American Jews Are Giving Up on Israel

The most worrying news that came out of the U.S. presidential elections was that American Jews seem to have lost interest in Israel.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

The most worrying news that came out of the U.S. presidential elections was that American Jews seem to have lost interest in Israel. Just 10 percent of American-Jewish voters said Israel was their highest priority when they went to the polls, according to a recent exit poll conducted by the pro-peace Israel lobby J Street. Nine out of 10 said domestic issues like job rates and health care were their top concerns. This is despite the fact that the Republicans and Jewish activists, many of whom are supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told countless horror stories about what they described as Barack Obama's plot to throw Israel to the Iranian wolves.

These statistics support the analysis of political commentator Peter Beinart, an associate professor at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, who argues that the ongoing occupation and the revelations of Israeli racism have distanced American Jews from Israel and from the Zionist idea.

J Street leaders are encouraged by the finding that 73 percent of U.S. Jewish voters approve of Obama's conduct regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict and note that 81 percent want active U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Big deal. If that's the case, why is the Obama administration continuing to fearfully dance attendance on Netanyahu?

What is prompting the administration to order the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, to secure European support to block the Palestinians from upgrading their UN status, thus risking Mahmoud Abbas' standing as Palestinian Authority president? And who is preventing Obama from giving Netanyahu a similar choice to the one that George H.W. Bush gave Yitzhak Shamir during Israel's 1992 election season, in which Bush said Israel could choose deadlocked negotiations and settlement expansion or an American "political umbrella" and financial aid? Netanyahu intervened in the U.S. elections so coarsely; why would Obama hesitate to get involved in the Israeli one?

The answers to these questions can be found in a new study of Israeli Jewish views by the Walter Lebach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence through Education, at Tel Aviv University, which - especially when examined alongside other polls of Israeli attitudes toward the U.S. election - demonstrates the marked differences between Jewish Israeli voters and Jewish American ones.

Half the respondents said a majority of Jewish MKs should have to approve the evacuation of settlements, and 20 percent or less are concerned by the prospect of losing a Jewish majority in the country. About a third of secular respondents said the settlements are a legitimate aspect of Zionist history, and 80 percent of Israeli Jews said they don't think Israel and the Palestinians are likely to reach an agreement - a stark counterpoint to the roughly equal proportion of U.S. Jews who support American involvement in resolving the conflict.

And while nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Jews polled by J Street said they approved of the way Obama has been dealing with the conflict, Israeli polls have shown that most Israelis preferred Mitt Romney to Obama and did not want Obama to intervene in Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

I received an email over the weekend from someone who described himself as a longtime reader and a Meretz voter that shows why cautious Americans would be keeping their distance from Israel: "I realize that the arguments of the left are more complicated to explain than the fear and hatred propagated by the right," he wrote. "But you and your colleagues, the journalists of the left, have the obligation to analyze and explain, first of all, what has happened so far. What are the Palestinians seeking or suggesting, how has Israel violated the Oslo Accords? Why did the Camp David talks fail and why did the second intifada break out, why is Gaza still our responsibility and why are they firing on us from there?"

Let's say Haaretz commentators manage to convince every last reader that the injustice of the occupation and the settlements are the primary reason the Oslo Accords fell through; how many seats would this gain the Zionist left in the Knesset? (The Zionist left basically means Meretz, since we must respect Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich's request to stop labeling the Labor Party as left-wing. ) After all, a single edition of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's right-wing free newspaper Israel Hayom reaches more readers, and potential voters, than do dozens of columns in Haaretz.

J Street leaders may be feeling a bit of schadenfreude now that it has become clear that Adelson, who invested heavily in Romney's campaign in an effort to advance his right-wing worldview, put his money on the wrong candidate. But Adelson isn't giving up. He is putting his money - and his newspaper, whose name means "Israel Today" - on the wrong candidate here too, to perpetuate the Israel of today: an occupying, belligerent and racist country. It's too bad that the American Jews who had hoped for an Israel of tomorrow - a democratic, upright and secure country - are giving up on us.



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