Must-read Debate: Have Liberal Israelis Been Abandoned by Their American Jewish Counterparts?

Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev blasts U.S. liberals for being silent on dangers to Israeli democracy. Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner responds: Israeli left needs to get its own act together.

Pro-Israel demonstrators chant slogans as pro-Palestinian protesters walk past a peace protest in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York October 18, 2015.

In an emotional and charged exchange, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev and the Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner published columns last week that revealed a growing fissure on the left end of the Israel-Diaspora relationship. 

Writing first in The Great Betrayal: American Jews Stay Silent as Israeli Democracy Withers, Shalev decried the “the deafening silence of most American Jews in response to the waves of chauvinistic anti-democratic legislation and incitement in which Israel is increasingly drowning.” He pleaded for a “forceful game-changing protest” from American Jews before it is too late. 

In her response in the Forward, Have Liberal Jews Betrayed Israel? Eisner said that “I don’t feel comfortable dictating Israeli policy any more than I want an Israeli dictating American policy” and “the demoralized Israeli left needs to get its own act together before it demands more from us.”

Shalev, deeply disappointed by her response, noted that her right-wing American Jewish counterparts have no such qualms, pointing out that In Battle for Israel, Jewish Liberals Stay Aloof but Jewish Right-wingers Go All in. He said he had clearly held “unrealistic expectations” of liberal Zionists like Eisner regarding their willingness to pitch in when the house of Israeli democracy is “on fire.”

Strongly disagreeing with Eisner, New Israel Fund Daniel Sokatch wrote that this week if The Right Isn't Shy About Influencing Israel. Why Is the Left?

“Abandoning the many Israelis who continue to fight for Israel as a liberal democracy is a serious abrogation of our responsibility as Jews, as Americans, and as progressives,” he said. “We cannot look away no matter how disturbed we are by trends in Israel. We must engage. And we must do so now.”