by: Jeremy Sher on February 1st, 2016 | 3 Comments »
In the cold light of January, Israeli and American progressives have awoken to a harsh new reality, in which right-wing interests have gained power and are preparing for permanent war. How did we get here? Like a couple who have been stressed by circumstances and who suddenly realize the sheets are cold, Israeli and American Jewish progressives linger awake in bed, talking past each other. But at least we’ve finally started talking.
Israeli pundit Chemi Shalev of Haaretz first broke the silence. Feeling cornered by the right and unsupported by the left, Shalev articulates “the cries of anguish emanating from Israel’s peace camp.” He takes his frustration out on American progressive Jews themselves: “By staying silent, by refraining from the kind of forceful, game-changing protest that the current situation warrants, American Jews are not only abandoning like-minded Israelis, they are betraying Israel itself.”
And just like that, we’re finally talking. But to show how little communication we American and Israeli progressives have ever had in our cold romance, Shalev seems totally unfamiliar with the barriers American Jews have faced for decades. Shalev’s words suggest that he thinks American Jews have been “staying silent,” not protesting the ascendancy of the right. To be sure, this accusation is quite false. As an activist with nearly 20 years’ experience in American Jewish progressive advocacy on Israel, starting here at Tikkun when I co-founded a Politics of Meaning chapter in Boston, I think most of my grassroots colleagues would agree that we’ve been tiring ourselves out to make modest tactical gains every so often, like the Iran deal. American Jewish progressives have stared down opprobrium and ostracism in our own communities, unsure exactly how to help but unwilling to let the right wing get away with its claim to represent us. Our efforts have not yet succeeded in turning the tide, so Shalev’s frustration is understandable, but his accusation is misinformed.