Opinion

Israel Is Giving Palestinians the Jewish Finger

In the name of the Jewish people, Netanyahu insisted Palestinians recognize three Jewish political hawks as honest, unbiased brokers of a non-existent peace agreement

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a conference in July 2017.
Moshe Goldstein

“Is that anti-Semitism or political discourse?” asked U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman with feigned innocence, in response to what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said about him, as if he were a helpless pogrom victim at the beginning of the last century in Eastern Europe rather than an ambassador of the world’s strongest superpower, which encourages Israel to ride roughshod over the Palestinians.

Abbas attacked Friedman on Monday for saying Jewish settlers were building on their lands in the West Bank. “Son of a dog. Building on their land? Your are a settler and your family are settlers,” Abbas said.

Anti-Semitism? What sanctimoniousness on Friedman’s part. What cheap manipulation. Poor Abbas, poor Palestinians. They cannot say what is self-evident. Nobody can. Even Jews must be wary of telling the truth. Better to go cool off in Yad Vashem’s air conditioned halls to preserve one’s restraint. It’s inconceivable that Friedman, the Jew who owns property in Talbieh, who identifies in public with the ultra-nationalist messianic Israeli right, was appointed American ambassador.

The Israelis, through U.S. President Trump, are sticking a Jewish finger consisting of Friedman, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kusher into the Palestinians’ faces, in front of the whole world. In the name of the Jewish people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blew up negotiations with the Palestinians over their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state while shamelessly insisting that they recognize three Jewish political hawks as honest, unbiased political brokers. Suddenly the Palestinians are required to make the healthy distinction between Israelis and Jews, a distinction that Netanyahu dedicated his political life to smashing. When it suits him, citizenship is everything.

The Palestinians are required to take part in the agreed-upon lie that Friedman, Greenblatt and Kushner are Americans for all intents and purposes; that they could just as well have been Hispanic; that their Jewishness is a private, personal, marginal, apolitical matter. So what if the Israel Hayom daily described Friedman in this way: “He may be American (and a New Yorker) to the core, but his ties to Israel and Zionism and his command of Hebrew turn him into a homeboy here.” So what if, as a private citizen, he helped raise funds for an organization associated with the West Bank settlement of Beit El? So what if he denies the occupation and claims that the settlers are permitted to build on their land, lambasts the left in rhetoric of the Israeli right, sees J Street supporters as “worse than kapos” and enjoys bashing Haaretz and Gideon Levy? Does this infringe on his statesmanlike diplomacy?

“It’s wrong to stick stereotypes on African-Americans or Hispanics and it’s wrong to do so to American Jews as well I wasn’t chosen because I’m a Jew, but because I have the president’s confidence,” Friedman told Israel Hayom. Yeah, sure. So if he’s American, how come he’s talking like one of the internet trolls on Netanyahu’s Facebook page?

Netanyahu’s Israel is walking a thin line, swapping the Jewish hat and the Israeli hat according to need. When it’s convenient, Netanyahu is the leader of the Jewish world; and when Jews wearing American hats represent Israel’s presumed interests with unlimited brazenness, nobody is allowed to say a word, because that’s anti-Semitism.

Abbas is not an anti-Semite. He has criticism about Israel’s rejectionism on the one hand and America’s biased policy on the other. He is critical of the series of troubling appointments of officials tasked with solving the conflict; of the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which ignores the Palestinians’ demand to recognize East Jerusalem as their capital; and of the decision to stop funding UNRWA, the UN agency which aids Palestinian refugees, without offering alternatives.

But if Israel continues to blur the line between the state and independent Jewish existence in the Diaspora, it should not be surprised if Abbas, like others, turn into anti-Semites. Precisely because of the healthy, important affiliation between the world’s Jews and Israel, it’s important that this deliberate, transparent blurring of that line is stymied.