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Will 2013 be the Year American Jews Secede from Israel?

If American Jews think that what is being done in their name is self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop.

By Bradley Burston

January 01, 2012 "
Harretz" --  One day in the future, when it all comes horribly down, will Israelis finally realize that there were warning signs all along?

More to the point of the ultimate survival of Israel, could it be that when the real alarm sounds, when the genuine danger impends, Israelis won't hear a thing?

The answers may lie in how Israelis react to the canary in the coal mine, their forward recon unit in the world, the American Jewish community.

In fact, as the new year dawns, there are mounting signs that 2013 may be the year in which U.S. Jews – in the main, liberal in outlook, committed to tolerance, pluralism, and a vigorous, sincere pursuit of peace – effectively secede from this state of Israel.

They remain committed to supporting the existence of an Israel which balances Israeli and Jewish culture with respect for minority rights, democratic values. They will stay active in promoting the welfare of Israel's disadvantaged.

But many American Jews are already distancing themselves in word and deed from a government it sees as arrogant and short-sighted, enslaved to a runaway train of settlement, dismissive of the rights of Palestinians and other non-Jews, cold to the concerns of a sinking middle class and the drowning disadvantaged, contemptuous of the concerns of the larger Jewish world.

The catalysts: settlement expansion - especially as it strikes at Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects and mocks Washington – and backhanded insensitivity to the rights and ritual of non-Orthodox Jews.

In recent weeks, some of Israel's most influential defenders in the States have warned of hardline Israeli policies and parties which could lead "to the destruction (the self-destruction) of Israel" (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic), and "national suicide" (Thomas Friedman).

Israeli leaders lent them not so much as a deaf ear. Nothing.

Even when the issue touches directly on the religious concerns of American Jewry, the government's response is as dismissive and condescending as it is dishonest.

Last week, waking, years in arrears, to discover that U.S. Jews are appalled by continuing arrests for violating Orthodox-ordered prohibitions on women praying aloud and wearing prayer shawls by the Western Wall, the prime minister appointed Natan Sharansky to look into the matter.

Within hours, however, the Prime Minister's Office rushed out a message aimed at Israelis, indicating that the appointment was largely a charade.

“There are no changes in prayer arrangements at the Western Wall and no committee has been established," Netanyahu's office was quoted as saying.

There are Israelis who will do anything not to be reminded that American support, anchored by U.S. Jewry, is the strategic asset which makes all other strategic assets possible. The 2012 election, after all, saw prominent members of the ruling Likud-Beiteinu, notably Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, actively campaigning for the defeat of President Obama.

But that was then.

Now, as Israel's election campaign nears its home stretch, the heavily favored Likud-Beiteinu party, which encompasses the principal authors of nearly all of the anti-democratic legislation of the last four years, offers fresh voices and perilous new avenues for alienating American Jews from Israel.

There is, for example, Moshe Feiglin, who will enter the Knesset following the January 22 election. Something of his political philosophy can be gleaned from a 2004 article on radical settlers, in which Feiglin spoke to Goldberg, then writing in the New Yorker:

“Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?” Feiglin said to me. “For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.” In any case, Feiglin said, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.”

Then there is political novice Yair Shamir, catapulted from nowhere to the very upper level of Likud-Beiteinu, thanks in part to his late father's prime ministerial heritage of having warred with then-president George H.W. Bush over the issue of settlement construction.

Last week, an opinion piece by Yair Shamir was headlined, "In Israel-US relations, settlements are entirely beside the point."

Wrong. As his father once inadvertently proved.

But candidate Shamir went further. Taking up where Danon left off, Shamir attacked Obama's nomination of John Kerry as secretary of state - over settlements. In essence, Shamir made acquiescence to settlement construction a condition of Israel-U.S. ties: "Many are liable to feel that his nomination will deter Israel from implementing its decision to build thousands of apartments in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and will be viewed as an obstacle to Israel-U.S. relations."

American Jews want to know what is being done in their name. In the name of Judaism. And if they think that it is self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop.

American Jews are tiring of being told that opposing Israel's policies puts Israelis in danger. Blackmail is not persuasion. If the hard right is so certain that it can get along without American Jewish support, it may all too soon get the chance to find out.

 

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