There has never been a breach in the relationship between U.S. Jews and Israel as large as the one today. There are two problems facing Israel. The first has to do with the right wing in Israel, both in terms of Jewish teaching and its implementation that threatens to thwart peace with Palestine and Arab countries. While Jewish orthodoxy in Israel is dominated by hardline, religious Jews, American Jews tend to espouse currents that are more liberal than conservative Jews and reformists.
Recently these differences have played out against the backdrop of the events of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the Israeli government has taken the extreme measure of stabling prayer on its western wall as part of a series of legislative strikes on behalf of Israel’s orthodox establishment. Many Jewish leaders in the United States say that they will reconsider their relationship with the Israeli government and will even consider discontinuing donations to Israel. “The rift is real,” says Seth Farber, a modern Orthodox rabbi who leads ITIM, an organization that offers assistance to Israelis in navigating the country’s religious bureaucracy. “[Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox] are not just shifting uncomfortably. They are saying: This is not the Israel that we know.” “These differences are already leading to an erosion of support for Israel because of religious issues and religious extremism in Israel. I think this is deeply troubling,” says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a former head of the Reform strand of American Judaism.
Secondly, American Jews fear that President Donald Trump has racist tendencies. Originally, most American Jews did not vote for Trump in the last election. While many of them continue to support Israel, many view both the United States and Israel’s right with suspicion.
Trump’s reaction to the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has renewed their criticism, particularly among his Democratic opponents who refuse to give any moral justification to racist groups in the United States or Israel. In the wake of their suspicions, U.S. Rep. Steven Cohen called on Congress to withhold its support of the president after his controversial remarks about Charlottesville. Cohen said, “In response to the horrific events in Charlottesville, I believe the President should be impeached and removed from office.”
He explained his reasoning. “Instead of unequivocally condemning hateful actions by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen following a national tragedy, the President said ‘there were very fine people on both sides.’ There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen.”
“President Trump has failed the presidential test of moral leadership. No moral president would ever shy away from outright condemning hate, intolerance and bigotry.” Thus, Jews are afraid that Trump’s first comment on neo-Nazis reveals his true feelings. His second comment, which took three more days to get out and was perhaps forced, proved incomplete and worrisome.
In Israel the criticism of Trump was blunt though he was one of the strongest supporters of Israel in America. When neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville and chanted slogans against Jews and the supremacy of the white race, condemnation should not be equivocal.
Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, tweeted: “In Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism there are never two equal sides – only one side is evil. Period.” Zalman Shoval wrote: “What happened in Charlottesville should ring alarm bells across America and among Jews in particular. The horrific spectacle had American Nazis with swastikas on their shirts while they carried flags and chanted slogans such as ‘The Jews will not take our place.’ The pattern is repeating elsewhere in America.”*
It is clear that one of the outcomes will involve Jews abandoning President Trump once again, despite his support for Israel. Yossi Schein said, “The days of pride among American Jews did not last long. An anarchic wind blows hatred of the Jews from progressives and leftist socialist as well as from neo-Nazis on the right. The extreme American right sees Trump as the savior of the hostile takeover instituted by Barack Obama and his party.”**
The slogans of Jewish hatred heard in Charlottesville proclaimed that the extreme right would not allow Jews to control the president like a lover. Amnon Lord wrote that in the face of the destabilization of democracy in the United States, American Jews would find themselves in the same position as Jews in Europe, especially those of France and Britain.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
**Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.