The strained relationship between US Jews and Israel

At the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in May, two pastors were present to make the opening and closing prayers.

They come from extreme right, white Christian evangelical traditions. Both are well known for their outspoken anti-Semitism and their support for Israel. It might be thought that Trump sent them to shore up his base among white evangelicals, and that Netanyahu accepted their presence while silently disapproving of their anti-Semitism.

Not so. 

These pastors represent one sector not only of Trump’s base, but also of Netanyahu’s base in the US. The support of right wing white evangelicals has become more important to the Israeli establishment than the support of US Jews.

An article by Moshe Machover, an anti-Zionist Israeli Jew living in Britain, published in the Weekly Worker, argues that the relationship between US Jews and Israel is becoming increasingly strained.

This tension has been increasing under the Netanyahu government. 

There has always been a range of views among US Jews regarding Israel. Left wing Jews, especially socialists, have long been opposed to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. But, for many decades, the majority opinion had been largely uncritical support to Israel’s policies.

In the past decade, new organisations defending the rights of Palestinians, such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), have rapidly grown and become more vocal. After the 14 May massacre in Gaza, JVP, with Arab organisations and others, organised 75 demonstrations in cities across the US.

On the other end of the spectrum have been the hardline supporters of Israel. But, Machover notes, there has been “a growing rift – more like a schism – that has been developing within that portion of the Jewish community that up to now has been pro-Zionist and very ardent in its support of Israel”.

Machover notes a recent piece by Jane Eisner, “the editor of the most important Jewish American newspaper”, Forward. 

“Because of her position, she writes very discreetly and diplomatically. The title of her article is: ‘It’s time for Israel to recognize that diaspora Jews are already home’ – something that the Zionists do not want to hear.”

Machover quotes another article by a member of the Forward editorial board, titled “My Zionism is fading – one expulsion at a time”. The writer is referring to the expulsion of human rights activists from Israel.

Machover adds, “Another article I have read recently is headed ‘Ashamed to be Jewish’. I do not think they mean it, but Israel’s actions are certainly having their effect on American Jews”.

Another factor is that most Jews in the US do not like Trump and his racism, and the anti-Semitism of his alt-right supporters. Remember the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, when demonstrators chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” Trump said there were “good people” among them. The anti-Semitism of the pro-Trump evangelicals also is rightly feared by US Jews. 

Machover also notes a religious dimension to the split. 

“The overwhelming majority of practicing US Jews are aligned with the reform, liberal or conservative forms of Judaism.

“By contrast, in Israel, the strictly orthodox rabbinate has a monopoly on all Jewish religious issues. They often insult American Jews who visit Israel and who want to pray at the western wall of Temple Mount … 

“To cap it all, the Israeli government is now proposing a bill that will give Israel’s rabbinical courts power over non-Israeli Jews. This will not go down too well among US Jews.”

With these ties weakening, the Israeli establishment increasingly looks to the evangelicals as an enthusiastic base of support in the US population, and this is reflected in Netanyahu’s embrace of their representatives at the opening of the US embassy. The number of US evangelicals is many times larger than the number of US Jews.

US policy for decades has been military, financial and political support to Israel as an outpost of imperialism in the Middle East. While the Zionism of the evangelicals is expressed in their belief that the return of Jews to Palestine and the creation of Israel are fulfilling a biblical prophecy necessary to Armageddon, it also dovetails with US policy.

The evangelicals’ anti-Semitism does not conflict with their Zionism, since they want all Jews, including US Jews, to leave for Israel. After Armageddon, all Jews gathered in Israel who haven’t converted to the evangelical version of Christianity will, they believe, burn in hell.

This evangelical anti-Semitism, and the anti-Semitism in office under Trump’s presidency, is “something that Jews detest”, says Machover. 

“However, Netanyahu does not care about such anti-Semitism in America – or anywhere. That is all the better for Israel, since it encourages more Jews to ‘return’ to Israel.”