COLUMN ONE: Israel, American Jewry and Trump’s GOP

To understand what can and ought to be done, it is first important to understand the nature of the BDS movement.

Earlier this month Norway, Denmark and Switzerland did something surprising.

Norway announced that it was demanding the return of its money from the Palestinian Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Secretariat, for the latter’s funding of a Palestinian women’s group that built a youth center near Nablus named for PLO mass murderer Dalal Mughrabi.

Denmark followed, announcing it was cutting off all funding to the group.

And last week, the Swiss parliament passed a resolution directing the government to amend Swiss law to block funding of NGOs “involved in racist, antisemitic or hate incitement actions.”

For years, the Israeli government has been urging these and other European governments to stop funding such groups, to no avail. What explains their abrupt change of heart? In two words: Donald Trump.

For years, the Obama administration quietly encouraged the Europeans to fund these groups and to ratchet up their anti-Israel positions. Doing so, the former administration believed, would coerce Israel to make concessions to the PLO.

But now, Trump and his advisers are delivering the opposite message. And, as the actions by Denmark, Norway and Switzerland show, the new message is beginning to be received.

If the US administration keeps moving forward on this trajectory, it can do far more than suspend funding for one terrorism-supporting Palestinian NGO. It can shut down the entire BDS industry before Trump finishes his current term in office.

To understand what can and ought to be done, it is first important to understand the nature of the BDS movement. Under the catchphrase BDS, two separate campaigns against Israel and against Jews are being carried out.

The first BDS campaign is a campaign of economic warfare. The focal point of that campaign is Europe. The purpose of the campaign is to harm Israel’s economy by enacting discriminatory, anti-Israel trade policies and encouraging unofficial consumer and business boycotts of Israeli firms and products.

The US Congress can end this economic war against Israel by passing laws penalizing European states for engaging in trade practices that breach the World Trade Organization treaties. The US Treasury Department can also push strongly and effectively for such an end in its trade negotiations with the EU. The Treasury Department can also investigate whether and how EU trade practices toward Israel constitute unlawful barriers to trade.

Unlike the situation in Europe, where the BDS economic war against Israel is fairly advanced, efforts in the US to mount economic boycotts of Israel hit an iceberg early on due to the swift preemptive actions taken by state legislatures.

In 2015, then-South Carolina governor Nikki Haley became the first governor to sign a law barring her state government from doing business or investing in companies that boycott Israel. Last week Kansas became the 21st US state to pass an anti-BDS law along the same lines. Last month, all 50 state governors declared opposition to BDS.

The second BDS campaign being carried out against Israel is a form of political and social warfare.

Its epicenter is US academia. Its purpose is to erode US support for Israel, by making it politically unacceptable and socially devastating to publicly voice support for Israel on college campuses and more generally in leftist circles.

As is the case with the economic BDS campaign, the best way to defeat political BDS is through state and federal government action. If state and federal governments withheld funding to universities and colleges that permit BDS groups to operate on their campuses, campus administrators, who to date have refused to lift a finger against these hate groups, would be forced into action.

If the US Education and Justice departments opened civil rights investigations against major BDS groups for antisemitic bigotry, campus administrators would finally begin banning them from their campuses.

For many Israelis, the notion that defeating BDS is a job for the US government rather than for grassroots, American Jewish activists, will come as a surprise.

When Israelis think about the BDS movement, they tend to think that the American Jewish community is the place to turn for assistance.

This is not merely incorrect.

As two studies published in the last few weeks show, the notion that Israel can look to the American Jewish community for help with anything is becoming increasingly dubious.

To be sure, there are several American Jewish groups that devote massive resources to combating BDS on campuses. But their actions are tactical.

They fight specific BDS resolutions coming to votes before student councils. They train pro-Israel students to defend Israel to their peers.

While helpful, none of these actions constitutes a serious challenge to the movement.

On a strategic level, the effective moves made to date against BDS have been initiated by Republicans.

Alan Clemmons, the South Carolina lawmaker who initiated the anti-BDS bill in his statehouse and has since gone on to spearhead the state government anti-BDS drive nationally, is a Christian Zionist.

Clemmons didn’t act out of concern for South Carolinian Jews. The Jewish community of South Carolina numbers a mere 20,000 members. The state-by-state anti-economic BDS campaign is neither the brainchild of any major Jewish group nor the product of their efforts.

So, too, to the extent that the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress take action to defeat BDS on campuses and in Europe, they won’t be answering the call of their Jewish constituents. American Jews vote overwhelmingly for the increasingly anti-Israel Democratic Party. And while making up a mere 2% of the US population, American Jews contributed 50% of the donations to the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections.

This then brings us to the two studies of the American Jewish community and its future trajectory.

The first study was published by the Jewish Agency’s Jewish People Policy Institute. It analyzes the data from the 2013 Pew survey of American Jewish attitudes. The Pew survey demonstrated that the Jewish identity of American Jews is growing increasingly attenuated and superficial.

Famously, while 19% of American Jews said that they view observance of Jewish law as an essential part of their Jewish identity, 42% said they viewed having a good sense of humor as an essential part of their Jewish identity.

The JPPI study analyzed the Pew data regarding rates of marriage and childbearing among American Jews aged 24-54. The study started with the data on intermarriage. Sixty percent of non-haredi American Jews are married to non-Jews. A mere 32% of married American Jews are raising their children as Jewish to some degree.

From there, the JPPI study considered marriage and childbirth rates in general. It works out that a mere 50% of American Jews between 24 and 54 are married. And a mere 40% of American Jews between those ages have children living with them.

The JPPI study tells us two important things.

First, in the coming years there will be far fewer American Jews. Second, among those who are Jewish, their Jewish identity will continue to weaken.

Clearly, it would be unwise for Israel to believe that it can depend on such a community to secure its interests in the US for the long haul.

The second study shows that not only can Israel not expect the American Jewish community to help it maintain its alliance with the US, the number of American Jews willing to spearhead anti-Israel campaigns is likely to grow in the coming years.

The second study was produced by Brand Israel, a group of public relations experts that for the past decade has been trying to change the way young Americans think about Israel. The idea was to discuss aspects of Israel that have nothing to do with the Palestinians, with an emphasis on Israel as a hi-tech power. The hope was that by branding Israel as the Start-Up Nation, leftists, who support the Palestinians, would still support Israel.

Fern Oppenheim, one of the leaders of Brand Israel, presented the conclusions of an analysis of the group’s work at the Herzliya Conference this week and discussed them with The Times of Israel. It works out that the PR campaign backfired.

Far from inspiring increased support for Israel, Oppenheim argued that the hi-tech-centric branding campaign made leftist American Jews even more anti-Israel. She related that over the past decade, there has been an 18-point drop in support for Israel among US Jewish students.

To remedy the situation, which she referred to as “devastating,” Oppenheim recommended changing the conversation from hi-tech to “shared values.”

The problem with Oppenheim’s recommendation is that it ignores the problem.

Young American Jews aren’t turning against Israel because their values are different from Israeli values. By and large, they have the same values as Israeli society. And if they know anything about Israel, they know that their values aren’t in conflict with Israeli values.

Young American Jews are turning on Israel for two reasons. First, they don’t care that they are Jewish and as a consequence, see no reason to stick their necks out on Israel’s behalf.

And second, due in large part to the political BDS campaign on college campuses, supporting Israel requires them to endanger or relinquish their ideological home on the Left. Since their leftist identities are far stronger than their Jewish identities, young American Jews are joining the BDS mob in increasing numbers.

This then brings us back to BDS.

The only way to diminish the groundswell of American Jews who are becoming hostile toward Israel is to defeat the forces of political BDS on campuses. To do this, Israel should turn not to the Jewish community but to evangelical Christians, the Trump administration and the Republican- controlled Congress.

As for the American Jews, Israel needs to stop viewing the community as a resource and begin to view it as a community in crisis. To this end, the most significant contribution Israel can make to the American Jewish community – particularly to non-Orthodox American Jews – is to encourage them to make aliya. Assuming that current trends will continue, the only way non-Orthodox American Jews can have faith their grandchildren will be Jewish is to make aliya.

No, this won’t appeal to all American Jews. But nothing Israel does will. Israel’s job isn’t to reach the unreachable. It is to protect its alliance with the US and to help the Jews that remain in the room.

June 24, 2017 | 15 Comments » | 1,182 views

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15 Comments / 15 Comments

  1. These sorts of organized boycotts don’t really accomplish anything except to make the boycotting country’s markets less competitive.

    That should tip you off about what’s really driving the government policy.

  2. Actually, I think nothing much will change. You see, these projections assume that children will take after their parents. There have been examples of children from secular Jewish households becoming religious, even ultra-orthodox, and there have been examples of ultra-orthodox Jews becoming secular. I went to a play by Sholem Asch recently (“God of Vengeance” in Yiddish with English super-titles at a little Christian church in Clinton, formerly Hells Kitchen, that doubles as a Yiddish theater). I had the distinct impression that the people who put on, acted in, and produced the play, were formerly ultra-orthodox Russians, not to mention many in the audience. And remember, this is America. You can change your mind, your beliefs, your political party, your sex, as many times as you like and nobody will hit you. Though, don’t forget, you can only replace a lost social security card ten times 3 times in a year and ten times in a lifetime.

  3. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    And that’s without converts. How many generations of Jews will the Trump family produce, do you suppose. If, as the old quip goes, a Jew is somebody who has Jewish grandchildren, that would make Trump a lot more Jewish than Bernie Sanders, eh?

  4. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    I can’t seem to find it online but I remember a Mad Magazine cartoon from my childhood in the 60s in which a hippy grandfather and grandson ride off on a motorcycle together — looking like they stepped out of the film, “Easy Rider” —
    while the straight-laced alternate generations look on in stern disapproval from the lawn of a suburban home.

    Wow, a click to edit feature. Cool. Nothing to edit here. Well, just one. NIce to have the timer. Like street corner lights now. Good job.

  5. The US Congress can end this economic war against Israel by passing laws ..

    A War against capitalism.

    More government.

  6. the best way to defeat political BDS is through state and federal government action.

    Once again we see a political conservative leading the charge for more government.

    If state and federal governments withheld funding ..

    Why not withhold 100% of the funding, unconditionally? Rebate the money to taxpayers.

  7. [To combat BDS] Israel should .. turn to evangelical Christians, the Trump administration and the Republican- controlled Congress.

    Awful.

  8. @ Abolish_public_education:
    Unchecked capitalism is what led to Arab oil being the only consideration, aside from the usual anti-semitism that infects everthing, public or private. Hitler, before coming to power, had a big portrait of Henry Ford behind his desk. After the Protocols of the Elder of Zion and Before Mein Kampf there was Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent and the anti-semitic articles published in his book, “The International Jew” was published in every language and distributed to every part of the globe. Today, the Ford Foundation funds all the anti-Israel Left-wing crazies. Thomas Edison, another rabid anti-semite. But, then so was Stalin. And American companies built the Soviet Union in the 20s and 30s. Hitler was able to single out all the Jews because he did a census thanks to the early computer he leased from IBM. And that’s just the tip of the capitalist ice berg. It really doesn’t matter. It’s not about economics. Get with it, will you?

  9. @ Abolish_public_education:
    Moreover, unchecked capitalism, inevitably leads to what we have since more successful capitalists will eat up the smaller ones becoming powers unto themselves. In fact, without government, Marx’s vision of the future would indeed become inevitable. It’s hilarious that so-called Marxists ever since the Popular Front days, and then the small is beautiful nonsense of the 60s hippie left, champion small businesses against big as progressive. Marx said that unchecked competition would lead to one or two big conglomerates that would organize everyone into workers for itself except a handful of owners on top. One capitalist crisis after another (we’ve been having depressions since the 1820s) would lead to “social democracy”. The base would just seize ownership and make it democratic at the top. Only in underdeveloped countries would you need a dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition because the bourgeoisie, seeing what was coming, would ally itself with monarchy and try to stop the process of development that history had brought it into existence to complete, so Communists would have to do that on behalf of the proles (factory workers – the only inherently revolutionary section of the working class. He later backtracked on this when talking about the English working class and the colonies.)

    Keynes and Lasalle (Lasalle was a Jewish anti-semite) (policies of Bismarck/ TR and FDR) came up with a theory of regulated capitalism that staved off the inevitable and pushed real Marxism into the “dustbin of history.”

    All of your arguments were advanced by Proudhon in the 1830s and 40s — incidentally, himself a rabid anti-semite — and refuted by Marx, another rabid anti-semite, at that time. You really are living in another century, Abe.

  10. @ Abolish_public_education:
    I wasn’t actually talking directly to Abe, because he is an obsessive compulsive fanatic who loves his one formula and believes it to be the cure for all ills, like any good leftist and he clearly doesn’t have sufficient education to even understand my arguments but if anybody else does, Arnold, Edgar G., anybody, please feel free to chime in. I am gambling that there are intelligent people reading who don’t post comments. If this is all there is, I am wasting my time. And yours.

  11. @ Abolish_public_education:
    I am gambling that there are intelligent, educated, open minded people who don’t post comments reading this. Otherwise, I am wasting my breath. Feel free to chime in anytime.

  12. I objected to Caroline’s generalization on the subject of The American Jewish Community in the past.
    I will just simply note that Ms. Glick has made an effort to clarify herself, to her credit. This is a valuable article.
    The community has been in crisis, however; it is not alone. Israel itself and much of The Jewish Community, worldwide, it would appear, is in the same boat.

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