American Jews & Israel
Not too much importance should be attached to the coldness of the Jewish Federation operatives towards Netanyahu. A large majority of these people are what Professor Jacob Neusner has called "the circumcised wing of the Democratic Party" and the quintessential examples of people who think that they continue to be Jews by taking up the liberal line of the moment. Typically, one of the prominent figures in the General Assembly discussion groups was the professor-journalist Leonard Fein, whose columns in the Jewish Forward alternate between singing the virtues of Arafat, whom he was perfectly thrilled to meet, and speculating over whether Netanyahu is "merely incompetent or is he instead actually evil?" (Both, he concluded.)
American Jewish supporters of Peace Now policy (to say nothing of American Jews who organize and march in PLO parades) will never, no matter how much Netanyahu acquiesces in Arafat's demands, no matter how "concessive" he is, actively support a Likud government. They will continue to praise the Clinton administration as "the most pro-Israel ever" without noting the obvious fact that he could very easily be "pro-Israel" while Israel had a government which adopted in its entirety the ancient State Department nostrums for resolving "the Arab-Israeli conflict," and that any other president, including George Bush, would under such circumstances have seemed equally "pro-Israel." Clinton has, of course, been noticeably less friendly to Netanyahu than he was to Rabin and Peres. Indeed, there is no particular political reason why a Democratic administration should bend its own policies to accommodate Israel when it knows that American Jews are (just as they were during the Holocaust when Roosevelt adhered doggedly to the policy of "rescue through victory" as the only hope for Europe's Jews) the party's most automatic supporters and that the majority of them are far more concerned about such "Jewish" desiderata as free access to abortion than about Jewish rights in Jerusalem. (The only "Jewish" demonstration outside the Republican convention in San Diego last year was by Hadassah women critical of the GOP's policy on abortion.) Neither can Netanyahu hope to win the loyalty of all those Reform and Conservative leaders who resent the second-class status to which their denominations are consigned in Israel.
Where then will Netanyahu's American Jewish support come from when he finally decides that the Oslo process has brought Israel to the brink of disaster? Perhaps the most worrisome fact for the Netanyahu government in the events I have described was that most of the demonstrators on his behalf were Christians and that many of the Jews in the ostensibly supportive group were
sense of solidarity with Israel than the belief that Netanyahu represents anything better than what the Israeli writer Steven Plaut calls "Oslo Lite." These people had a rough time of it during the Rabin-Peres tenure. Having supported the government of Israel for decades, regardless of which party was in power, they found themselves, in the wake of the Oslo accords, spurned, scorned,
and mocked by rulers "which knew not Joseph." After Rabin's embrace of Arafat, Israeli consular officials in America began to ingratiate themselves with the very American Jews who had always done their best to blacken Israel's image. Peres' right-hand man, Yossi Beilin, told American Jews that their money was neither wanted nor needed, unless they were willing to contribute it to the PLO.
And the petted intellectuals of Labor's left wing and Meretz parties, like A. B. Yehoshua, had told American Jews that neither their money nor their political support nor their immigration (unless somehow they could qualify as Hebrew-speaking gentiles) was wanted.
The long-range effects of the last Labor-Meretz government upon Israel's most dedicated (and often most religiously observant) American Jewish supporters should not be underestimated. The willingness of that government readily to offer up to the Arabs Hebron, Bethlehem,
the Golan Heights, and even east Jerusalem fully revealed for the first time the decay of the Zionist ideology that had built the state. American Jews unfamiliar with the writings of Israeli intellectuals like Oz, Elon, Grossman, and Yehoshua suddenly recognized the extent and intensity of the hatred of the Israeli left for traditional Jews, a hatred reflected in the appointment of someone like Shulamit Aloni as Minister of Education, and reflected in numerous government policies specifically directed to undoing the Jewish national character of the state. These long-range effects will, of course, be politically harmful to Israel's interests, but they may include one positive element. They may have forced American Jews to reflect upon the fact that the "Jewishness" based upon support for Israel has been no more successful in sustaining American Jewish life than the Jewishness based upon memory of the Holocaust--if the epidemic proportion of Jewish marriage to unconverted gentiles and a suicidally low birth rate may be taken as valid indications of a people's loss of the will to live.
With the surprise election of Netanyahu, "right-wing" American Jews felt a new rush of enthusiasm and momentarily put out of their minds the extent to which
September 1997 - 5 - Outpost