It’s the American Left, Not the Right, That’s Trying to Redefine Support for Israel

Jan. 24 2018

In a recent column, Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward, argued that Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech to the Knesset on Monday is evidence of an attempt by Republicans to “redefine what it means to be pro-Israel.” According to Eisner, Pence put forward a pro-Israel vision grounded in religion and the Bible that cannot win the sympathy of secular Democrats who believe the primary role of the U.S. in its relationship with the Jewish state is to upbraid it for its failings; furthermore, claimed Eisner, Pence’s words would have even alienated Israel’s founders. Jonathan Tobin disagrees:

[Eisner is] wrong about Democrats and liberals being unable to identify with Pence’s language. That would be a surprise to former President Bill Clinton, who often spoke of the way his religious background compelled him to support Israel. The same is true of other liberal Democrats who, whatever their differences with Pence about fiscal or social issues, share his ideas about America’s biblical heritage and the moral imperative for backing a Jewish state.

But Eisner’s lack of perspective isn’t confined only to Americans. She’s just as wrong about Israel’s founders, whom she claimed wouldn’t care for their achievement to be praised by Christian Bible-thumpers. But as much as those socialists didn’t share the faith of evangelicals, they did have an equal appreciation of the Bible. According to David Ben-Gurion, the Bible was the founding document of Jewish statehood and its history. He and other Labor Zionists were largely irreligious, but they wanted Israelis to be knowledgeable skeptics about the Bible, not its opponents or disconnected from it. And, unlike contemporary liberals, they were smart enough to know that the Jewish people needed to embrace its friends wherever they could find them. The contempt for Christian conservative defenders of Israel often heard these days on the left would have appalled them, not Pence’s emotional embrace of Zionism.

The Forward editor is also wrong about the definition of friendship. . . . [T]he problem with many on the left is that . . . they have come to believe that the only way to express friendship for Israel is to attack its government. . . . [T]he notion that it is the U.S. government’s duty to override the judgment of Israel’s voters and, in effect, to save Israel from itself is neither respectful nor particularly friendly. . . .

Trump, Pence, and their evangelical supporters haven’t redefined the term “pro-Israel” in an effort to exclude liberals. The opposite is true. Liberals have sought to change [the term’s] meaning in order to justify support for policies that undermine Israel’s self-determination and to delegitimize the Jewish state’s conservative friends.

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More about: Bible, Democrats, Evangelical Christianity, Israel & Zionism, Mike Pence, Republicans, US-Israel relations

 

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem