During a recent speaking tour in Canada, MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) shocked some of his hosts when he said that his primary goal in politics today is to bring down the Netanyahu government. Although indelicate, Shai’s comment was not surprising. Kadima is in the opposition. And like all opposition parties in all parliamentary democracies, the primary goal of its members is to bring down the government so that they can take power.
Given that this is the case, it is unsurprising that until this week, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni tried to blame Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for US President Barack Obama’s hostility towards Israel. Far more newsworthy than her criticism of Netanyahu was her public rebuke of Obama this week for his attempt to strong-arm Israel into barring Jewish construction in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
On Wednesday Livni said, “Gilo is part of the Israeli consensus… and it is important to understand this for all discussions of borders in any future agreement.”
Indeed. There is an Israeli consensus. The Israeli consensus regarding Jerusalem is based among other things on the understanding that no nation can give up its capital city and survive.
Livni wants to be prime minister one day. For that to happen, Israel must survive until she wins an election. And Israel will not long survive if it surrenders its right to its capital.
One might have thought that American Jews could be counted on to stand by Israel on this issue. But then, one would be wrong.
FOR THE past six years, Republican Senator Sam Brownback has repeatedly submitted a bill to the US Senate that, if passed into law, would revoke the presidential waiver that has allowed successive presidents to refuse to implement the 1995 law requiring the State Department to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. This year Brownback co-sponsored his bill with Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman. As luck would have it, the Brownback-Lieberman bill was submitted two weeks before Obama launched his latest campaign against Jewish building in Jerusalem.
In the 1980s and 1990s, American Jews lobbied hard to get the embassy moved to Jerusalem. But now some American Jewish leaders recoil at the very notion. In response to the Brownback-Lieberman Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 2009, the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle published an editorial last Friday titled, “Bad move, Senator Brownback.”
The newspaper’s editors condemned their retiring senator and called his bill, “a cheap, grandstanding move by a conservative Republican on his way out the door, playing to Jews and Christian Zionists while trying to throw a monkey wrench into President Obama’s diplomatic spokes.”
According to Sen. Brownback’s office, the paper never had any criticism of the same bill when he submitted it during president George W. Bush’s tenure in office. But now, as Israel’s government and opposition stand shoulder to shoulder protecting Israeli control over Jerusalem from assaults by Obama, Kansas City’s Jewish newspaper’s editorial board willingly bucked what it acknowledged are the wishes of “Jews and Christian Zionists,” in order to stand by their man in the Oval Office.
Some of Israel’s most high-profile supporters in the US are conservative talk radio and television hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. But rather than thank them for their support, the Anti-Defamation League, which is supposed to be dedicated first and foremost to defending Jews from anti-Semitism, published a special report this week where it insinuated that they cultivate a climate of hatred and paranoia which could endanger Jews among others.
The ADL report, “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” dubbed Beck the “fearmonger-in-chief,” for his opposition to Obama’s domestic and foreign policies. It similarly castigated the so-called “tea party” movement which has attracted millions of Americans opposed to high taxes, and the townhall meetings this past summer where millions of Americans peacefully argued against Obama’s healthcare policies.
The ADL’s decision to issue a special report attacking Obama’s political opponents and insinuating that Americans who oppose him cultivate an environment in which paranoid and dangerous fringe groups feel comfortable operating is strange given that the ADL never put out a similar report against parallel anti-Bush movements. As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin noted this week, the ADL was more likely to see overt and vicious anti-Semitic statements and placards being waved around at anti-Iraq war rallies than at anti-Obama healthcare and tax policy demonstrations.
Ironically, the ADL has a specific institutional interest in combating leftist paranoia. A recent movie attacking the ADL called Defamation, by leftist, anti-Israel Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir, is currently hitting the film festival circuit in the US and Europe. A major hit among anti-Israel activists and regular anti-Semites on the Left and Right, Defamation accuses the ADL of exaggerating the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to justify what Shamir views as its nefarious aims. Apparently, tribal loyalty to the Left trumps the institutional interests of the ADL.
It certainly trumps the interests of New York University’s Hillel director Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. As James Taranto reported on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, this week Sarna called for NYU’s Jewish community to join NYU Muslims at a rally that both commemorated the massacre at Ft. Hood and denounced NYU professor Tunku Varadarajan for writing a column in Forbes magazine. In his article, Varadarajan committed the crime of stating the obvious fact that Ft. Hood terrorist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was motivated by his Islamic beliefs when he shouted Allahu Akbar and shot some 40 people, killing 13.
Given that people and groups like al-Qaida and Hamas that share Hasan’s views assert that all Jews should be killed, it would seem that the good rabbi would not feel the need to attack professors who point out that Hasan’s views are dangerous. But then, it is no longer strange to see Hillels on American university campuses behaving in a manner that is not in line with what might be considered the interests of either the American Jewish community or the Jewish people as a whole.
Take UC Berkeley’s Hillel center, for example. Since Ken Kramarz, Hillel’s regional director for Northern California, started his job in June 2007, Berkeley’s Hillel has adopted a hostile view towards Judaism and Israel. As pro-Israel community activist Natan Nestel notes, in the past year alone, Hillel held a dance party on Yom Hashoah, and it held a Cinco de Mayo barbecue on Remembrance Day for Fallen IDF Soldiers. It has also failed to hold community Seders for the past two years. Instead, last year, its members hung signs in the Hillel building declaring, “Matza sucks.”
Beyond its derogatory treatment of Jewish and Israeli holidays, Berkeley’s Hillel has allowed an extremist group called Students for Justice for Palestine to participate in its organizational meetings.
SJP calls for Israel’s destruction through unlimited Arab immigration. It also advocates for UC Berkeley to divest from Israel. Edgar Bronfman, Hillel’s International Chairman, has characterized SJP umbrella organization as “anti-Israel… anti-Semitic [and] alarming…”
No doubt owing in part to Berkeley Hillel’s decision to permit SJP members to spread their propaganda at its organizational meetings, Hillel’s student leaders and members participated in SJP’s Israel Apartheid Week this past March.
The student meeting that SJP participated in at Berkeley’s Hillel was sponsored by a group called “Kesher Enoshi.”
This group describes itself as “a progressive Jewish community that engages directly with Israeli civil society. We do this by educating ourselves and others about the day-to-day struggles of people in Israel by making direct connections with hu
man rights/social change organizations in Israel, linking their struggles with those on campus and in the wider community, and building a community of active participants in social change in Israel.”
This mission statement, which says nothing about Zionism, sounds an awful lot like the goal of the New Israel Fund. This month, three Arab “civil society” groups supported to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars by the NIF published a poster depicting an IDF soldier touching the breast of an Arab woman with the caption, “Her husband needs a permit to touch her, the occupation penetrates her life every day.”
The poster was issued to publicize a conference in Haifa called “My Land, Space, Body and Sexuality: Palestinians in the Shadow of the Wall,” whose purpose was to demonize Israel using post-modern jargon.
Unlike Hillel, NIF is widely recognized as a far-left fringe group. But as Arab Israeli NGOs use the dollars of American Jewish NIF donors to advance their “civil society” programs aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist, the Reform Movement – which is not a fringe group – decided unanimously two weeks ago to criticize and pressure Israel for what its leadership views as Israel’s unfair treatment of its Arab citizens.
As this column goes to press, if its board members don’t cancel their meeting, the San Francisco Jewish Federation will be grudgingly voting on a resolution that would prohibit it from sponsoring events that denigrate or demonize Israel or supporting organizations that partner with organizations that call for divestment, sanctions or boycotts against Israel.
The resolution follows the Jewish Federation of San Francisco’s decision to co-sponsor the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last summer. That festival featured Shamir’s Defamation, and the egregiously anti-Israel film Rachel, about the late pro-terror activist Rachel Corrie. The film festival was also sponsored by the anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace group, the American Friends Service Committee, which hosted a dinner for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York last year, the Rachel Corrie Foundation and other radical anti-Israel groups.
If the vote takes place, it will be a great victory for a small group of local Jewish activists. These individual Jews have banded together because they are deeply disturbed by the federation’s willingness to use community funds to advance events whose basic message is that Israel should be destroyed.
KADIMA’S INTERESTS as a political party place it at loggerheads with the government on almost every issue. But its leaders this week were rational enough to recognize that they must support Israel’s sovereign rights in Jerusalem despite the fact that doing so placed it on the government’s side. Their display of sanity is a clear indication that Israeli society today is healthy and capable of meeting the challenges it faces.
It is clear that most American Jews believe that it is in their interests to support the Democratic Party and the Left. But like the anti-establishment Jewish activists in San Francisco, American Jews ought to realize that on issues like Israel’s survival and their own survival as Jews they ought to stand by their interests even when they seem to clash with their leftist and Democratic loyalties. And they ought to stand by their friends on these issues, even when their friends are conservative Republicans.
It can only be hoped that the San Francisco pro-Israel upstarts’ campaign against the federation was successful yesterday. Then, too, if the American Jewish community is to long survive, these San Francisco Jewish activists’ demand that their community support Israel’s right to exist must be joined by their fellow American Jews throughout the country.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.