If nothing else, the over-discussed Pew Report from almost a year ago (almost a year ago — and here we are, still quoting it like it’s the Bible itself!) heralded the death of the American-Jewish religious middle. This summer’s Operation Protective Edge seems to have heralded the death of the American-Jewish political middle, as well.
To be sure, American Jews have become increasingly critical of many of Israel’s military offensives and the occupation of the West Bank. And the military operation this summer seems to have brought out both the best and the worst when it comes to the American pro-Israel machine, and what it means to be pro-Israel.
I was not the first, nor will I be the last, to question my support for the (supposedly) Jewish State while still readily identifying as a Zionist, critical though I might be of the Israeli government. However, the middle ground — of being able to say that one is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, in whatever sense we define those two terms — seems to be rapidly evaporating as well. The rift between the political right and political left when it comes to the pro-Israel community has only widened as a result, leaving the middle somewhat empty.
Reading the news of the bombings and of the innocent people killed, it has become harder and harder to sympathize with Israel, but, at the same time, it has also become harder and harder to see a viable Palestinian state from the current wreckage that seems to be much of the Gaza Strip. Now, I don’t see Hamas as the group from which a sovereign state will emerge (and, to be fair, I don’t necessarily see it emerging from the Palestinian Authority, either), but I do see the Israeli government, which has duties to protect its own people and to aid the Palestinians, set up a viable state, performing the former, but letting the latter slide.
And the result is increasing support for the civilians in Gaza who have been killed by the IDF during its operation —a number that’s less than originally estimated, but still not insignificant —has been reframed, instead, as anti-Israel rhetoric. This is the case even when the names of Gazan civilian children killed are read alongside the names of Israeli soldiers who were killed in action, as was done in one synagogue in New York this summer, causing an exodus of pro-Israel members from the synagogue. Indeed, the middle ground (which, to be fair, was probably the left flank of the political spectrum anyway) of being pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace, has been vilified for its decision to be all of those things both in America and in Israel. If you’re not with us, the reasoning goes, you’re now against us.
If nothing else, the vilification of the political left by the right has done little other than strengthen the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement within the Jewish community, which puts forth one option for Jews looking to take concrete steps to end the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. I’m not planning on jumping on the B.D.S. bandwagon anytime soon, though I can see its objective appeal as a way to motivate people to action. Either that, or Jews are taking the advice that Jay Michaelson gave them to vote with their feet and leaving Jewish institutions.
Ultimately, the fear of the slippery slope of criticizing Israel led to the ostracizing of organizations that in many ways represent the beliefs of the majority of American Jews. The moderates still exist; they hold the same opinions that they used to, but their organizations have been vilified as anti-Israel because the pressure has come from Jews to begin taking a stand so that their voices are heard. These moderates stand for Israel’s right to self-defense but also criticize Israel for some of its tactics. This middle is one that is alarmed by the increasing racism and Islamophobia within Israeli and Jewish society, but also fears the rising waves of anti-Semitism in Europe (I’m looking at you, France and England). The middle feels compelled to fight both.
The organizations that make up the American-Jewish establishment today used to be representative of an unwavering American Jewish pro-Israel community. As American and Israeli Judaisms grow ever dissimilar, however, that unwavering support is being tested by many American Jews. Indeed, the so-called political left is becoming increasingly mainstream, but is prevented from doing so by the reactionary establishment organizations. This could be seen clearly in the decision to reject J Street from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this past April. That political middle could have been the middle — indeed, it should have been the middle — but, instead, it has become the maligned left, even though it is still really the middle.
Those of us who are pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace can still be the political middle if we are willing to stake our claim in the Jewish community and show that we can, and are, representative of more than just the small, fringe left.
Amram Altzman is a student at List College.