The consensus among Jewish Israelis expressed by the members of Knesset at the Ruderman Foundation town hall discussion a fortnight ago – simply put, that security trumps peacemaking with the Palestinians – continues to send reverberations through U.S. Jewry. This speaks to the changed political and economic conditions in Israel and to the community’s inability to see those changes.
Until now, both liberal and conservative Jews here suffered from projecting their political worldview upon the Israelis. This diaspora-centric view presumed to judge the policies and actions of Israel based on values and morals conditioned by Jews’ experience living here.
U.S. Jews must now acknowledge the reality that Israelis believe protecting the lives and way of life of Israelis is paramount to all other considerations, or risk becoming irrelevant to the Jewish state.
In the past, U.S. Jewry wielded influence over Israeli policy because the Jewish state was reliant upon the community for economic and moral support. Now, Israel is far more economically self-sufficient, and Israeli officials from throughout the political spectrum are visiting and speaking openly.
Politically, Israeli Jews have turned to the right when it comes to the Palestinians. This should not surprise anyone, noted a left wing MK at the town hall meeting, given the soul crushing conditions of Israeli life, including relentless hostilities; continually renewed waves of violence targeting civilians; and decades of failed peace negotiations.
Of course, Israeli leftism has never fit neatly into the U.S. progressive paradigm. Israeli labor socialism, from David Ben Gurion through today, is at the same time more socialistic and more militant than Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism; it is no coincidence that Israel commemorates Independence Day and Memorial Day consecutively.
Conservatives in the U.S. Jewish community reveling in Israel’s turn to the right – and its apparent rejection of the liberal agenda – would do well to avoid schadenfreude, though. Firstly, because Israeli rightism, being more socially-minded and less free market-oriented, does not fit neatly into the U.S. conservative paradigm.
Importantly – and this speaks, again, to those differing worldviews born of experience – U.S. conservatives’ militancy toward the Palestinians comes from anger, whereas Israelis’ militancy from left to right comes from sadness. Almost every MK told a personal, gut-wrenching story about how the Palestinian struggle has affected them, and every Jew in Israel.
Finally, the description of life in Israel by the MKs also puts the lie to recent presumptuousness like, ‘Israel cannot enforce a one-state solution and remain a democracy,’ and, ‘One cannot be a Zionist and a feminist.’
Despite living under constant fear of attack and in a state of perpetual military readiness, Israel has not become an Orwellian Airstrip One; rather, it maintains a vibrant political culture that is more diverse and more clear-sighted than our own.
We commend the Ruderman Foundation, for creating a forum that allows MKs and U.S. Jewry to learn about each other’s views; the MKs, for stating their views forthrightly; and the community members in attendance, especially those who asked difficult questions, for expressing their passion about the Jewish state.