Saturday, April 25, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Israel no longer a cause that unifies US Jews

By
From page C3 | June 15, 2014 |

NEW YORK — Once a unifying cause for generations of American Jews, Israel is now bitterly dividing Jewish communities.

Jewish organizations are withdrawing invitations to Jewish speakers or performers considered too critical of Israel, in what opponents have denounced as an ideological litmus test meant to squelch debate. Some Jewish activists have formed watchdog groups, such as Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, or COPMA, and JCC Watch, to monitor programming for perceived anti-Israel bias. They argue Jewish groups that take donations for strengthening the community shouldn’t be giving a platform to Israel’s critics.

American campuses have become ideological battle zones over Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories, with national Jewish groups sometimes caught up on opposing sides of the internal debate among Jewish students. The “Open Hillel” movement of Jewish students is challenging speaker guidelines developed by Hillel, the major Jewish campus group, which bars speakers who “delegitimize” or “demonize” Israel. Open Hillel is planning its first national conference in October.

And in a vote testing the parameters of Jewish debate over Israel, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, a national coalition that for decades has represented the American Jewish community, denied membership in April to J Street, the 6-year-old lobby group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace and has sometimes criticized the Israeli government. Opponents of J Street have been showing a documentary called “The J Street Challenge,” in synagogues and at Jewish gatherings around the country, characterizing the group as a threat from within.

“I believe this has reached a level of absurdity now,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder of the IKAR-LA Jewish community in California, which is considered a national model for reinvigorating religious life. “Even where people are acting from a place of love and deep commitment that Israel remains a vital and vibrant state, they are considered outside the realm. It’s seen as incredibly threatening and not aligned with the script the American Jewish community expects.”

In 2012, when Israel carried out an offensive in Gaza after an upsurge in rocket fire, Brous wrote an email to IKAR members that was published in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. She supported Israel’s right to defend itself, while also urging recognition of Palestinian suffering.

The result? She was overwhelmed with hate mail, and inspired competing op-eds and letters in the Journal from Jewish clergy and others until a prominent rabbi called for an end to the recriminations and name-calling.

American Jews have always vigorously debated Israeli policy, but mostly within the community and with an understanding that differences would be set aside if the Jewish state faced an existential threat. But the discussion within the U.S. has become more reflective of the very broad debate within Israel.

“It’s a very old issue that many countries face and now Israel faces: to what extent should domestic debate carry over when you’re abroad?” said Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University scholar of American Jewish history. “The critics of J Street and the like say, ‘Of course, it’s fine in Israel because the minute they call up the reserves, all politics disappear. Moreover, they have to live with the results of their decision.’ Their argument is that there should be a great difference between what you can do and say in Israel and what you can do or say in America. There are all sorts of enemies who make use of the words in America differently than they do in Israel.”

Internal American Jewish conflict has worsened as many Israel advocates have come to feel under siege in the U.S. The international boycott movement against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians has gained some momentum in the U.S., and critics increasingly draw analogies between Israeli policies and South African apartheid.

The clashes among American Jews are partly colored by the sharp tone of overall left-right debate within the U.S. Earlier this year, the Brandeis chapter of J Street and one of its most vocal antagonists on campus, Daniel Mael, accused each other of harassment and made complaints to campus police. Mael, a 21-year-old Orthodox Jew, wrote a series of posts for the conservative site truthrevolt.org accusing J Street of bringing “Israel bashers” on campus.

J Street has said its opponents often distort the group’s statements. The liberal lobby created a “Myths & Facts” page on its website challenging the claims.

Many leaders of the older, more-established organizations say the divisions are not as broad or deep as some claim. Defenders of the presidents’ conference argue their 50-member association includes liberal organizations with similar views to J Street, and they blame the lobby group for whipping up a backlash to the vote.

The presidents’ conference was formed in the 1950s in response to what was considered a failure of U.S. Jewish leaders during World War II to speak to American policy makers with one voice. Members were expected to keep internal discussion and voting private.

Among the 17 conference members who voted for J Street in April were the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Conservative and Reform Jewish movements. Twenty-two conference members voted no and three others abstained. The remaining member groups did not send a representative to vote.

Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, an association for Orthodox synagogues, dismissed J Street’s members as students with a skewed understanding of Mideast history because of the “one-sided, left view” on U.S. college campuses. Weiss was among the few members of the Conference of Presidents who campaigned publicly to block J Street’s admission to the group.

“Their views are not part of what I consider the mainstream of the Jewish community,” Weiss said.

“I wouldn’t characterize them as enemies of Israel,” Weiss said. “I would characterize it that their self-avowed statement that they are pro-Israel is not accurate.”

The split among U.S. Jews has its roots in the Jewish settlement building in the occupied territories after the 1967 Six Day War, which sparked debate in the U.S. and in Israel over whether the settlements helped or hurt Israeli security.

At the same time, American Judaism was splintering. The strictly traditional Orthodox population grew, but so did the number of Jews who left organized religious life. Jews were marrying outside the faith at a high rate, and their families were generally less involved in the Jewish community and less tied to Israel.

“We now have more people who care deeply about Israel and more people who care very little about Israel,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute on Religion who specializes in research on the American Jewish community.

Meanwhile, liberal Reform Judaism, which has worked for years to underscore its deep commitment to the Jewish state, grew to become the largest movement in American Judaism. The result: a pro-Israel American Jewish community largely split between conservatives and liberals, both emotionally attached to Israel but with conflicting outlooks on many Israeli policies.

At Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, a Reform Jewish synagogue in South Orange, New Jersey, Rabbi Daniel Cohen struggles to hold the ever-shrinking common ground among his congregants over Israel. Before Cohen delivers a sermon on the subject, he re-reads what he wrote and asks himself, “How are they going to hear it?”

From the pulpit, he tries to weave together the views of doves and hawks among the 850 families in his congregation, comparing Israel to a flawed friend who nonetheless should be defended against slander. Still, he hears complaints — about his personal involvement with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the long-established lobbying group, and his simultaneous support for congregants active in J Street.

“I’m very, very careful to focus on the importance of Israel and the American Jewish community and being involved in activism. I’m not proscriptive about how people should get involved,” said Cohen, the temple’s senior rabbi for 16 years.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found more than two-thirds of American Jews feel somewhat or very attached to Israel, but only 38 percent believe the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace with the Palestinians and 44 percent said settlement construction hurts Israeli national security. (In the same poll, just 12 percent of U.S. Jews said Palestinian leaders were making a sincere effort to resolve the conflict.)

Many Jewish leaders worry the infighting could not only undermine U.S. support for Israel, but also drive away the younger American Jews who are pressing for a broader definition of what it means to be pro-Israel.

“The attacks are stronger and more vicious sometimes …,” said Cohen. “If you’re not hearing other perspectives, I don’t know how you can have an honest, open debate.”

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • RichBIxJune 15, 2014 - 4:38 pm

    Perhaps it's a combination of American empathy ( guilt ) and Birkenstocks.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Transportation leaders point to need for funding changes

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Together to remember children lost to violence

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
‘Cinderella’ carries on despite theater flood

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
3 letters to Vacaville may cost $100,000 to answer

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

 
Church offers free Southern Gospel concert

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Summer Spare the Air season set to start

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3

 
Suisun City police log: April 23, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Fairfield police log: April 23, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Commercial weight loss programs come under scrutiny

By Scott Anderson | From Page: B10

Food often a conduit to something more

By Murray Bass | From Page: B10

 
.

US / World

San Francisco Catholics deeply divided over archbishop

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Colleges starting to offer brewing courses

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Hate crime charges for homeless beating suspect

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3, 1 Comment

 
Supreme Court ruling keeps sex offender registration in place

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

SFPD to pay for settlement of wrongful termination suit

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
16 students injured when school stage collapses

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Thousands march to mark anniversary of Armenian massacres

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Man ordered to stand trial for kidnap, rape charges

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Nuclear launch officers charged in drug case

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Rubio looking to gain support in Iowa

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Hep C, HIV cases spike throughout Indiana

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

 
Obama uses hospital funds to help push for Medicaid expansion

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Hawaii raises smoking age to 21

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Police: Gray should have received medical treatment

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

US completing review of hostage policy following drone strikes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Italy police arrest nine terror suspects in sweep

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Yemen rebels ordered to pull back

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
.

Opinion

 
Chaos in the primaries

By Thomas Sowell | From Page: A8, 3 Comments

Joy of baseball back in my life

By Deon Price | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

 
.

Living

Today in History: April 25, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 25, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: April 25, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Daughters’ ex is determined to turn their children against her

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

.

Entertainment

Seriously silly, Monty Python reunites for a weekend tribute

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

.

Sports

SCC baseball team wins to claim share of BVC title

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1, 2 Comments

 
Ynoa, Butler send Rockies to 6-4 win over Giants

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Vikings fall to Jaguars 4-3 in 8 innings

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1

 
After working OT in NBA playoffs, Curry, Rose can earn rest

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Swafford, Weekley atop Zurich Classic leaderboard

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Logano wins pole at Richmond, his third of the season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Usain Bolt: Gay’s reduced doping ban sends wrong message

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Scott Dixon is chasing IndyCar wins leaders, not spotlight

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Ducking the spotlight, some stars decide to skip NFL draft

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Garber: MLS plan in 6 months to expand beyond 24 teams

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Dortmund, American Pharoah vie for favorite in 141st Derby

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Harden, Howard lead Rockets to 130-128 win, 3-0 lead on Mavs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Olympic sailing events may be moved from Rio’s polluted bay

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Canadian Henderson shoots tournament record for LPGA lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Bowyer and Stewart looking for good runs at Richmond

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Oregon wins distance medley relay at Penn Relays

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Goodell: LA projects viable for bringing back team

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Former Buckeyes teammates Cook, Sindelar top Legends of Golf

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Signups for Saturday, April 25, 2015

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B3

.

Business

Winners and losers of the demise of the big Comcast deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
What could McDonald’s do to fix its business?

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

Durable goods orders up, but business investment falls again

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Harley recalls nearly 46,000 motorcycles

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Comcast abandons Time Warner Cable bid after gov’t pushback

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

 
Cheaper fuel has airlines soaring to record profits

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Wynn Resorts shareholders: Elaine Wynn won’t return to board

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Ford recalls 390,000 cars to fix door latches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Obituaries

Kirk Noonan

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Sandra King

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Elizabeth Cepeda

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
.

Comics

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
.

Home Seller 4/25/2015

Ask a Designer: decorating with spring pastels

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR1 | Gallery

Average US rate on 30-year mortgage slips to 3.65 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR3

Real estate transactions for April 25, 2015

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR3