APRIL 11, 2019

APRIL 11, 2019

The Israeli Election and American Jews. One major by-product of this week’s Israeli election is that the already gaping rift between Israeli and American Jews is sure to gape even wider. The disappearance of the Israeli left and center-left, as evidenced by the dismal performance of their respective standard-bearers, Meretz and Labor, in Tuesday’s voting, has no counterpart whatever in the politics of American Jews. The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised to begin unilaterally annexing the West Bank, confirms that majority sentiment among Israeli Jews runs from right to lunatic right—again, in stark contrast to the sentiments of their co-religionists in the United States. And should he actually begin that annexation, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the U.S. will surely grow, expanding beyond its current left base into more mainstream liberal circles—even among American Jews.

The election is sure to deepen the divide among American Jews as well. This year, many of the leading Democratic candidates for president steered clear of the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which they viewed, rightly, as a group largely supportive of Netanyahu and his right-wing politics. This week, as an article in The Intercept revealed, AIPAC began running paid ads on Facebook in the nation’s three most populous states—California, Texas, and Florida—critical of Senator Bernie Sanders. The ad didn’t cite any specific misdeeds Sanders may have committed in AIPAC’s eyes; it merely read, “Tell Sen. Bernie Sanders: America stands with Israel.”

Like most American liberals, Sanders has criticized Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and all that that inflicts on Palestinians, and is a supporter of the two-state solution. He does not support the BDS movement. As a young man, he lived on a kibbutz; he still has relatives in Israel; many of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust. He is also the first Jew in American history with a real shot of winning one of the major parties’ presidential nominations. That AIPAC should single him out for criticism is a clear signal of the group’s growing estrangement from long-held American Jewish concerns and, even more so, from the politics of non-Orthodox Jewish millennials and Gen-Z-ers.

The most defining of those long-held American Jewish concerns is racial and religious egalitarianism and tolerance. As Israel moves ever further from those beliefs, the already tenuous bonds between the two Jewish communities will weaken even more. Should Israel annex the West Bank, they may just break.