Tidbits From Israel
By Ron Jager
The Celebrate Israel Parade, known in the past as the Israel Day Parade, will be marching on June 1 for its 50th consecutive year. This time, however, it will be under the shadow of participation by Jewish groups and organizations that assist and support the economic and political boycott of Israel. Under the leadership of UJA-Federation of NY, this event, which has been historically solidly pro-Israel, has in recent years evolved into an ideological battleground between the classical Jewish liberal circles that have dominated American Jewry since the Holocaust and the growing coalition of secular and religious leaders, organizations, and synagogues that refuse to support an unspoken and immoral policy of “selection”—a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” that has legitimized the division of the Jews of Israel and of Israel itself into two distinct groups, good Jews and bad Jews.
The raging debate between the UJA and this emerging coalition of Jewish groups centers on the groups’ demand for accountability and their rejection of UJA’s insistence on defining organizations that support the boycott of Israel as pro-Israel. At the core of the debate is the major shift under way in the historic relationship between the State of Israel and American Jewish leadership—a consequence of Israel’s emerging role as the center of world Jewry and Jewish identity.
As a result of significant demographic changes in recent years, we are in the process of a changing of the guard. During Israel’s formative years, Israeli prime ministers were dependent on American Jewish leaders to open doors to the White House and to Capitol Hill; those days are gone. With Israel now having the largest concentration of Jews in the world, and with Israel having become a military, economic, and technological powerhouse, it is Israel that will decide whom she defines as a friend and whom she defines as an enemy.
UJA-NY can no longer impose on Israel its policy decisions that are unacceptable to the democratically elected political leadership of Israel and to non-Federation-affiliated agencies and organizations active in the New York scene, such as Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, JCC Watch, the National Conference on Jewish Affairs, the National Council of Young Israel, Coalition for Israel, Young Israel of Kew Gardens, Jewish Action Alliance, Never Again Is Now, and the Jewish Political Education Foundation.
UJA leaders can no longer remain indifferent to the vocal and public outcry to call a spade a spade and reject the inclusion of those organizations that support anti-Israel activities, such as boycotting Israel. It should be completely unacceptable for a group that claims to be a supporter of Israel to adopt actions to boycott Israel in order to force its opinion on other organizations.
For the past decade and a half, the left wing of the Israeli political map has consistently lost elections, with Prime Minister Netanyahu becoming the dominant political leader and the Likud becoming the major governing political party over this period. The leaders of UJA-Federation of NY seem to be ignoring these significant political changes and its altering effect on the historic relationship between American Jewry and the State of Israel. This can no longer be a one-way relationship.
American Jewish leaders, as powerful and influential as they are—having the close attention of The New York Times and the media industry, and feeding into the viewpoint that organizations supporting boycotts, divestments, and sanctions should be included—can no longer impose their outdated ideological beliefs.
These same Jewish leaders are adopting a narrative driven by the Palestinian Arab side of the conflict—much of which has been proved to be historically false—and ignoring Israel’s historically, politically, and religiously legitimate claims of sovereignty. They should be reminded that they do not represent American public opinion and they do not represent American Jewish public opinion. What they do represent is a dismal attempt by the liberal left to keep Jews in line and support ideas and policies that are no longer relevant to the changing and dynamic geostrategic reality.
We who oppose the inclusion of organizations that support the boycott of Israel can even believe in the peace process, yet we also understand that most Jews who once enthusiastically backed the peace process have lost interest in chasing after the Palestinian Arabs and begging them to accept a two-state solution. The Palestinian Arabs, having turned down three offers of an independent state—in 2000, 2001, and 2008—have been proved unwilling to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
In Israel, the public understands that boycotts, sanctions, and divestment are about mainstreaming and legitimizing the hatred of Israel no less than they are about economic strangulation. Yet UJA-NY leaders seem to be unwilling to understand what the public in Israel understands and to internalize the meaning of laws that the Knesset legislated in 2011. The Knesset passed the anti-boycott law, which allows all Israeli entities to sue groups calling for boycotts against them for civil damages, and bars such groups from participating in state tenders.
We have yet to hear the final word on the inclusion policy of UJA-NY to invite organizations that support the boycott of Israel. In the coming weeks, the Jewish Agency, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, and the Foreign Ministry, all of which are at the forefront of the changing of the guard, are evaluating the issues raised concerning the Celebrate Israel Parade and are considering the adoption of guidelines and recommendations along the lines of legislation passed by the Knesset. v
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic advisor to the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.