The Changing Politics of Pro-Israel: Pluralism In Jewish America–by Ayala Emmett

The Changing Politics of Pro-Israel: Pluralism In Jewish America
Ayala Emmett

The Conference of Presidents denying J Street membership met with a strong response supporting J Street’s rightful place in an organization that claims to represent Jewish America in all its diversity. The Conference decision and the swift response produced a hot and an unusually public debate. The debate uncovered the politics of pro-Israel in which the powerful right wing of the Conference has been holding a monopoly on the right to decide which Jewish position is pro-Israel. This time, however, monopoly met pluralism: there was an official/public pushback by powerful members of the Conference, the Reform and Conservative branches of American Judaism and a threat from the Reform to withdraw altogether.

The outcry against the Conference decision to reject J Street has exposed a powerful hegemonic narrative, a monopoly on what constitutes a pro-Israel position. The Conference, dominated by right wing members, seized the right to define who is or isn’t pro-Israel depending on whether or not the person/organization/group supported the ideology of a Greater Israel, that is, a state that includes the West Bank and Gaza

A Greater Israel politics comes with its linguistic terminology of referring to Palestinian land beyond the 1967 borders as Judea and Samaria; this use of biblical names is

meant to establish a legitimacy that uproots the word “occupation” or “occupied territories” from the discourse. The term occupation that describes a fact on the ground has been in use until a few years ago. With the growing dominance of the Greater Israel politics the word occupation has been expunged, not from the reality of daily Palestinian life, but from public/political terminology, as Governor Chris Christi has learned not too long ago.

Contrary to the Conference of Presidents’ current claim that American Jewry needs to support the Israeli government’s policies, in the past when the government acted in ways that the Conference opposed, like the Oslo agreement, or Sharon’s disengagement from the Gaza strip, the Conference withheld its support.

The silencing of a pro-peace position in the Conference of Presidents that was evident during Oslo got traction since the assassination of Prime-Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The impact of this brutal murder, which intended to stop a two states agreement and the silencing of Yitzhak Rabin’s peace position cannot be underestimated.

Rabin’s assassination has not produced, in Israel or in the Jewish American community, a national/collective self-reflection on the dangerous political climate that vilified Rabin before and after his death. A post-Rabin era shifted the official political direction away from a peace agreement and emboldened a Greater Israel position. In Israel and in the Jewish American community it was marked by disparaging not only Rabin, but any pro-peace and two-states politics and slandered anyone who spoke for a peace position.

A Greater Israel politics took refuge under its own self-created narrative of “there is no partner on the other side.” This very narrative in turn gave rise to a mushrooming of settlements and bolstered

settlers’ violation of Palestinian human rights with impunity.

Despite the dominance of a Greater Israel position in Israel and in major Jewish American organizations like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents, peace and a two-states agreement politics have not disappeared.

A pro-Israel pro-peace and two states position was expressed by smaller yet committed groups like Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and the Israel Policy Forum. In the face of much opposition, these groups kept a strong public voice for peace. They nurtured and supported a young generation in the Jewish community who promoted pluralism on college campuses. The objection to the Conference’s decision indicates the impact that these groups have made on a growing public support for a pro Israel peace position in the political sphere.

Indeed, J Street, at the center of the Conference of Presidents storm, has emerged in the last few years as a powerful political group. At the national level it has been acknowledged by the current administration and has gained a growing appeal in the Jewish community and most visibly among young Jewish students on college campuses and in the emergence of Open Hillel.

The PEW report has recently identified major

shifts within the younger generation of Jewish America in support of pluralism. These changes are highly significant not only for Jewish life here, but for future support for Israel as well. These new directions indicate a public recognition of the right of Jews (and non-Jews) in Israel and in America to state that a pro peace and a two states agreement is what they would advocate as the best politics for Israel’s future.