by Lee Bender and Jerome R. Verlin
There is no sugar-coating the emotional intensity or the Jewish historical ramifications related to the fundamental differences between Israeli and U.S. Diaspora Jews on the State of Israel’s final borders.
(April 24, 2019 / JNS) More Jews, no matter their level of observance, observe Passover than any other Jewish commemoration. Why is that? Because it’s the one active thing that we do each year—tell our children that it’s because of that which the Almighty did for us when we came forth out of Egypt, and we are to consider ourselves as if we each personally were slaves and were liberated—that links us and them to our Jewish peoplehood roots. We don’t just passively take them to a synagogue or meeting hall to hear a rabbi or historian tell them. We tell them, in the doing of which, of course, we also retell ourselves.
But these days, that seems that is as about as unifying as it gets. There is no sugar-coating either the emotional intensity or Jewish historical ramifications related to the fundamental differences between Israeli and U.S. Diaspora Jews on the State of Israel’s final borders. This rift between Israelis and the non-Orthodox American Jewish community portends a worsening divide. The 90 percent of American Jews who are non-Orthodox skew left of center; 75 percent vote Democrat and are predominantly progressive. On the other hand, 55 percent of Israelis recently voted in right-of-center parties, including giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an unprecedented fifth term, ranking security as a top priority. Moreover, none of the major candidates or parties even had peace with the Palestinian Arabs or a “two-state solution” on their radar. The differences are stark.
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Yet Diaspora Jews think they know better. They are convinced that they must save the Israelis from themselves or else the democratic nature and existence of the state itself is at permanent risk. They are shocked that Israelis reject their opinions and advice. This came in sharp focus by the recent open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump—the most pro-Israel president in history—by nine major American Jewish organizations, including five from the Reform and Conservative movements and ADL, imploring him to restrain the Israeli prime minister from “annexing the West Bank.”
This is whining paternalistic gall. Indeed, most Israelis believe that imperiling their security by creating a hostile sovereign entity in Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank)—the way former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did in Gaza with his 2005 withdrawal—would be unmitigated lunacy. Applying Israeli law to Area C where Israel has maintained control in Judea-Samaria since the Oslo Accords in 1993 is a natural outcome of a failed peace process rejected consistently by the Palestinian Arabs.
How to rebalance this? Our appeal this Passover week to all Diaspora Jews is to make our homeland case. It is two-fold:
First, three millennia of uninterrupted Jewish history, modern international recognition, the Bible, San Remo and the Palestine Mandate, the reality of the Jewish homeland claim to the land of Israel should all serve to support Jewish claim to the land. Names through Israel correlate to and are saturated with the blood of homeland Jews defending it against Assyrians, Babylonians, Seleucids, Romans, Crusaders and more.
Second, the Jewish people have a valid homeland claim to the land of Israel. It is incumbent upon members of the Jewish people not residing in that homeland to defer to those living in it and defending it against those who seek to destroy it and its population in the making of literally life-and-death decisions on war and peace. It’s not for Diaspora Jews to tell Israeli Jews whether or not to walk out of historic Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria, and slink back to that 9-miles-wide-in-the-lowland middle 1949 military ceasefire line that the media and world mockingly call “Israel’s 1967 borders,” creating in the historic capital and land of Israel’s hill country heartland a “demilitarized Palestinian state” west of the Jordan.
The letter stated that “the two-state solution is an essential path” to peace. But let’s be clear: The Reform and Conservative Judaism movements are religious, not political organizations. Their leaders can certainly speak their personal views on political issues, but they cannot speak ex cathedra in the name of their members and movements—or the Jewish people, in general—on whether the State of Israel should retreat to 1949 military ceasefire lines, or endorse the creation of the 22nd Arab state (slated to be Judenrein by a Palestinian Authority who pays its people to kill Jews, has rejected a state living side by side with Israel six times since 1937, and is still sworn to its destruction), or even a second spaceship to the moon. These unelected officials of the organized American Jewish landscape have the chutzpah to lecture the people of Israel, who send their children to defend the state, about Jewish ethics and values.
Yet that is exactly what these American Jewish religious leaders have done. And their members—individual grassroots American Jews—should publicly disclaim that it was done in their name. If you don’t respect how Israelis vote a certain way, then move there and become an invested citizen in Israel with real skin in the game.
Lee Bender is the co-author of the book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z,” author of dozens of published articles, co-founder of the website www.factsonisrael.com and co-president of the Zionist Organization of America-Greater Philadelphia Chapter.
Jerome R. Verlin, a former vice president of ZOA’s Greater Philadelphia Chapter, is the author of the book, “Israel 3,000 Years: The Jewish People’s 3,000 Year Presence in Palestine,” co-author of “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z” and co-founder of www.factsonisrael.com.