Vice President Joe Biden used his appearance at the recent J Street Gala to voice the Obama administration’s frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
That was not news to anyone who has followed U.S.-Israeli relations during the Obama years. Nor is it a secret that the administration believes that “the present course Israel’s on is not one that’s likely to secure its existence as a Jewish, democratic state,” as Biden put it.
But what the vice president said in the next breath is vital: “We have to make sure that [secure existence] happens.” And later in his remarks, he said: “We are Israel’s maybe not-only friend, but only absolutely certain friend.”
Biden’s same message of warning and support was derided at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March. It was warmly received by the J Street audience, whose organization is pushing for an end to an Israeli presence in the West Bank.
Many on the Jewish right demonize J Street as Israel haters and self-hating Jews. Right-wing commentator Daniel Pipes took a more nuanced approach in a recent analysis of changes in support of Israel: “Jewish support for Israel has weakened primarily because Jews are solidly on the liberal-left of the political spectrum (these days symbolized by Bernie Sanders), the side most critical of Israel,” he wrote. “From Israel’s point of view, the fact that American Jews are losing their ardor for Israel is a distinct loss. But it is made up for by American conservative support for the Jewish state.”
In other words, according to Pipes, liberal support is down, conservative support is up. Jewish support is down, Christian support is up.
Implicit in this argument is a conclusion that because liberal American Jews are not viscerally supportive of the Jewish state (a questionable assertion), their Judaism is lacking. But that is demonstrably not true. One can be a proud, committed and active Jew and still be critical of positions taken by the Israeli government. And one can be a strong, visceral supporter of Israel and be critical of various realities there.
That’s not to say that we back J Street’s point of view or their full-throated denunciations of Israel. We absolutely do not. In fact, we believe that in the dangerous reality in which the Jewish state exists, the last thing Israel needs from its allies — whether in the U.S. government or in the American-Jewish community — is tough love.
Nonetheless, as we near the end of Passover, a reminder of the time when we were given our identity as a people, attempts to exploit the divides in our community for political gain — a sin employed by both sides of the spectrum — must be called out as the cynical tools they are. Dividing the Jewish community into “friends of Israel” and “those for whom liberalism is a more important religion than Judaism” is not only wrong, it is dangerous.