How Netanyahu’s win deepened the grief of liberal American Jews

The Israeli election elections triggered the five stages of grief on this side of the pond. We're not through all of them yet

April 17, 2019 13:04

As early results of the Israeli elections arrived across the pond last Tuesday afternoon, liberal American Jews entered the five stages of grief over the future of Zionism.

First was denial: this section of American Jewry openly yearned for a new prime minister, pinning their hopes on the new centrist Blue & White, which was more a merger of personalities than a distinct movement.

With its tepid commitments to the two-state solution while airing adverts promising to bomb Gaza, rebuffing a Knesset coalition with Israeli-Arab parties and failing to articulate major reforms, liberal Jewish-American hopefuls were perhaps deluding themselves that the alliance advocated fundamental shifts in policy.

Yet, on election night, when one Israeli exit poll showed Blue & White in the lead, they cheered for victory.

Though it quickly became clear that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud was likely to tie or lead in garnering mandates — and that he had been in a far better position all along to form a coalition, having focused not only on the party’s success but in assuring a post-election Knesset majority — many liberal American Jews went to bed on Tuesday night still believing they would awake to a new Israeli prime minister.

So came the anger: when they woke they were simply outraged at the “more of the same” outcome in the national political system.

While their patience has waned with Mr Netanyahu over his last decade in office, they were particularly incensed by campaign ploys like his midwifery of the joint list between the Jewish Home and Kahanist Jewish Power parties, his statements on annexation of the West Bank, and sending Likud activists to film Palestinian citizens of Israel at polling stations.

But these Jewish-Americans were irate with the Israeli electorate too for “missing an opportunity” to create a new coalition that aligned with their concerns.

They were also incensed with President Trump’s support of Mr Netanyahu, as well as alliances with right-wing, often Orthodox, elements within their own community seemingly backing Bibi at all costs.

The next stage was bargaining and a multitude of questions: what will it require of liberal, diaspora Jewry to continue to be proud and loyal Zionists in the wake of these elections, especially when the two-state solution seems increasingly remote?

How will American Jewry react to an Israeli annexation of the West Bank? Should American Jewry tolerate Kahanists in the Knesset? Can Jewish-Americans continue to defend an Israeli prime minister who may be a crook?

Is the American Jewish establishment willing to lose the millennial generation around Zionism? Will the continued polararisation within the American Jewish community over Israel drive a permanent wedge in Jewish peoplehood?

It led to depression, the stage we are currently in.

I wonder when and whether American Jewry will reach the final phase, acceptance, which will require acknowledging the average Israeli goes into the voting booth with a different set of concerns to their own.

There are day-to-day fears about their safety that drive much Israeli political behaviour, but also divergent views on the peace process, religion and state, and the very nature of Jewish sovereignty and peoplehood.

If American Jewry cannot abide some of Israel’s politicians and policies today, what I hope it will accept is the need to ideologically and philanthropically empower those constituencies within Israel that share their inclinations, partner with other diaspora Jewish communities, and work with the likeminded across the globe to create a shared vocabulary and vision of the future.

The clock is already ticking on this new Israeli coalition, but I hope some progress is made before the next election cycle.

Sara Yael Hirschhorn is an Israel studies professor at Northwestern University, Chicago, and a research fellow at Oxford

April 17, 2019 13:04

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive