“It would have been hypocritical for me not to speak out about Israeli violations of international law simply because I am Jewish.” This is what Judge Richard Goldstone said in self-defense against the violent attack that he faced from South African Jewish leaders and Israel as a result of his report on the Gaza War.
Compare this to what White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel – who is one of those who reportedly has President Barack Obama’s ear – was subjected to during his most recent visit to Israel to celebrate his son’s Bar Mitzvah [in the same manner as Goldstone was in South Africa celebrating his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah]. Emanuel was subject to a violent campaign from the extremist Israeli right-wing who accused him of betraying the Jewish people “and working as a fifth column within the White House against Israel and the Jewish people.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also previously participated in attacking Rahm Emanuel, accusing him of betraying the interests of the Jewish people. This accusation came in the context of Netanyahu holding Emanuel responsible for the Obama administration’s change in tone towards Israel, or at the very least for Emanuel’s failure to influence Obama and prevent the White House from putting pressure on Israel with regards to the issue of the peace talks and the settlements.
The attacks on Emanuel and Goldstone reflect the important and continuing debate that has been taking place for a long time over not just the allegiance of American Jews, but of all Jews around the world, and whether their allegiance is to the country that they reside in and are nationals of, or to Israel? And also whether they have the right to disagree with Israel’s policies and publicly criticize the country, or whether they must blindly support these policies regardless of their personal views, even if Israel’s policies contravene the interests of their own countries?
For American Jews in particular, this issue poses a real dilemma as it puts them in a quandary with regards to US society, particularly as they represent the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, for according to the US Census Bureau there were 6 million and 400 thousand American Jews in 2008, in comparison to the Jewish population of Israel which – according to statistics – stood at 5 million and 600 thousand in 2009. The gulf which emerged in the eighties between the majority of non-Israeli Jews and Israel has returned recently and is clearer than before, and this is despite the role undertaken by American Jews in supporting the birth of the state of Israel and providing it with money and political and media support through the most powerful lobbies in the most powerful country in the world, to the point that it is said that American Jews are the true guarantors of Israel’s security. This gulf is something that can be seen in the violent attack that the “J Street” organization in the US is being subjected to for supporting the re-launching of the peace process in the Middle East based upon the principle of a two-state solution, and for actively working to promote this in decision-making circles in Washington, despite the fact that the majority of those who work for this organization are Jews. This is also reflected in the attacks being carried out by Israeli extremist upon non-Israeli Jews in general who dare to criticize Israel, to the point that they are described as “self-hating Jews.”
The irony in all of this is that Israel wants the Palestinians who hold the Israeli nationality (Arab Israelis) to have allegiance to Israel, rather than their own people, and to sing the Israeli national anthem, while at the same time it wants the Jews in America and elsewhere to also have allegiance to Israel rather than their own countries. Israel is also currently trying an Arab Israeli activist on charges of spying for Hezbollah, while since the mid-eighties it has been putting pressure on successive US presidents to release Jonathon Pollard, who is serving a prison sentence in the US after being convicted of spying on his own country for Israel.
The debate over the allegiance of Jews living outside of Israel is not something new, and this will not end in the foreseeable future, however what concerns us with regards to this is, where does their conscience lie? Can we imagine them exerting genuine pressure for the sake of peace, especially as they – or the majority of them at least – are able to look at the situation with a broader perspective away from the Israeli siege mentality, and especially since they are capable of pushing Israel towards peace and influencing the decision-makers in Washington (there are 45 Jews in the United States Congress)? According to opinion polls carried out by American Jews previously published in a number of periodicals; 79 percent of American Jews are in favor of continuing the peace negotiations and freezing [Israeli] settlement building, while 84 percent of American Jews believe that the US administration should exert pressure to revive the peace process. Before Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to the US was called off following the [Israeli] attack on the “Freedom Flotilla” there was movement in the US Congress – supported by the “J Street” organization – to create a petition expressing support for efforts of the Obama administration to revive the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, which are the same negotiations that the extremist right-wing in Israel is trying to thwart. However the situation is not clear to this extent, for American Jews have always been the largest supporters of Israel and its war machine.
So while peace efforts are reeling, will Jews outside of Israel, particularly American Jews such as Judge Goldstone, continue to express themselves, or will the “battle of allegiance” cause them to choose silence and withdrawal under pressure of criticism from the extremist [Israeli] right-wing, even if this leads to Israel remaining on the path of war and destruction?