U.S. Jewish leaders are ‘terrified’ that Netanyahu ignores their warnings

Vice-Prresident Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff meet Hadar Susskind, CEO of Americans for Peace Now (Tweeted by Susskind)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  December 27, 2022

American Jewish leaders are “terrified” by the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored their warnings that he should not cut a deal with the fascistic rightwing to form the next Israeli government, according to Hadar Susskind, the head of Americans for Peace Now.

Right now, people here are terrified in the American Jewish community, that this government is basically saying we don’t care, and we’re seeing not just the usual suspects– not just us [at Americans for Peace Now] — we’re seeing… the Reform movement… people like Abe Foxman, Tom Friedman, other folks… And so far they feel like they’re getting nothing back from this incoming government.

Many Israel supporters, including Dennis Ross and David Makovsky and Democratic Majority for Israel, have warned Netanyahu that he should not go through with the new coalition, because it will arm Israel’s critics in the U.S.

Susskind said in a webinar on Dec. 22 that officials in the Biden administration and the Senate have told him that they will use the opportunity presented by the rightwing government to take “uncomfortable” actions against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

These same officials were unwilling to pressure the Bennett/Lapid government that ousted Netanyahu in 2021 because they feared that the government was “fragile” and pressure would only restore Netanyahu, Susskind said. Now that fear is over.

I will say, having spent this this last holiday week here in D.C., with the opportunity to be at a number of different of congressional receptions and White House events and talk to some of these senior people, I do think there is an understanding in Washington, that this is different. And a conversation I have had with senators this week, with senior White House people this week, was saying, you know, we, all of us, including those political leaders, need to be prepared to think about and talk about and do things that we haven’t done in the past and things that we were not necessarily willing to do or at least they were not willing to do in the past because they were uncomfortable. But this is a different reality. And, you know, that’s… going to take some time to actualize. But there were a lot of shaking heads. And I think there really is an understanding that things are different and require some different responses.

Susskind noted reports that the U.S. government might seek to deny visas to Israelis accused of violence against Palestinians. And he said that denial might extend to Netanyahu’s chosen police minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has often threatened Palestinians and been convicted of incitement to racism.

There is literally a question as to whether Ben-Gvir would be himself granted a US visa should he seek to come here. My guess is Netanyahu is smart enough to try to keep them clear from finding out the answer to that question, but we shall see.

Susskind spoke in a discussion among leftwing Jewish Israelis of the new Israeli government on December 22 (rush transcript here).

A theme of the discussion was that Zionism is finally becoming a nightmare for Jews. Zionism has always been a nightmare for Palestinians, but the new coalition is going to make life miserable and even violent for Israeli peace activists, the panelists said. Israeli left-wingers feel themselves to be “under attack” and on blacklists. One panelist said, the “Reform movement is enemy number one” for the new government.

Jessica Montell, who heads HaMoked, which provides legal assistance to Palestinians under occupation, said leftists feel hunted and afraid inside Israeli society. Using the term “occupation” is considered an expression of a “radical” political agenda.

Israelis are afraid, and for good reason…. Nobody wants to identify as being left. Left has a very negative connotation for the majority of Israelis. And then you think about judges that are dependent on this government for promotion, civil servants, journalists, public figures, I mean, everyone that then is undertaking some sort of calculus about how to weather this government. And of course, that is scary. Precisely at the time that everyone needs to stand up… A lot of people are not going to be willing to take the personal risk that standing up is going to require…

Montell urged the American Jewish community and the American government to “seize the opportunity” of “the mask being removed” on the Israeli government, and religious extremists being appointed to positions dealing with Palestinians. She called on Americans to clamp down on the U.S. tax-exempt status of groups supporting West Bank settlements.

This government will make noises [that it is] much less responsive to criticism and concerns from the American Jewish community and from the US administration. They perhaps don’t all of them understand how dependent Israel is, on those communities, economically, diplomatically, in all sorts of ways. There is a huge and diverse toolbox. You know, all of those settlements have Friends Of organizations, fundraising in the United States, enjoying tax exempt donations. How long is that going to continue? 

Shaqued Morag of Peace Now in Israel urged American Jews to speak up on behalf of liberal Zionists inside Israel. Because American Jews can influence Netanyahu:

The most urgent understanding that must be shared among all active Jewish communities abroad [is that] us– civil society in Israel– is being threatened and delegitimized. I believe that the strong support from mostly the Jewish communities in the States will give us a strong back… Once we are supported by the Jewish community in the States, it gives us more legitimacy. It means that we represent the Jewish people, not only the Israeli left, we come from Jewish values, we are driven by the same feelings. And I can’t stress enough how important the role of the Jewish community abroad is and will be in the future and I’m sure also that even if some of the extreme right belittles the importance of the connections between the US and Israel, Netanyahu will not harm it so easily. And it can be a front that will distract or will prevent some of the harm.

Of course the Israeli government has long targeted Palestinian civil society organizations.

Morag spoke of violence meted out by soldiers to Israeli peace activists on the rationale that they are radicals and “anarchists.” She said this violence is a new thing for Jewish Israelis, but they must stand up for Palestinians experiencing far worse:

Of course, soldiers’ violence is something that we haven’t experienced much before….

Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence said the settler movement has taken over the military, and left-wingers feel themselves “under attack” broadly in Israeli society.

“[W]e’re in a sort of political catastrophe. It’s not only the demise of Meretz, it’s a weakening of Labor [party], it’s the split of the Joint List [of Palestinian parties]…. There’s a big, big energy of people that feel they not only don’t have a voice, but now that they’re under attack… My brother in law works in sort of a pluralistic branch of sort of Jewish education that has joint projects with the Ministry of Education. I just spoke with him a couple of days ago, and I said… you think you’re on the radar? And he was like, I don’t think so. So he just texted me, ‘Oh, we’re on the radar. We’re on the blacklist.’”

Montell said that the “privilege” of being a Jewish activist is being eroded by the new government. Even the Reform movement is enemy number one

It has always been very clear for all of us on this call as Jewish Israelis, that we benefit from a privilege, that Palestinians under occupation cannot do the same things that we do with the same level of safety… So this sort of hierarchy is going to be undermined to some extent…. I think new categories of people, I mean, the blacklist, as was referred to, and apparently there is such a list, you know, with names and organizations that these extremist ministers have already prepared. And it’s not just us who are already used to being on their blacklist, but LGBTQ activists, and the Reform movement– that is also enemy number one, for this government.

Israel has gone so far right in part because there has been no pressure from the U.S. government for it to treat Palestinians better, and no criticism from the U.S. Jewish community. Susskind suggested that that era might be ending. I’d note that Sen. Chris Van Hollen has been strong in pressing for justice in the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, as have many Congress-people and even liberal Zionist organizations.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006