I rallied for the survival of Israel in 1967. Now I worry about its future. -J.
The first time I went to the Hollywood Bowl was 55 years ago on June 11, 1967.
When I was 14, I went to the Bowl with my family for the “Israel Survival Rally,” a massive show of solidarity with Israel after the Six Day War.
Although I would have preferred to see the Monkees, who performed at the Bowl just three days earlier, the rally for Israel was no less exciting. The amphitheater was overflowing with people. The stage was filled with celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Peter Sellers and Barbra Streisand.
After three of Israel’s four neighboring Arab states gathered armies on their borders, Israel launched a preemptive attack and defeated them, capturing the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank. of the Jordan – including East Jerusalem – from Jordan.
As a Jew, I felt proud. Secured. More importantly, I felt that justice had prevailed. Now I am deeply troubled by Israel‘s long-term security and moral standing in the world.
The Hollywood Bowl rally was personally also a decisive moment, in a pivotal year for the development of my political identity. This took place the year the Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love,” and 1967 was also the year Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his anti-war sermon at Riverside Church in New York City. King’s speech was followed by a speech by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a leading religious voice against the Vietnam War. Two years earlier, Heschel and King had walked together from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Support for Israel, the struggle for civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam were for me neatly linked as expressions of my Jewish code of ethics. My parents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to America. This confluence has also helped me feel on the right side of history, aligned against bigotry and hate, and fighting for justice and equality.
In the years that followed, through high school, college, and eventually into my career leading the New Israel Fund, the Israel Policy Forum, and other groups working to support a Jewish and democratic Israel, I dedicated myself to these causes. In solidarity with other Americans, I marched to promote equality and speak out against the Vietnam War. Along with other Americans, I advocated for saving Soviet Jews and for Arab-Israeli peace – from Camp David to Oslo as well as new proposals for a confederation of Israel and Palestine.
But things are different now. The sense of common purpose that I felt during those years has diminished. By departing from the principles on which it was founded, Israel exposes itself to opposition from the liberals and progressives who have always supported it.
I still believe in these principles. My love and support for Israel has not diminished, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify its actions.
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Ironically, the seeds of my distress over Israel were planted 55 years ago. Israel still occupies the West Bank and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace are bleak. The Israeli prime minister, who has long opposed the two-state solution, will not even meet the head of the Palestinian Authority. There are Israeli leaders, including even some active military officers, who loudly support a permanent occupation and effective annexation of the West Bank.
Today it is difficult to be proud of Israel, or that justice reigns in the only Jewish state. As misguided as the Palestinian Authority leadership is, I cannot defend Israel’s eviction of more than 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank. As reprehensible as the Palestinian terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis are, I cannot accept Attacks by Israeli settlers about Palestinian villagers or ultranationalists marching through the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs.”
It is also more difficult to feel safe. The sense of confidence I had in 1967 had a lot to do with my integration into American society. But the coalitions that then seemed intuitive are now in danger of deteriorating. Progressive support for Israel has waned. Black American solidarity with the Palestinians grew. Jews like me who are socially progressive and support the existence of Israel but are against the occupation find themselves increasingly politically homeless in this new reality.
Unequivocal supporters of Israeli government policies have launched massive campaigns to defeat progressive candidates for political office. Some progressive Democrats who criticize Israel have been tagged anti-Israel for advocating the same peace and security policies that Israeli political and military figures have promoted. I don’t agree with everything these progressive lawmakers promote, but I believe the occupation has eroded support for the Jewish state alone. And it has exacerbated ideological divisions over the conflict to the point that constructive debate about how to rectify the situation is nearly impossible.
Some Democrats have accused their colleagues of anti-Semitism. A letter signed by four members of the Jewish Democratic House last year even invoked the Holocaust to denounce the labeling of Israeli policies as apartheid. Instead of speaking as a unified, liberal Jewish community, the American Jewish Diaspora is increasingly fractured.
The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once warned that continued occupation would lead to apartheid. In the early 1990s, I worked with Rabin to promote his vision of peace and security in my role as chairman of Israel Policy Forum. Rabin was a fierce warrior for Israel and the Jewish people. I don’t believe he would have exploited anti-Semitism to counter even the harshest critics of Israel. He would have challenged Israel’s opponents on substance, having no patience for empty rhetoric.
Using accusations of anti-Semitism to stifle debate about Israel’s policies is not only wrong, but also short-sighted and dangerous. This diverts the debate from the substance of whether something is – or is not – anti-Semitic. If we want to condemn opponents of Israeli policies as anti-Semites, we should denounce Jordanian merchants for displaying “Mein Kampf” in their windows and punish pro-Palestinian attacks against Jews in the United States as hate crimes. .
False accusations of anti-Semitism also divert attention from real cases of anti-Jewish bigotry. The security guard at the entrance to my synagogue is not there to protect the faithful against those who want to boycott Israel. He’s there to prevent another Pittsburgh or Poway or Colleyville. Antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2021 are up 60% from the previous year, and when every perceived levity is labeled as antisemitic, I think that dilutes the very real and pressing need to better protect American Jews. .
Arming anti-Semitism also harms Israel. Toxic environments leave no room for debate. Without an open debate on Israeli policy, the occupation will metastasize.
If that happens, the prospects for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will fade, along with the feelings of pride, security, and justice I felt that day 55 years ago at the Hollywood Bowl.