For the last two decades, the largest and most influential Jewish institutions in the United States have publicly supported the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, otherwise known as the two-state solution. From communal entities, such as the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), to political lobbying organizations, such as AIPAC, support for the two-state solution has been a consistent, publicly-articulated dogma.
This support has also been in line with both U.S. foreign policy directives and the majority opinion of those American Jews (seven in ten) who are either emotionally or politically invested in Israel.
However, over the last several months, major U.S. Jewish institutions have, one-by-one, revealed their effective endorsement of a one-state solution, moving away from U.S. interests as well as those of their constituents. This began subtly over the summer, when in June Israel chose its latest President, Reuven Rivlin, a right-wing, one-state proponent whose ideas on bi-nationalism and democracy are complicated. Oddly, not a single major Jewish institution in favor of two states expressed concern over or spoke out against the decision.
Now, perhaps Jewish leaders didn’t find the presidency to be important enough to merit comment, being a symbolic position. Or perhaps they foresaw that Rivlin would unexpectedly become a leading voice in Israel slamming widespread racism against Arabs, calling its society “sick” and in need of treatment. Interestingly, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, published an open letter to Rivlin expressing concern upon his election. However, it wasn’t concern for Rivlin’s one-state vision which was the topic, but rather Rivlin’s disdain for progressive streams of Judaism.
Whatever the reason, Jewish institutions’ silence over Rivlin could have naively been viewed as an anomaly. However, soon after Rivlin’s appointment, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, explicitly rejected the two-state solution on July 11, saying that Israel could never relinquish sovereignty over the West Bank. Once again, not one major Jewish organization supporting two states said a word, much less condemned Netanyahu’s position. Perhaps this silence, as with Rivlin, could also have been excused, as Israel was in the midst of its “war” with Gaza, and Jewish leaders had circled the wagons in support.
Acceptance for Israel’s One-State Vision
Unfortunately, this pattern of silence over the summer was an indication of things to come — an indication that U.S. Jewish institutions have either begrudgingly or contentedly decided to quietly shift their support to the unmistakable one-state vision growing within Israel. In essence, most major Jewish organizations have decided that “support” for Israel now officially trumps their once-vivid two-state dreams.
Why do I say this? Over the past four months, frequent statements have been made by top Israeli politicians either supporting a single state or explicitly rejecting Palestinian statehood. And aside from rare voices on the left supporting two states, such as Americans for Peace Now, Jewish organizations have given unflinchingly silent support.
A perfect example occurred just ten days ago, when Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, rejected the idea of solving Israel’s conflict via the formation of a Palestinian state, instead revealing that Israel’s government was only interested in maintaining Israel’s interests, whatever the result.
How did major Jewish institutions purportedly in favor of the two-state solution react? The same way they have over the last four months, with silent nods. And it’s not as though Jewish institutions in America are averse to speaking out. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella outfit housing every large (two-state) Jewish institution in the U.S., has in the past four months spoken out about the following: concern over the U.N.-led investigation into Israel’s Gaza assault, criticism of Hamas, and approval for Iran sanctions (not to mention sorrow over Joan Rivers’ passing and anti-Semitism on college campuses). It also recently hosted an Israel Solidarity assembly, in which not one word of concern was uttered over one-statism in Israel, and even hosted the aforementioned one-state champion, President Rivlin. No, I’m not kidding.
Here’s the kicker: there has been no shortage of outrage and chest-thumping by major Jewish organizations over the BDS Movement, a nonviolent boycott movement against Israel which has an implicit bi-national, one-state vision, and which is gaining acceptance in the progressive Jewish community. Consensus in the institutional Jewish community is that BDS seeks to “destroy” Israel with its bi-national vision, and most organizations have developed “red lines” which effectively exile anyone who supports BDS. This is why Hillel International has guidelines which forbid the more than 550 college centers around North America from partnering with or hosting anyone who supports BDS or “delegitimizes” Israel. It’s also why Jewish Community Centers, federations and museums have canceled events with those who either support BDS or find it to be a legitimate form of nonviolent protest, including my own book events.
Yet, with all this outrage over BDS due to the movement’s one-state vision, major U.S. Jewish organizations — which claim to support the two-state solution — continue to say nothing over the rejection of Palestinian statehood and growing one-state support among Israeli politicians, which is translating to Israeli society as a whole. In fact, a poll last week showed that the majority of Israeli Jews now oppose the idea of a Palestinian state.
The reason for this incongruity is simple: major Jewish institutions have never really cared about the formation of a Palestinian state. Interest in the two-state solution has been dogmatic because, for the most part, it has been seen as the only way to end the conflict and secure Israel’s long-term survival. This is why such organizations have given lip service to the two-state solution while being loathe to critique those very policies standing in opposition to two states: namely settlement expansions and the decades-old military occupation. For such policies have simultaneously hurt the two-state vision and helped to maintain Jewish strength and sovereignty in Israel and beyond, the principal concern for “pro-Israel” institutions.
Today, “pro-Israel” institutional leaders are refusing to critique Israel’s one-state movements, for they are erroneously seeing that Jewish sovereignty over all of Israel and the West Bank may be the better path to ensuring Israel’s long-term survival.
Breaking the One-Percent Stranglehold
This silent support for Israeli politicians’ one-state vision being given by U.S. Jewish institutions does not represent the views of the majority of American Jews as a whole, and wildly diverges from younger Jews’ views.
Indeed, organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now, When? are trying to break the stranglehold Jewish leaders, often the most affluent community members, have on representing American Jewish views by limiting dialogue on Israel. The former recently helped organize an historic Open Hillel conference at Harvard, which called upon Hillel International to accept all political voices on Israel. The latter recently wrote an op-ed calling upon American Jews invested in Israel to leverage their voices and do what Jewish institutions are not: vocally oppose the occupation and those policies harming both Israel and the Palestinians.
In that piece, the organization writes:
For decades, American Jewry has been dominated by its own “one percent” — a small group of donors and unelected executives who lead organizations like the Jewish Federations of North America, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International.
The reason why Israel feels it can do whatever it wants to do in the name of self defense is that the people who lead these major Jewish American organizations have given them the green light. People of my generation reject this green light. We’re saying, “hold on, we need to do something about this.”
As American Jews, we need to figure out what leverage we have. We believe that the American Jewish community is a lynchpin of the occupation because it legitimizes the right-wing groups that want to perpetuate it.
American Jews, both those who support two-states and those who hold post-Zionist positions, have understood for many years that the institutional Jewish world is out of step with the positions of most Jews in America.
Today, with the clear, silent support Jewish organizations are giving to Israeli politicians’ single-state visions, the disconnect between institutional leaders and the larger American Jewish community has become an elephant occupying the room.
Something has to give, just as it did thirty years ago, when the ADL viewed anyone supporting Palestinian statehood as anti-Semitic, a view which was crushed by the two-state idea. Either one-statism will become dogma in the American Jewish community, Jewish institutions will become irrelevant as public opinion eclipses institutional leaders, or the two will meld together to form a powerful, united voice against Israel’s misdeeds.
That last option would be truly “pro-Israel.”
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.