Liberal Jewish Americans condemn Israel's new right-wing government

Progressive Jews in America don't want their identity and heritage conflated with the current Israeli government

Polling shows that Jewish Americans are the most liberal of any surveyed religious group in America. Photo: Gili Getz
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The US and Israel are home to the world's largest Jewish populations — and in America, Jews are increasingly leading an opposition movement against the new right-wing Israeli government.

Israel ushered in its most right-wing government in history last month amid international criticism over its hardline religious and ultranationalist stance.

Jewish Americans are the most liberal of any US religious group, with 44 per cent identifying as liberal, compared to the overall population at 25 per cent, according to Gallop.

For Hadar Susskind, president and chief executive of the organisation Americans for Peace Now, the new government and its startling shows of force is changing Jewish-American posture towards the country.

“There's definitely a shift … These are people and organisations for whom the work has always been 'we stand with Israel',” Mr Susskind told The National.

“That has not changed that we stand with Israel, but the 'pro-Israel' thing to do now, today, is to oppose this government because it's disastrous for us.”

Midterm election polling from J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Jewish-American organisation, gave further details of community attitudes towards Israel and scepticism of the far-right.

Logan Bayroff, J Street's vice president of communications, said findings indicated that Jewish Americans are “broadly pro-Israel” but largely against a series of Israeli policies, including settlement expansion.

“They [Jewish Americans] are very much not in support of the Aipac-style approach that we should just support the Israeli government's decisions, no matter what, that criticism of the Israeli government is out of bounds. That's not how the community actually feels at all,” Mr Bayroff told The National.

Aipac, or the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, is a major US lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies in Washington.

It celebrated Israel's election and new government formation, saying in a statement that: “The Jewish state has demonstrated that it is a robust democracy with the freedoms that Americans also cherish.”

The group recently retweeted a Times of Israel op-ed criticising J Street as “not being pro-Israel at all”.

Abby Stein — an ordained rabbi, author and activist with dual US-Israeli citizenship and raised in the ultra-Orthodox community — said the idea that opposition to the Israeli government represents opposition to Jews is “unacceptable and horrible”.

Ms Stein, who has been vocal in her criticism of the new government, said she believes that the regime is “saying out loud” what has been long-standing Israeli policy towards Palestinians in particular.

But she worries what their posturing means for Palestinians as well as Israeli democracy.

“When it comes to the LGBTQ community, when it comes to women, when it comes to Palestinian citizens of Israel … if what has been the horrible reality until now becomes official policy, the reality is inevitably going to get way worse,” she told The National.

Mr Susskind, who is a dual US-Israeli citizen and a veteran of the Israeli Defence Forces, cautions that leaders on Capitol Hill should regard “this government as fundamentally different than past Israeli governments” and that Jewish Americans should respond in kind by emphasising things are not business-as-usual under returning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I gave people the US analogy that, if you think having Bibi [Mr Netanyahu] back is like having [former US president Donald] Trump back, but that his cabinet is actually [far-right representatives] Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and the guy with the horns who was in the Capitol on January 6 — that's literally who's in the cabinet.”

Mr Bayroff says that Mr Netanyahu's approval among Jewish Americans has “cratered” in recent years, and that his leadership plays a substantial role in increased concern from the community.

A midterm election poll by J Street found that 76 per cent of Jewish-American voters believe former Mr Trump and his allies in the Republican Party are responsible for a rise in anti-Semitism and white supremacy.

“[Mr Netanyahu] is viewed as someone who aligned himself pretty closely personally and ideologically with Donald Trump and with the right wing in the US and with the right wing worldwide … And people see commonality in what is happening in Israel,” said Mr Bayroff.

That opposition has inspired Jewish-led protests at the Israeli embassy in Washington. Crowd members included authors, activists, the elderly and young mothers with babies in strollers. They took a sombre moment to sing the Hebrew song Shir LaShalom, or Song of Peace.

Ms Stein, who spoke at the demonstration, said the show of opposition Jewish voices in the US is important.

The US is considered to have the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and by some metrics may even exceed that of the Israeli population, according to Pew Research.

“The American-Jewish community is really important for Israel … And I think that's a two-way street,” said Ms Stein. “If you need us, then it also puts the responsibility on us that when something goes really bad, we need to speak up.”

The Israeli embassy did not respond to The National's request for comment.

Updated: January 05, 2023, 12:00 PM