewry’s relationship to it. I regularly read a variety of media outlets that cover Israel and thought it would be good to share some of the links that help shed light on what is going on. Israel as usual is a contentious subject, but the Jewish State is an amazingly engaging subject. These pieces below will inform and energize the reader. Feel welcome to send comments to the blog, but please no flame throwing.


In the recent couple of weeks there has been important news coming out of Israel and the American Jewish community that might be off the radar for many of us in Alaska. It appears that the Kerry driven peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have collapsed. The US is now taking a “pause” to reassess. Last week Kerry gave an off the record talk which created controversy with his use of the word “apartheid” to describe a future scenario in Israel. (Click on the report from the Daily Beast to hear what happened: Link   Kerry got intense push back for his comments and later apologized. However, the A word is everywhere now. I recommend this blog piece by Jeffrey Goldberg with background on the A word in reference to Israel. Link


As Goldberg points out the A word is very sloppily applied by those arguing from differing points of view. However, the word is has been used by some Israeli leaders as a warning and by the respected Israeli writer, Ari Shavit, in his observation about Israel’s future choices in its relationship to the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.


“Will the Jewish state dismantle the Jewish settlements or will the Jewish settlements dismantle the Jewish state? There are only 4 paths (for Israel) from this junction: Israel as a criminal state that carries out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. Israel as an apartheid state; Israel as a binational state; or Israel as a Jewish democratic state retreating with much anguish to a border dividing the land.” Ari Shavit’s The Promised Land


The fury over Kerry’s remarks preceded a decision in the American Jewish community that may be portentous. The

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations rejected the application of J Street to join this important Jewish organizational umbrella group. J Street is a new Jewish lobby in Washington DC that calls itself “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” It offers itself as an alternative to the very well established Israel lobby, AIPAC.   To get background and to appreciate the importance of this controversy, check out these links:


Here is some good reporting on what happened at the meeting where J-Street’s application was rejected. Link


Here was the resulting outcry from the liberal Jewish organizations and liberal religious movements:

Link 1-A good piece that describes the possible fall out of the decision.

Link 2-from the Conservative Movement Rabbinic Leaders with an interesting piece on how hard it is now for Rabbis to talk about Israel to their congregations.

Link 3-a very interesting piece in the New Republic on the diverging paths of Israel and American Jewry



In this last piece listed, I quote from the author. He speaks about Israel’s rightward shift which is in contrast to American Jewry’s leftward shift and the consequences of this lack of symmetry.


“And an American Jewish community that will support Israel even if it chooses to lose its democratic character rather than its Jewish character will ultimately lose the next generations of American Jews, who will simply turn away in disgust from a state that represents a Judaism that cannot be squared with the rest of their identity.”


I already see the trend the author predicts. It will only intensify if current trends continue.


My position is to support a two state solution, but I remain sober about reaching that goal given the very difficult history of this idea since the beginning of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Jeffrey Goldberg has a very helpful piece on the tragic history of the idea which is required reading for those who want to appreciate why this conflict is so difficult to resolve: Link


The J Street Controversy is another indication of the polarization within the Jewish community on Israel that reflects the general trend toward polarization in American political dialogue. I conclude with an alternative approach that might be attractive for those who have a wide view of the conflict. Read Ari Shavit’s piece that appeared in the New Republic this week. Link   This is not going to make you jump up and down, but it has a lot of wisdom on what is possible.


May these points of view give you a deeper understanding of what is unfolding or at least give you an appreciation of the difficult decisions ahead for those involved in Israeli and Jewish public affairs. Happy Israel Independence Day and may we remember all those who have given their lives to preserve and protect the Jewish State.

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