Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of a new Jewish lobby known as J Street, loves Israel. But Israel, he has been instructed, must be loved in a certain way. He is among a generation of American Jews who are beginning to wonder where that “certain way” is leading.
Israel today, according to many of its friends as well as its critics in the American and Israeli press, is at a critical stage in its history. Does the word democracy really apply to a political system that maintains two tiers of citizenship, one for Jewish citizens and one for “Israeli Arabs”? Or does the word apartheid, once applied exclusively to the legal separation of whites and blacks in South Africa, more accurately describe the relationship of Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where 500,000 Jewish settlers have illegally established themselves? In November 2011 Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist, wrote a column warning that if some proposed laws were passed in Israel, the democracy would become unrecognizable. He said there would be separate buses and streets for men and women; cities would shut down for the Sabbath; Arabs would not be able to run for Parliament or have the right of a university education but would be subject to capital punishment. Also, said Levy, the West Bank would be annexed, and the piece he was writing would never see print.