One of the observations that unites the Middle East commentariat–right, left, and center–is that the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements has been counterproductive to peacemaking efforts. That doesn’t mean everyone approves of settlement building, just that there is wide agreement on one of the enduring truisms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: settlements are not the main obstacle to peace.
But according to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, they are the main obstacle preventing American Jews from staying connected to Israel. Yoffie writes in Haaretz:
I spoke a few weeks ago with someone who works with American Jewish organizations in planning programs for their meetings and conventions. “Israel is out,” he told me. The demand for speakers about Israel or from Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade. American Jews are simply interested in other things.
This was a man who understands the U.S. Jewish zeitgeist, and I was initially stunned by his statement. After all, he was not referring to the assimilated minority of Jews who are distancing themselves from all things Jewish; neither was he talking about the anti-Israel Left. He was describing the mainstream, organized Jewish community, which—sadly, tragically—is drifting away from its deep connection to the State of Israel.
There are two important problems with what Yoffie says here, though they are not the main problem with his article. The first is that the American Jewish drift away from Israel is a widely debunked myth. Second, a fading interest in speakers from Israel is not at all representative of American Jews’ connection to Israel.
But the biggest problem with the article is Yoffie’s stated reason for the mythical Jewish detachment from Israel that isn’t happening:
The settlement enterprise, long the central issue of Israel’s internal politics, has become the constant, harping theme of political discussion about the Jewish State, causing concern, dismay, and confusion among even the most committed American Jews.
While some Jewish leaders (full disclosure: I have done this myself) attribute the focus on settlement to unfriendly press coverage in America, in reality the opposite is true. Many American Jews read Israel’s daily press, now widely available in English, and see that the obsession with settlement comes from the Israeli side and not the American side.
Yoffie also calls the settlement movement the “NRA of Israel.” I’m not sure if he’s trying to insult gun owners or Israelis–or both.
Additionally, the settlement-related news today is positive–Israel’s government evacuated a settlement and moved the village’s inhabitants without incident. Even the New York Times was forced to admit, through gritted teeth no doubt, that this was “the first peaceful evacuation of a Jewish settlement from the occupied territories in memory.” (Related question: Whose memory? The reporter’s? Is it now journalistically acceptable to say that you can’t remember the last time something happened and didn’t have any interest in trying to find out?)
But that good news was in the American press, which Yoffie says is no longer influencing Americans. We must look to the Israeli press, then, to see what could be causing American Jews to stop being interested in listening to presentations by Israeli convention speakers. And sure enough, there was some bad news about violent Israelis. From Haaretz:
On Saturday, Israel’s social protest turned violent as thousands of Israelis clashed with police, blocked roads, and smashed bank windows.
“What we saw was not a popular protest but a planned web of events including law infractions and violence,” [Police Commissioner Yohanan] Danino said.
So Israel’s leftist protesters are violent rioters? That is troubling indeed. Perhaps Yoffie will address that in a future column. In the meantime, Israeli leftists should learn how to comport themselves within the bounds of respectability–like the Ulpana settlers. American Jews are watching, you know.