Last Updated: Sat Apr 07, 2012 16:35 pm (KSA) 13:35 pm (GMT)

U.S. Jews divided over settlements

George Hishmeh

A deep fissure within the influential Jewish community in the US, numbering more than five million, is becoming more apparent nowadays, and surprisingly, it is over Israeli policies. This makes one wonder whether Israel can continue to bank on full American support in the immediate future.

The issue troubling many countries and communities elsewhere, including the American Jewish community, is the relentless usurpation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers, with the obvious approval of Israeli governments.

To date, more than 300,000 Israelis settled illegally in the Israel-occupied West Bank and 200,000 in the Old City of Jerusalem, home to more than a quarter of a million of Palestinian Arabs.

For the first time, the rift within the Jewish community attracted some key publications, like Newsweek, more exposure on television networks and on the social media like Facebook an Twitter.

This open debate has been ushered in by critical Jewish organisations like J-Street and websites like Mondoweiss.

Among its goals, Mondoweiss lists “foster[ing] the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy” and “offer[ing] alternatives to pro-Zionist ideology as a basis for American Jewish identity”.

This blog is co-edited by Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, two American Jewish writers.

Despite the growing rift, Israel is repeatedly assured of the continued support of its Jewish critics in these liberal organisations and groups. This is true of its most recent detractor, Peter Beinart, who has gained wide attention after the publication of his recent book, “The Crisis of Zionism”.

But amazingly, the US media, by and large, have continued to maintain their timidity towards Israeli governments, especially the current one led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which is aggressively supporting the illegal Israeli settlers who usurp Palestinian property.

There is no doubt that the shelving of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by the Obama administration is due, in part, to the presidential campaign that is expected to heat up in the next few weeks. Equally crippling has been the surprise election of a new leader of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party, Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister who was recently described by an Israeli columnist as “cruel”, since “no less than 1,705 Palestinians were killed on his watch, including 372 children and teens and 191 [in] targeted killings... .”

An additional complication was voiced last Sunday by two leading members of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which said in a column in The Washington Post that “there is a need to assuage the Israeli fear that [the upcoming negotiations — on April 13 — between Iran and the five members of the UN Security Council] will drag on beyond a point which Israel would lose its military option”.

Dennis Ross, now a counsellor at WINEP, and David Makovsky, co-author of the column, argued that “it is reasonable for Israel to have some input into the objectives of diplomacy and timetable for progress in negotiations”.

In other words, they said, “the more Israel feels its views are being taken into account, the more inclined it will be to give diplomacy a chance to work before resorting to force”.

This complicating view misses the key point raised by Beinart, which initiated the serious division within the American Jewish community. The main point in the book — and several interviews in the press and on the air — is that Israel is “sleepwalking to a one-state solution” and that other efforts to slow or stop settlement expansion are “failing miserably”.

Interestingly, Beinart believes that Israelis should boycott all goods produced by the illegal West Bank settlements — a step that could lead to the dismantling of this illegal Israeli enterprise.

An American citizen whose grandmother lived in Egypt, Beinart explained in a radio interview: “If Israel holds that [West Bank) territory permanently and does not give the right of citizenship and the right to vote to the Palestinians living there, it will no longer be fully a democratic state. If it does, it will no longer have a Jewish majority and will no longer be a Jewish state and therefore our generation will have failed our responsibility to pass down to our children what our parents gave to us — a precious legacy — the democratic Jewish state.”

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Jordan Times on April. 5, 2012

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