Israel’s newly adopted, patently unconstitutional “Regularization Law” further distances most American Jews from the government of Israel and the State of Israel.
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It does so by further underscoring the similarities between Israel’s leadership and U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign of constitutionally controversial executive orders. It thus further deepens the sense of dissonance in the minds of American Jews regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship.
For most American Jews, this legislation comes against the background of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s enthusiastic efforts to chummy up to Trump on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the emerging Trumpian practice of making laws and regulations in the service of a political agenda that damages the public interest and the nation’s ethos.
Netanyahu and members of his government are going out of their way to cozy up to the most hated incoming president in the modern history of the United States. The 45th president is most definitely the most hated and the most feared incumbent among American Jews, who are the most liberal segment of America’s population. Trump and what he stands for are, in their eyes, the very antithesis of what they regard as “Jewish values,” an ethos that is liberal, progressive, tolerant, compassionate and egalitarian.
Netanyahu presumes to understand America. As he sees it, Capitol Hill is wrapped around his finger, and now the White House is in his pocket. That’s how he will frame his upcoming visit to Washington next week. Veni, vidi, vici.
But when it comes to America’s Jewish community, Netanyahu may want to adopt a humbler, more inquisitive approach. Instead of meeting with his usual collection of right-wing sycophants, Netanyahu should take some time to listen to the leaders of mainstream Jewish organizations, leaders of local federations, Reform and Conservative rabbis (who represent the majority of the affiliated Jewish community), students at Hillel and other campus networks, and conduct a frank discussion with the leaders of all the pro-Israel lobbies in Washington.
Netanyahu will learn that among almost all the Jewish organizations and Jewish communities – including (perhaps to his surprise) a large part of the Orthodox – Trump is considered the antithesis of what they call "Jewish values" and “American values.” American Jews overwhelmingly and with very few exceptions, see Trump as a threat not only to the values of freedom, justice and tolerance, but also to them as Jews, personally and collectively. They view Trump as fomenting anti-Semitism and therefore as a strategic threat to American Jewry. No less.
In many places in the United States, Jewish organizations and Jewish communities are at the forefront of the anti-Trump protest movement. Trump’s draconian immigration policy is anathema to the post-Holocaust ethos that American Jews have forged out of belief and experience.
Netanyahu seems mesmerized by the pro-settlement consultants who surround Trump. American Jews, however, fear the racists, xenophobes and anti-Semites drawn to Trump. They focus on Steve Bannon. They see the increase in hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents in the U..S over the past couple of years, and link them to the kind of ultra-nationalism that drove Trump to the Oval Office. They openly talk about similarities to Europe in the 1930s. The Trump White House’s failure to mention Jews in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement was seen by many American Jews as Holocaust denial.
No one would begrudge Netanyahu’s efforts to foster a good working relationship with Trump. This is his job as a leader. But Netanyahu will pay dearly in terms of American Jewish support for the State of Israel if he associates his settlement policies, already the target of much criticism, so closely with Trump, and if he enthusiastically embraces Trump’s controversial immigration policies, as he did in a tweet praising a wall with Mexico as a “great idea” on the strength of the “great success” Israel’s southern wall has been and a follow-up statement that tried, half-heatedly, to make it up with the Mexican government last week.
Increasingly, American Jews are connecting the dots between the White House and Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. The attacks on the media and the courts, intolerance of dissent, flirting with authoritarianism. In America, they are leading the fight against this threat. This defiant sentiment is very likely to spill over across the Atlantic. American Jews may not be about to take to the streets to demonstrate against Netanyahu, but their criticism will become far more vocal and explicit.
Many American Jews are feeling increasingly estranged from Israel. Netanyahu is risking one of Israel’s chief strategic asset by further intensifying their alienation while beefing up settlements, supporting undemocratic legislation, and tightening his ethical bond with the man that today many, if not most American Jews view as their nemesis.
Ori Nir, a former Washington correspondent of Haaretz and The Forward, works for Americans for Peace Now, the sister-organization of Israel’s Peace Now movement.