One Year After Gaza: American-Jews No Longer on the Netanyahu Bandwagon

August 26, 2015, marked one year since the end of the 51-day round of fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Israel dubbed operation Protective Edge. When the fighting started, I happened to fly to America for 10 days to visit my family in Philadelphia, and the topic of Gaza and the fighting at the time came up a lot. Most American-Jews I talked to, who overwhelmingly consider themselves pro-Israel, expressed general support for the operation and were surprised when I did not. Exactly one year after the war, on August 26, I again flew to America—This time, the reactions have been very different.

The American-Jewish community, at least in my experience, is very pro-Israel (in the sense that they support Israel regardless how it’s governed). While some communities are actively pro-Israel, others, like the one I grew up in, are much more passively pro-Israel. They don’t necessarily attend AIPAC conferences or pro-Israel protests, but they don’t actively question Israel’s policies either. They send their kids to summer camp where the green line is non-existent on maps, go on birthright and buy IDF shirts.

So when I visited in America last summer, I was not surprised that most people who engaged me about the then active conflict overwhelming supported Israel’s air and ground invasion. Even those who felt that Israel was acting in the wrong looked to me, a former IDF soldier and Israeli citizen, hoping that I would to soothe their internal conflict by  showing support for the operation.

I could not deliver the message they wanted. As I work for the only Israeli Human Rights organization who focuses on Gaza, I was acutely aware of how our policies contributed to the fighting. I was also aware that without significant change, this would be just another round of fighting, with more to follow in the future.  Indeed, this year has proven to be one of the worst for Gaza residents, with a 41.6% unemployment rate and regularly closings at Rafah Crossing, which connects the strip to Egypt, plus Israeli policy preventing reconstruction in the private sector, contributing to a weak economy and an overall poor living situation in the Strip.

When I responded that I in fact did not agree, and even fiercely disagreed with our air and ground invasion, I was met with uncomfortable looks and silence. Most people changed the topic or walked away. A few people engaged me a bit more, and I started realizing that beneath the support they outwardly showed, many were struggling. They wanted to support Israel as they always have, but they were also slowly beginning to question. When asked to choose between supporting Israel’s military operation or not, they did, but it seemed that many people I talked to did so with a heavy heart. Our community has been so fully trained to support Israeli policy that we are unsure of how to proceed when this support directly conflicts the other values we were raised on, such as equality, democracy and social justice. This cognitive dissonance discouraged me for many months after.

Yet it seems that this year has pushed some in the community to more forcefully question that support.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo: Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Photo: Reuters

In the past few days, again back in Philadelphia, the comments I have received have had a drastically different feel, full of critical reaction towards the Israeli government’s policies and actions. Initially, I was surprised by these comments, but looking back on this past year, its hard imagine the American-Jewish community feeling any other way. After all studies show that American-Jews do greatly care about liberal values, and that 70% them voted for Obama and Democratic congressional candidates in 2012. Israel, however, has become more right-wing over the past many years. That is not to say that the community’s support in the Democratic Party mirrors their support specifically on issues surrounding Israel, but it does show an overall trend for progressive thinking and policies that represent them.

It is, therefore, not surprising that this criticism of Israel comes after Netanyahu addressed the congress this past spring, directly ignoring Obama’s request for him to not come. Furthermore, While the same Netanyahu is working to shut-down the nuclear deal, recent polls actually show that a plurality of the American-Jewish community supports the deal, giving it even wider support than the American population overall. The schism occurring between the pro and anti-Iran deal camps within the Jewish community is becoming apparent, demonstrating that the parts of the community are more pro-actively disagreeing the prevailing idea that the Israeli government has broad support among American-Jews.

Of course, the Jewish-American voice against the Iran deal has been widely heard. However, some argue that those opposed to the deal also have more funding and resources to exemplify their message, giving the false appearance that this lack of support for the deal widely represents the American-Jewish community.

Many have argued recently that American support for Israel is fading—fast. A year after protective Edge, it seems that it is not just American policy makers who are beginning to turn their back on the Israeli government, but the American-Jewish community as well. Over the past year, multiple new grassroots organizations have popped up, including If Not Now, made up of Diaspora Jews against the occupation, and Reframing Israel, whose goal is to rethink the way American Jews learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems that when forced to choose between the liberal ideals they were raised on or backing an Israel currently moving away from those ideals, American-Jews will inevitable throw their support behind those values, leaving the Israeli government in its dust.

The change in discourse I am currently witnessing among American-Jews is a positive one. As I have mentioned before, supporting Israel often means not supporting specific policies or actions, or at least questioning each policy and seeing where one stands. Considering many view Netanyahu as hurting Israel and the future of the country, questioning his and his government’s actions may actually be the tough-love and support that Israel currently needs.

After the recent settler attack in the West Bank, which left a toddler and father dead, my friend’s mom told her that “it’s nice to think that we might have some moral superiority in this conflict, but it seems that we don’t anymore.”

Another friend’s mom turned to me a few days ago and said “Netanyahu clearly expresses his desire for one state exclusively for Jews. Look around, that doesn’t exist in the world anymore for any group of people. When will he realize that this dream is unrealistic and harmful to all of us?”

“I don’t know” I responded.

What I do know is that one year after operation Protective Edge, many in the American-Jewish community are no longer willing to buy the messages he is trying to sell them.

Hey, tell me what you think!