Friday, August 8, 2014

American Jewry vs. Israeli Jewry: explaining the "Progressive Except Palestine" (PEP)

As during previous Israeli wars, the organized American Jewish community has construed the facade of "standing with Israel" during the latest Gaza conflagration. My many friends from Jewish Day School and Religious school have resorted to spewing out the latest Israeli government talking points to reassure that the gaping number of civilian casualties are not Israel's fault. Synagogues across LA hold events in conjunction with the Israeli COnsulate to mourn the loss of the Israeli soldiers or teens.

And yet, at the same time, the disjuncture between American Jewry and Israel has never seemed wider.

The large majority of American Jews, according to last November's  Pew poll are political liberals, who not only support the Democratic party  but are painfully aware of discrimination against blacks, LGBT people and Muslims. Over 56 percent of Jews considered "working for justice/equality" as being an essential part of their Jewish identity.

Strange thing then that so many Jews find themselves cheerleading on behalf of a government that has engaged in collective punishment and committed war crimes in order to maintain a brutal military regime in "Judea and Samaria." (and indirectly Gaza) A government, it should be added, whose ministers have called for forced population transfers of Israel's Arab citizens and have cried for the death of Palestinian mothers.

It is equally intriguing that liberal-minded American Jews should stand in solidarity with a society that supports the current government's war crimes by vast margins and appears increasingly intolerant of dissent.

All in one, the divide points to a gaping divergence in the historical trajectory between the world's two largest Jewish communities in the postwar era. Whereas American Jews were inspired by the experience of the Holocaust (and farther-ranging Christian anti-semitism) to fight for equality in their adopted country, the Jews of Palestine saw the Holocaust as justifying an "ethnic state" on land formerly populated by gentile Arabs.

Whereas one community participated admirably in struggles to tear down Jim Crow and to de-racialize American immigration policies, the other worked to establish a discriminatory regime through forced population transfer and later occupation.

And yet, the shared discourse of resistance to anti-semitism oppression used by supporters of Israel and (American Jewish) liberals enables many to-incredibly-link their very conservative form of Zionism with their domestic liberalism.

"The (Palestinian) Arabs are all classical anti-semites!" the erstwhile Jewish liberal is told, "so Israel has no choice..." All Israelis are "good at heart," he or she believes and are only "forced" to commit atrocities in order to combat these who seek to "destroy the Jews." (and who besides "hate women and gays")...

Many of thiose I know in the Left rush to condemn such thought as polite "Islamo (or Arab) phobia," "racism" or even "tribalism"... And yet, many of the Progressive Except Palestine types I know, are attracted to Israel not in spite of their otherwise liberal views but because of them, going so far as to misread Israel's ethnocracy as "affirmative action" (ala Alan Dershowitz1) for the oppressed.

I spoke in my last post about many of high school friends' sense of "false consciousness." Here I will use the term again (if not for the sake of banality) so much as to describe not the miseducation but misappropriation of the oppression narrative by Jewish liberals to supporting the hardcore Zionist agenda.

Liberal Jews if they stepped back a bit, would see Israel not as the oppressed child of the Holocaust but the grandchild of militaristic fascism on display in the current Israeli body politic.

At the end of the day, even progressives are human beings. With time and knowledge, a sense of justice may hopefully prevail.

1. See Dershowitz, Alan. The Case For Israel. 2003. Pg. 15

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