A Battle for the Soul of Our Community

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on November 19, 2017

There’s a battle going on right now for the heart and soul of the Jewish community.

Over the past few months, the lines in this battle have become strikingly clear.

On the one side, there’s the large majority of American Jews that supports democracy, equality and social justice. This 80 percent of our community believes in the two-state solution as the only way to reach peace and secure Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. It didn’t vote for Donald Trump, it fears and opposes most of his policy agenda, and it abhors the white nationalist hatred spread by the likes of Steve Bannon and Breitbart.

On the other side, there’s the extreme and vocal minority that embraces Islamophobes, racists and even anti-Semites — as long as they call themselves pro-Israel, defend the settlement movement and attack liberals.

This minority is small, but it’s dangerous — and its influence is clearly growing. That’s because, incredibly, it has the full support of the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States — and the full financial backing of their shared favorite donor, Sheldon Adelson.

As Trump, Netanyahu and their supporters push further and further to the right, their ideologies and agendas move closer together — and further away from most American Jews.

This growing chasm was on full display last Sunday night, when the Zionist Organization (ZOA) of America’s annual gala dinner in New York brought together a who’s who of the Jewish right and the alt-right.

Steve Bannon was given a prime speaking role (and used it to praise Adelson). Sebastian Gorka, notorious for his ties to an anti-Semitic Hungarian fascist group, received a loud round of applause. Jack Posobiec, an alt-right activist best known for promoting the insane “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, was there too.

And who else was there alongside these champions of hate? ZOA President Mort Klein. David Friedman, President Trump’s ambassador to Israel and longtime settlement movement backer. Members of Congress like Senator Tom Cotton and Rep. Lee Zeldin. Former Senator Joe Lieberman. And Alan Dershowitz, once seen as a leading representative of the US pro-Israel establishment.

The alliance of these two groups is shameful — and really dangerous.

For alt-right leaders like Bannon, the endorsement of groups like the ZOA allows them to claim that they are “pro-Israel” and “friends of the Jewish community” — while moving forward an extreme agenda that runs totally counter to our Jewish values.

For the pro-Israel far-right and the Netanyahu government, close ties with leading Trump supporters gives them more influence in the White House and in Congress — and helps them in their campaign to expand settlements, entrench the occupation and push Israel farther down the path of a one-state nightmare.

The imagery of Sunday night’s gathering should be a wake-up call for all of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement and in the American Jewish majority. The extremists are hard at work endangering our future, both in Israel and here at home.

We need to mobilize, organize and show what our community truly stands for. We need to fight back.

At J Street, we’re striving to make sure that our majority values and goals have a powerful voice on Capitol Hill and across the country. We’re working hard to transform our national politics by helping to elect a wave of principled, diplomacy-first candidates in 2018 — to build a bulwark in Washington against extremism, war-mongering and hate.

On campuses and in Jewish communities, we’re taking steps to promote and defend the two-state solution — and show how the occupation and injustices against Palestinians endanger the security and fundamental character of Israel.

In this battle for our community and our future, we know that our goals and values are in line with centuries of Jewish traditions, with the US Constitution and with the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

We know that generations of Americans and American Jews are committed to building a future based on the values on which we’ve been raised: equality, justice and the pursuit of peace. And we know that to advance those values, we will have to fight a loud minority in our community — voices like Klein, Friedman and Adelson.

We know that sanity and progress can and must win out over extremism and bigotry.

But only if we fight for it.

Thank you for standing with us in this battle.

P.S. — Will you stand with us against far-right elements in our own community and their alt-right allies? Chip in now to help us defeat the toxic politics of hate.

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