Relations between the United States’ Jews and Israel have never seen a crisis at the level they are in today. They are facing problems with Israel that first relates to attempts by the Israeli extremist Right with regard to Jewish teachings and their ways of implementation and the efforts it exerts to foil the peace option with the Palestinians and Arab states on the other. While the Jewish ultra-orthodox power dominates among religious Jews in Israel, more liberal trends prevail among America’s Jews who are known for their reformist views.
Differences between the two sides increased recently over incidents in Al Aqsa mosque and the Israeli government’s decision of scrapping mixed prayers at the Jerusalem Western Wall, which they considered as extremist and part of a series of strikes by the legislative authority of the Israeli ultra-orthodox establishment. Their protest at the decision was followed by announcements from leaders of American Jewish groups and federations that threatened to reconsider relations with the Israeli government and even consider halting donations to Israel. This was explained by Seth Farber, the Orthodox Rabbi who leads the organisation of ITIM (an organisation that provides assistance to Israelis in the religious bureaucratic transition) when he said: “The rift is real ... Jews who are not orthodox are not only uncomfortable, they say: ‘This is not [the] Israel we know’, with reference to the presence of secular Jews, most of them from the United States.” “These differences are already leading to a decline in support for Israel as a result of religious issues and religious extremism in Israel,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former head of the reformist movement of American Jews. “I think this is really worrying,” he concluded.
The second aspect of the issue is the fear of United States President Donald Trump’s real agenda. Most American Jews did not vote for Trump in the last election. While they continue to support Israel, many view with suspicion the shift to the Right not only in Israel, as we have already explained, but also in the US itself. In this context, Trump’s position of equivalence regarding the two parties to the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has renewed criticism against him, especially among his Democratic opponents. In the wake of the fears of American Jews about Trump’s tendencies, US Representative Steve Cohen called on the US Congress to withhold confidence from the president following his controversial remarks about the events in Charlottesville. He said: “After the president’s comments made twice in response to the regrettable events in Charlottesville, we should have no confidence in him and remove him from office”. He went on to say that “Instead of unequivocally condemning hateful actions by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen (the white supremacist group) following a national tragedy, the president said “There were very fine people on both sides”. There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen. Trump has failed the test of moral leadership.” Cohen further said: “No moral president would ever shy away from outright condemning hate, intolerance and bigotry.”
In Israel, the criticism was blunt, since Trump was seen as a big supporter of Israel. Knesset member Yair Lapid, leader of ‘There Is a Future’ party, wrote, saying that “when the neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville and chanted slogans against the Jews and in support of the supremacy of the white race, their conviction must be unequivocal”. His fellow House member and former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said: “When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are no equal parties, but there is good and there is evil.” Along these lines, Israeli politician Zalman Shoval wrote: “What happened in Charlottesville should really ring the alarm across America in general and among its Jews in particular.” He added: “The horrific scene of American Nazis and crucifixes on their shirts and flags, shouting anti-Semitic slogans such as “Jews will not take our places” is bound to repeat itself elsewhere in America. It is clear that one outcome of the situation would be another move away for the Jews of the United States from Trump’s presidency, despite his important support for Israel.” In this regard, Yossi Shain, professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv University believes “the days of glory for the Jews of America did not last long; an anarchic wind blows the tone of hatred of the Jews among the progressive and neo-socialists from the Left, as well as among white neo-Nazis on the Right. He concluded: “The extreme American Right sees in Trump the saviour of the ‘hostile control’ of Barack Obama and his group. The slogans of hatred of Jews, which were shouted loudly in Charlottesville, came to say that the extreme Right would not allow the Jews to control their beloved white president.”
“In the face of the weakening stability and democracy in America”, wrote Journalist Amnon Lord in Makor Richon newspaper, “the Jews of the United States will find themselves in the position of Europe’s Jews, especially the Jews of France and Britain.” So Jews are being apprehensive since Trump’s failure to condemn the Neo-Nazis reflects his real feelings, while his second condemnation of the events three days later, which he might have been forced to make, were deficient and worrying.
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.