U.S. Zionists Foxman, Jacobs and Kurtzer sound alarm about Netanyahu’s extremist government

Bezalel Smotrich and Benjamin Netanyahu (Twitter)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  December 20, 2022

Benjamin Netanyahu is set to announce his new governing coalition that includes openly racist and fascistic lawmakers (according to reports), and American Zionists have been sounding alarms that the next government will break Israel’s supposedly unbreakable relationship with the U.S.

Longtime leaders in the Jewish community, notably Abe Foxman, Thomas Friedman, Rick Jacobs, Aaron David Miller, and Dan Kurtzer, have all expressed fears of how the new government will harm the U.S.-Israel relationship. Or as David Makovsky and Dennis Ross wrote a few weeks back in the first major sign that American Zionists are panicked by Israel’s political shift, the new government will arm Israel’s “fiercest critics,” including progressives who seek to end U.S. aid and distance the U.S. from Israel.

Not all these leaders are concerned about Palestinian rights. Indeed, Abe Foxman doesn’t question Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but is upset that Israel might change the definition of Who is a Jew? in such a way as to disqualify and alienate American Jews.

Here are some of the warnings. Former ambassador Dan Kurtzer, a liberal Zionist, explained on an Americans for Peace Now podcast that Israel appears to be driving its policy toward Palestinians “off a cliff,” and will break promises it made to the U.S. on “outpost” settlements, for instance. And that will separate the two countries’ governments at last.

I think we’re at an inflection point. The First Intifada was one, Camp David the Second Intifada was a second. I think that we’re at a third point now where Israel may have finally decided to drive its policy off a cliff in a manner that will be inconsistent with American interests and values.

Kurtzer noted that even Foxman, a conservative Zionist, has “called into question his own lifetime commitment to Israel if Israel heads in a direction that these guys say they want to lead it.”

This is far more fundamental and far deeper [than differences over the peace process] and therefore should prompt everyone, left, center and right, to think about this.

Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller, an author and former State Department official, wrote a piece in the Washington Post calling for cutting off U.S. military aid that goes to deepening the occupation (reported by The Jerusalem Post):

The United States should no longer provide offensive weapons or military assistance to Israel’s incoming government for actions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, a former US ambassador to Israel and a former US State Department negotiator said…

[Kurtzer and Miller] both American Jews who have worked on the Arab-Israeli peace process, wrote in The Post that the US should continue to support Israel’s “legitimate security needs,” but should warn against efforts to change the status of the West Bank, Temple Mount and settlement outposts. 

J Street, the liberal Zionist organization, has adopted a similar stance toward such Israeli actions.

Tom Friedman also used the off-the-cliff metaphor in a column over the weekend putting pressure on Netanyahu not to build a coalition with the extremist right or he will lose American support:

Netanyahu has been basically telling American officials, American Jews and Israel’s Arab allies that although he’s putting foxes in charge of hen houses and distributing matches and gasoline to pyromaniacs, his personal power and savvy will be able to replace institutional checks and keep his extremist partners from taking Israel over a cliff.

A New York Times editorial over the weekend also warned that the Israeli government threatens its “ideal” democracy and Biden must do something, not clear what:

Mr. Netanyahu’s government, however, is a significant threat to the future of Israel… Rather than accept this outcome, the Biden administration should do everything it can to express its support for a society governed by equal rights and the rule of law in Israel, as it does in countries all over the world…

Note the great weight and “shared values” that the Times grants to the relationship between Israel and the U.S. I think this is exceptionalism:

 The relationship between Israel and the United States has long been one that transcends traditional definitions of a military alliance or of diplomatic friendship. A body of deeply shared values has forged powerful and complex bonds. A commitment to Israel, both in its security and in its treatment by the world, has been an unquestioned principle of American foreign and domestic policy for decades…

The writer Eric Alterman says the new government is breaking up the relationship between American Jewry and Israel in an unprecedented manner. Alterman spoke on a November 22, 2022 podcast with Americans for Peace Now about his new book “We Are Not One.”

The break is now out into the open… The relationship is coming unglued because Israel is moving further and further in this extreme direction… Clearly American Jews and American liberals and the people who have always been there for Israel can’t go along with this. The head of the Reform movement Rabbi Rick Jacobs issued a statement about [rightwinger Itamar] Ben-Gvir etc that no American Jewish leader has ever said before about Israel. It was much harsher than anything they’ve ever allowed themselves to say in the past. It hasn’t happened yet, but if it does happen and the Israelis take the direction that they seem to be going on, then we’re going to see a dislocation between the two that has no precedent.”

Here is a portion of that Rick Jacobs statement from November 20, 2022:

“In America there is a feeling that appointing Itamar Ben-Gvir as Minister of Public Security is like appointing David Duke, one of the leaders of the antisemitic Ku Klux Klan, as Attorney General… He’s someone who has made a career out of hatred and encouraging violence. Since we love Israel and believe in it as a Jewish and democratic state, we are very concerned about Israel’s existence and its place in the world…

“For most American Jews it is unimaginable that someone like Itamar Ben-Gvir or Bezalel Smotrich would not only be in the Knesset, but would even be appointed as senior government ministers. When they talk about a variety of issues, they will be the face and voice of modern Israel. Honestly, this is a scary thought to me.”

And here are some of Abe Foxman’s comments as quoted by the Jewish Standard, December 7. He begins by saying that he can never question Israel’s actions toward Palestinians, and doesn’t know. But this government may change the definition of Who is Jewish.

“I have always said that Israel cannot listen to the American Jewish community on issues of settlement, occupation, borders, or peace deals, because at the end of the day, regardless of whether American Jews, right, left, or in the middle, feel uncomfortable, it’s Israel’s decision. It’s Israel’s life or death. It’s their sovereign decision to make. That’s because if, God forbid, they get it wrong, they’re dead.

“So all these issues in the last 50, 70 years, all the disagreements between American Jews and Israel will not change the relationship. If in the end, again God forbid, they make a mistake and there is violence, the American Jewish community will stand with them.

“That is not the case in the issues I am talking about now.

“If the Jewish state will define who is a Jew, what qualifies as a Jew, how to qualify as a Jew, how to pray as a Jew, that will be a critical problem in our relationship.”

Smotrich, Ben-Gvir and Avi Maoz could reframe Israeli law so that “I am not considered to be a Jew,” Mr. Foxman said… “If those extremists could say that I am not a Jew, then certainly Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews will not be considered Jewish. And if that happens, God forbid, there will be a split.

“We need to ring the alarm, and I am ringing it. I know that the prime minister is smart, and I know that he knows America. I also know that he has personal needs. But he has said all the right things.

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