Haaretz Op-Ed: American Jews Cannot Stay ‘Neutral’ in the Face of Israel’s Catastrophe

Eran Etzion and Daniel Shek
on February 23, 2023

First published in Haaretz. Eran Etzion is the former Deputy Head of Israel’s National Security Council and Amb. Daniel Shek is Israel’s former Ambassador to France and Spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Israel is undergoing a rapid, aggressive attempt at regime change. A seemingly legitimate, elected coalition is determined to use its slim, almost accidental majority to reframe Israel’s democratic foundations into an illiberal and hollowed-out state.

If Netanyahu’s co-conspirators achieve their goal, what was for 75 years the only Jewish and democratic state in history will no longer be democratic. Will it still be Jewish? That depends on your definition of Judaism, but for a majority of Israeli Jews, this is not an academic debate. Rather, it is an existential battle for their homeland’s soul, and for their children and grandchildren’s very possibility of a future life as proud and free Israelis, “to be a free nation in our land,” as the national anthem goes.

This is not your run-of-the-mill expression of “Israel’s vibrant democracy” or “lively debate,” as supporters of the coup d’état – and unfortunately some middle-of-the-road, well-intentioned but hopelessly naïve voices – are trying to argue. (See this misguided recent piece) This is a transformative point in the history of the Israeli nation and the Jewish people. At this moment, our entire nation-state is on the verge of a homemade catastrophe.

What is the role of Israel’s greatest ally in such a defining moment? And what position should America’s crucially important Jewish community, which is liberal to its core, take?

In recent years, the political spheres in both the United States and Israel deteriorated into chaos. A large chunk of the citizenry fell prey to nationalist, populist, and sometimes racist and conspiratorial narratives, propagated by toxic leaders and fueled by irresponsible social media moguls and cynical media figures.

In both countries, any talk of “unity” is detached from political and constitutional realities. There is no “united” America, there is no “united” Israel and there is no “united” American Jewish community. One needs to shut one’s eyes firmly, cover one’s ears hermetically and seal one’s nose completely in order to maintain the stale position of “let there only be one American Jewish voice on Israel.”

The argument that American Jews should represent a united front on Israel went bankrupt decades ago, when AIPAC refused to support the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s historic peace initiative, which was backed by the majority of the Israeli people.

It was once again proven to be counter-productive when AIPAC supported Netanyahu’s destructive crusade against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. These are core national security issues for all Israelis, but they were still played out within the bounds of democracy. Nowadays, the rules have been thrown out the window by a coalition of convicted felons, anti-democratic conspirators, religious fundamentalists and messianic zealots.

To call for American-Jewish “unity” – either in favor of the anti-democratic coup or by adopting “neutrality” – is to betray America’s and Israel’s core values.

With AIPAC having veered rightward, both in American and Israeli terms, the liberal pro-Israel group J Street has not only earned its role as representative of the center and center-left of American Jewry, it now has to struggle alongside its Israeli liberal and progressive counterparts against the attack on the democratic foundations of the Jewish state.

Well over 100,000 people have taken to the streets in recent weeks for regular protests against the government’s so-called “judicial reform” and other parts of the right-wing agenda. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut has warned that “if the people who made up this plan have their way, Israel’s 75th year will be remembered as the year in which its democracy suffered a fatal blow.” From economists and tech companies to jurists and security leaders, so many corners of our society are more alarmed than ever before – and we are mobilizing.

These Israelis understand exactly what is at stake for our country – and we are saying so loudly and clearly. Now, we need our true friends in the United States and around the world to join us – exactly as J Street has…

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