I have always been one of Israel’s greatest supporters. I am a pioneer of private investment in Israeli companies. I have devoted myself to Jewish and pro-Israel causes through the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, Hebrew Union College and other institutions. And I have worked to ensure that US support for Israel remained strong and unwavering. America finds its closest friends among those who share our interests and values, and the relationship between the United States and Israel is no different.
But today, I fear that the special relationship between the United States and Israel is at risk. And I fear that the wellbeing of American Jews is endangered as it hasn’t been since the McCarthy period, when close to a quarter of Americans believed that “most Jews are Communists.”
If the prospects for a “two-state solution” continue to fade because of policies advocated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, which are tacitly if not explicitly supported by the Trump administration, the consequences will be dire. Anti-Semites will be emboldened, our ability to support Israel will be dramatically weakened, and our own capacity to maintain a cohesive Jewish community that plays a critical role in furthering progressive US policy — domestic and foreign — will deteriorate.
As America struggles with a crisis of values at home, we must recognize that there are policy changes in Israel that throw its values into question as well. In many ways, Israel’s democracy is under threat. The attacks on the media and the judiciary, legislation restricting civil liberties and religious pluralism, and Israel’s precipitous slide toward annexation of the West Bank pose an existential threat.
If Israel becomes a non-democratic state in which a Jewish minority rules over a non-Jewish majority, it will be untenable to maintain a commitment to Israel. It won’t diminish my love but it will jeopardize my ability to advocate on behalf of a country that has abandoned the principles that have bound us together.
My support for Israel has always been rooted both in values and in practical considerations. Unlike some of my colleagues on the left and the right, I am not starry-eyed when it comes to Israel. Practically speaking, If Israel maintains control over four million Palestinians, the consequences will be dire:
We are very likely to see a further unleashing of blatant anti-Semitism in the US — in speech and action. The ascendance of President Trump has vitalized racists and anti-Semites. Even more unbelievably, the response of many members of Israel’s ruling coalition has been tepid. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own son went so far as to re-post an anti-Semitic meme on his Facebook page.
Activist groups in the US that support boycotts and sanctions on Israel will be emboldened. Many of our natural political allies, e.g., other minorities, will understandably identify with the Palestinian cause, making it harder for us to form coalitions around domestic issues of deep concern for American Jews.
Public calls by Israeli politicians for American Jews to oppose our own leadership— as was the case when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked us to contest the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration — will increase resentment among Americans and American Jews in particular. The traditional Israeli respect for US Jews’ concerns of being accused of double loyalty (as US citizens and Israel supporters) is now endangered as Israel’s leaders and ask us to choose sides.
A clear majority of retired Israeli generals and their equivalents in the security and intelligence communities have warned against the advent of a “one-state solution,” which translates into a Jewish state that denies democratic rights to at least half its citizens. It’s time for those of us who are on the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activists who are dedicated to a strong US-Israel relationship, and who want to sustain a vital, politically and socially active American Jewish community to do the same.
We must promote programs and policies that recognize the dangerous threats to our interests, as Americans, American Jews and lovers of Israel, before it’s too late.