While many have taken note of the changing politics of Israel, particularly the creep towards political control by the far right. The effect of a changing Israel on American Jews had gone mostly unnoticed.
American Jews, of varying political perspectives, are typically unified on supporting the Jewish state and the need for a strong partnership between the US and Israel. A partnership perhaps best epitomized in the extremely powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) where politicians and civic leaders of both parties make pilgrimages to express their intense support for Israel and America’s continued alliance with it.
But now things have changed. American Jews have fractured on their views on Israel with some casting a thoroughly skeptical eye towards Israel’s current political establishment. According to the Associated Press Israel is no longer a cause that unifies American Jews.
Once a unifying cause for generations of American Jews, Israel is now bitterly dividing Jewish communities.
Jewish organizations are withdrawing invitations to Jewish speakers or performers considered too critical of Israel, in what opponents have denounced as an ideological litmus test meant to squelch debate. Some Jewish activists have formed watchdog groups, such as Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, or COPMA, and JCC Watch, to monitor programming for perceived anti-Israel bias. They argue Jewish groups that take donations for strengthening the community shouldn’t be giving a platform to Israel’s critics.
This new division is best exemplified by a recent Pew Research Center survey in which only 38 percent of American Jews believe the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace with the Palestinians. In other words, a majority of American Jews do not believe the Netanyahu government is an honest broker in the peace talks being conducted by the Obama Administration.
The skepticism of political leadership in Israel combined with a raging battle over free speech at home is dividing the American Jewish community. The gaining prominence of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement is only exacerbating the divisions as American Jewish organizations are sometimes swayed to dis-invite speakers who have expressed support for BDS or even just been open to BDS – causing a backlash among critics who claim they are being silenced and denied free speech.
The crackdown on hearing opposing views by some organizations may be backfiring and solidifying opposition to the current Israeli posture on peace talks. If the divisions deepen and expand within even the Jewish community on Israel, the US government may not be so vigilant in standing with Israel’s every move on the world stage. The results of that new dynamic are hard to predict, though it could lead to a more restrained use of military force by the Israeli government, something many would welcome.