American Jews must embrace their tradition of social justice and reject Israel’s new government

(Jamal Awad - Flash90)

Sam Bahour

Mondoweiss  /  December 7, 2022

Israel’s recent election is a perfect opportunity for Jewish communities to end blind support for Israel and embrace Judaism’s social justice tradition. This begins by working for Palestinian freedom from Israeli occupation.

A truly opportune moment is staring Jewish communities around the world straight in the eye. Israel’s recent election results are challenging anyone who has blindly supported Israel. That blind support is about to be challenged like never before. Either Jewish communities confirm their values at this moment or risk losing their connection to true Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for ‘repair the world). Acting for Palestinian emancipation from Israeli military occupation must be the centerpiece of this effort.

As Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to assemble the next government, his coalition partners are cause for serious concern; they are fascists, even by many Israelis’ definition. Blind support of Israel has now caught up with Jewish communities everywhere. They must decide—to remain in total support of Israel even as these outright racist elements take control of significant ministries or stand up and finally save Israel from itself by reorienting the conversation to the core existential threat that Israel is facing, its oppression of Palestinians.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would point to Abe Foxman, the past Anti-Defamation League leader and one of American Jewry’s leading mainstream leaders for decades, as a guiding light, but he has become just that. Mr. Foxman’s recent Jerusalem Post interview broke the taboo – conditionally loving Israel is Kosher.

“I never thought that I would reach that point where I would say that my support of Israel is conditional,” Foxman said in the interview. “I’ve always said that [my support of Israel] is unconditional, but it’s conditional. I don’t think that it’s a horrific condition to say: ‘I love Israel and I want to love Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that respects pluralism.’”

A case can be made that Israel was never truly “Jewish,” “democratic,” or a state that “respects pluralism.”

There is nothing “Jewish” about displacing an entire people, creating a refugee population, militarily occupying five million people, putting Gaza under the hermetic seal of collective punishment, demolishing homes, uprooting trees, murdering journalists, arbitrarily arresting Palestinians, bargaining in dead bodies, and so on. The list is long and has nothing “Jewish” about it.

There is nothing “democratic” about a state that has legislated over 65 laws that structurally discriminate against its non-Jewish citizens. If that were not bad enough, the state subcontracts (and funds) key parts of its mandate to quasi-governmental agencies, such as the Jewish National Fund (JNF), to carry out its dirty work.

Nothing is respecting “pluralism” in a society hell-bent on Jewish supremacy believing that it can create an enlightened Apartheid.

But put all those aside for another day. 

Today, a Jewish American mainstream leader has allowed the taboo to be broken. It is now normal to condition your support to Israel. For Mr. Foxman, “Jewish,” “democratic,” and “pluralism” are his red lines. 

But other Jews around the world, more progressive ones, can have their own red lines too, such as Israel ending its 55-year-old military occupation. Unlike Mr. Foxman’s red lines, this red line would also save Israel from itself as it embarks on the most racist government since its founding.

There is a way out

There are many Palestinians, such as me, who understand the sensitivity and difficulty of the moment. Although we have been warning you that Israel is heading off a cliff, we will be here to help you do the right thing. We may point you to past messages, like in the article Listen Up, My Jewish Cousins and Jews of the world, disunite…in Israel!. This is not to embarrass you but rather to show you that this moment has been in the works for many decades.

Israeli filmmakers have also tried to impress on you the devastating path Israel has been heading down; through documentaries like Incitement (2019) and The Settlers (2016). In America, the recently released film Boycott (2021) by Just Vision, where I serve as a board member, shockingly explains why the U.S. political system has been hijacked on the issue of Palestine. Even a Palestinian citizen of Israel recently documented what life has been like for Palestinians living on both sides of the infamous Green Line, Stranger in My Own Land by Fida Jiryis. All these will be extremely difficult for you to digest, but if you love Israel, this is information you can no longer afford to ignore.

Despite all the warnings and resources, and so much more, we Palestinians are still here with our hands stretched out to help you face this moment. Ignoring reality on the ground is no longer an option; neither is failing.

This is the moment when the Jewish tradition of social justice can shine or crash. Let’s ensure it shines, together.

Sam Bahour is a Youngstown, Ohio-born and raised Palestinian-American business consultant and a frequent commentator on Palestinian affairs, writing from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in Occupied Palestine