The fact that those who used to identify themselves as the “peace camp” changed their brand to the “Zionist camp” in Israel’s recent elections is not fortuitous: most Israeli voters no longer buy the claim that establishing a Palestinian state will bring peace, yet at the same time those very voters are also willing to accept the idea of Palestinian statehood in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority.
This acceptance, however, is coupled with skepticism: 20 years of negotiations with the PLO have failed to produce an agreement, and Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza has proved the shortcomings and dangers of unilateralism. In addition, with Arab states imploding one after the other, with ISIS progressing, and with Iran expanding its tentacles around the region, the idea of establishing another failed and hostile Arab state bordering Tel Aviv seems counter-intuitive. Most Israelis feel that they are in a Catch-22 situation, faced with an array of bad options.
To liberal American Jews, however, it all looks much simpler. Surely there is no complicated equation that Jewish goodwill cannot solve. And since the equation has not been solved yet, Jewish goodwill must be extracted from those recalcitrant Israelis. Hence the J-Street phenomenon.
J-Street definitely stands out among US lobbies. I can’t think of any Turkish lobby in Congress advocating Turkey’s withdrawal from Cyprus and the establishment of a Kurdish state; nor was I able to find an Indian lobby demanding India’s withdrawal from Kashmir, or a Moroccan lobby making the case for an independent state in Western Sahara.
Liberal American Jews, such as Peter Beinart, claim that Israel is isolating itself from the rest of the Jewish people because Israelis are moving to the right while Diaspora Jews are moving to the left. The very opposite is true: both Israel and the non-American Diaspora are moving to the right. Liberal American Jews are the exception and they are the ones being isolated. All recent elections in Western democracies prove it.
In Britain’s 2015 elections, 70 percent of the Jews voted Conservative. So did 52 percent of Jewish voters in Canada’s 2011 elections. In Australia, most Jews have abandoned the Labor Party for Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party (a conservative party despite its name). French Jews massively supported the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 and 2012 presidential elections.
Why have American Jews become the exception rather than the rule? One possible explanation is that American Jews, as opposed to their European brethren, do not need the army’s protection in order to go to synagogue. The massacres at the Jewish school in Toulouse, at the Jewish museum in Brussels, and at the Jewish supermarket in Paris did not happen in America. Like Israelis, European Jews understand the meaning of being the target of Jihad. American Jews don’t.
Another explanation is that US public opinion is strongly pro-Israel while European public opinion is not. Therefore, no political party or media outlet can thrive in America on an anti-Israel agenda. The very opposite is true in Europe. America’s political culture and discourse still enable liberal Jews to be supportive of Zionism. The same cannot be said of Europe and of Canada, where liberal Jews feel that they have been betrayed by the left, and have therefore crossed the political line.
Yet current trends on US college campuses suggest that America’s left might not be immune from the process that is throwing European and Canadian Jews into the arms of the right. In February 2015, Rachel Beyda, a student at UCLA, was asked during her confirmation hearing to the Student Council’s Judicial Board how she could possibly be unbiased given her Jewishness.
According to the Washington-based Louis Brandeis Center, more than half of America’s Jewish students personally witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism on campus in 2014. Over 200 US campuses host the “Israel apartheid week” every year. In the summer of 2014, the Boston police had to protect a pro-Israel student rally from pro-Palestinian mobs who shouted “Jews back to Birkenau!”
Those who shout “Jews back to Brikenau” do not differentiate between Jews who support Palestinian statehood and those who don’t. J-Street has unsavory companions for whom the struggle against Israel never started at the 1967 lines and will never end there. Most Israeli and European Jews have figured this out, not because they are smarter but because they live in a tough environment where being a useful idiot can cost you your life.
Emmanuel Navon is chairman of the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.