The Israeli Right Versus Global Judaism

Last month, when Yair Netanyahu, son of Israel’s Prime Minister himself, posted anit-Semitic content on Facebook, the entire world watched. The picture in question, which used neo-Nazi imagery and targeted notable Jews like George Soros and Ehud Barak, forced The Anti-Defamation League into the peculiar position of having to criticize one of the most influential families in the global Jewish community. Haaretz ran an op-ed declaring that a permanent split had formed between American and Israeli Jews. Neo-Nazis reveled in the incident, declaring Yair “a total bro.” Ehud Barak himself wondered what Yair had heard in his own household to drive such opinions.

One need only look to Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements for the answer. As political battles over his corruption charges have grown, the prime minister of Israel has launched a number of tirades against liberal Jews, and Soros in particular. These attacks on Soros feed into anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe, where the Hungarian government has engaged in an effort to shutter Soros’ Central European University. Prime Minister Netanyahu also caught fire when a recording revealed him complaining that “the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish.”

When the Netanyahu family invokes anti-Semitic canards, they don’t see themselves as attacking Jews as a whole, but rather American, liberal Jews. Indeed, Yair Netanyahu’s infamous post originated on an Israeli Facebook page. The aggression towards liberal and diaspora Jewish communities represents a growing schism within the broader whole of the Jewish people.

American Jews fight for Israel’s legitimacy and security. Synagogues, temples and social organizations like Hillel constantly highlight Israel’s needs, all while attempting to explain the often draconian foreign policy of the Israeli state. They host all manner of Israeli speakers, especially soldiers, who they make the center of attention, and borrow liberally from Israeli pop culture with lessons in Hebrew and extensive use of Mizrahi (Mid-Eastern Jewish) pop music. The front-and-center nature of Israel in American Jewish life has yielded frequent complaints form non-Zionist Jews.

At the same time, American Jews have expectations. American Jews want Israel to reflect western and liberal values, the kind that the global Jewish community has long fought for. These include racial tolerance, economic equality, human rights and religious pluralism. In many ways, the American Jews defend attacks on Israel primarily because these attacks so often extend to the broader Jewish people. The increasingly influential conservative faction of Israelis sees all these values as a contradiction to security.

Increasingly, American Jews express their frustration at the ongoing occupation in the West Bank, of the high civilian death tolls in Gaza Wars, of far-right politicians’ dominance and all manner of other public relations fiascos surrounding the Jewish state. Though Jewish organizations explain these under the umbrella of Israel’s unique security situation, they also worry that the world will not care, or that Israel will fail to sufficiently justify its actions unless the global Jewish community makes its own voice heard.

This concern exists because Israel’s legitimacy is tied to the American Jewish community’s own sense of legitimacy. Myths of Jewish crimes have historically prompted violence against unconnected Jewish communities, and prior to the State of Israel, the Jewish condition of statelessness made them an easy target, since they had no government to defend them. As such, to many American Jews, Israel is an apparatus that protects them.

This means that, in the eyes of many frustrated Israelis, when Israel endures tribulations, it endures them because of the American Jews. Israeli culture, famously aggressive and tense, came forth from a shibboleth of perpetual war, in which a stable, modern state was carved out through extensive force, and extensive force is used to keep it in place, and sweep the discontents under the rug. Every Israeli is a soldier, in that every Israeli is born, lives and dies within the paradigm of prolonged conflict with no solution in sight. They exist in this condition in order to protect the diaspora.

The perception, essentially, is that Israel exists for the sake of American Jews, at the behest of American Jews. Although the diaspora community idolizes the Israeli state on a cultural level, it also makes demands of it without giving much in return. Chief among these is the demand that Israel act like a first-world nation, despite the fact that it exists in a third-world environment. It’s these sensitivities that a growing contingent of Israelis reject. After all, the American Jews demand that they live under these conditions, without experiencing them firsthand.

Haaretz did not err in pointing out the schism between the two communities; different concerns and value systems have formed. Repairing this relationship will take dialogue; more than anything, the denizens of the communities must learn to respect each other’s needs and difficulties, and recognize why the schism has developed. This means avoiding reactionary politics, and acknowledging the undeniable connection between the camps. After all, their fates are intertwined.

Of course, you can say the exact same thing about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, too.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

The Israeli Right Versus Global Judaism

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