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How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism Is Fracturing American Politics

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Positivity     39.00%   
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James Zogby took issue with Wexler’s opposition to mentioning the words “occupation” and “settlements.” In his opening testimony, Wexler called for a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel’s capital would be Jerusalem, long a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making no mention of Palestinian claims to the city, whose eastern and predominantly Palestinian half — including the Old City and the major Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites within it — has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Israelis fight for themselves.” At this, an audience member called out, “With our money!”Cornel West, a Sanders appointee, expressed concern that “for too long, the Democratic Party has been beholden to Aipac” — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bipartisan pro-Israel lobbying group — which “didn’t take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters.” He added that the party was now at a “turning point,” which was why he supports the B.D.S. movement, disputing the charge that it’s anti-Semitic. Wendy Sherman, a Clinton appointee, affirmed the Democratic Party’s commitment to a two-state solution and declared, “Our differences are really with the Republican Party.”Later that afternoon, Duss, the Sanders team’s expert, said that while “there is no question we should be and will be Israel’s friend in resolving this conflict,” the United States must “recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the most basic political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people run contrary to fundamental American values.” He added that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harmed American interests, citing remarks made at the Aspen Security Forum in 2013 by James Mattis, the former head of U.S. Central Command, who became Trump’s secretary of defense: “I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of Centcom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”Like Clinton’s expert, Duss professed support for a two-state solution. The pro-Israel orientation of the Democrats extends to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members co-sponsored two bills in 2017 and 2018 — the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (Jerrold Nadler and Donald Norcross, among others) and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (Hakeem Jeffries and Ted Lieu, among others) — that counter B.D.S. and were supported by Aipac.In an October 2018 survey of 800 American voters who identify as Jewish, conducted by the Mellman Group on behalf of the Jewish Electoral Institute, 92 percent said that they are “generally pro-Israel.” In the same poll — conducted after the United States closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, appointed a fund-raiser for the settlements as U.S. ambassador and cut humanitarian aid to Palestinians — roughly half of American Jews said they approved of President Trump’s handling of relations with Israel. On what is considered the most divisive issue in U.S.-Israel relations, the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a November 2018 post-midterm election poll of more than 1,000 American Jews that was commissioned by J Street, the pro-Israel lobby aligned with Democrats, found that roughly half said the expansion of settlements had no impact on how they felt about Israel.Members of the Democratic Party’s progressive activist base, by contrast, find themselves light years from their representatives in Washington. The Movement for Black Lives, the racial-justice coalition that includes the Black Lives Matter network, has called for supporting divestment campaigns with the goal of ending American military aid to Israel; the Democratic Socialists of America has endorsed B.D.S. Kate Gould, a lobbyist for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group dedicated to peace, justice and environmental stewardship, told me that generally even progressive members of Congress frame development aid for the Palestinians merely as help for people who are suffering. In 2000, 2001, 2008, they said no.”The B.D.S. movement casts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle against apartheid, as defined by the International Criminal Court: “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” (The United Nations defines racial discrimination as directed at “race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin.”) B.D.S. leaders often cite South Africa’s sixth prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, who likened Israel to South Africa in 1961: The Jews “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In December 1977, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin presented an autonomy plan to the Israeli Parliament that would have given all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza freedom of movement throughout Israel and the occupied territories, as well as the right to choose Israeli citizenship, with all its attendant privileges, he said: “We never wanted to be like Rhodesia,” the black-majority African state that, like South Africa, was then ruled by a white minority. Anti-racism.” The plan was never implemented, although parts of it became the basis of the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1993 Oslo Accord, which established limited Palestinian autonomy for what was supposed to be a temporary period of five years but has lasted until today.To bolster the argument that the Palestinian struggle is a fight against racism, B.D.S. leaders have highlighted the support for Jewish ethno-nationalism by far-right European politicians like President Viktor Orban of Hungary, alt-right figures like Steve Bannon and white supremacists like Richard Spencer, an organizer of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. That year, Spencer told an Israeli television interviewer: “You could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. Israeli law forbids citizens to obtain citizenship or permanent residency for Palestinian spouses from the West Bank and Gaza.For liberals who support Israel, the most troubling aspect of the B.D.S. platform is its opposition to Israel’s remaining a Jewish state, both through the insistence on full equality between Jews and non-Jews in Israel and through the call to recognize the right to return for Palestinian refugees. At the same time, some promoters of B.D.S. support Palestinian self-determination while opposing Jewish self-determination, and are ultimately fighting not for an end to the occupation (which I also oppose) but an end to the state of Israel.” She characterized speaking out against the occupation as a “moral imperative,” but added: “Casting the movement for Jewish self-determination as a racist, Western colonialist enterprise, rather than a liberation movement for a minority population subject to generations of pogroms, exile, discrimination and ultimately genocide, is self-serving historical revisionism. Emily Mayer, a founder of the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow, told me, “Many of my progressive Jewish friends feel conflicted about Zionism, but few of them say that Jews have to be a majority.” She added, “When my generation looks to Israel, what we expect to see is the same commitments we have at home: equality, dignity for all and justice.”Among American and Israeli Jews alike, there is growing concern that the most likely future for Israel-Palestine is neither two states nor one but continued Israeli occupation and Palestinian subjugation. When Netanyahu accused Gantz of intending to form a government with Arab parties, Gantz vowed he would sit in a coalition only with parties that are “Jewish and Zionist.” Such statements have bolstered B.D.S. supporters’ view that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would not bring freedom or equality to millions of Palestinians.For all the recent tumult over Israel in Washington, the policy debate remains extremely narrow. “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.” Peter Joseph, an emeritus chairman of the center-left Israel Policy Forum, told me that the views of major Democratic Jewish donors could act as a check on the leftward pull by progressive voters who are strongly critical of Israel: “I can’t imagine that mainstream Democratic Jewish donors are going to be happy about any Democratic Party that is moving in that direction.”Another former member of the Obama White House, who asked not to be named, fearing professional retaliation, said that concerns about donors among Democrats dominated not just “what was done but what was not done, and what was not even contemplated.” Even the timing of the administration’s policies toward Israel was dictated by domestic politics. Haim Saban, one of Hillary Clinton’s top five donors in 2016, has financed opponents of Democratic candidates critical of Israel; opposed the bid of Keith Ellison, the black Muslim congressman, for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2016, calling him “an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel person”; briefly partnered with the top Republican donor and settlement supporter Sheldon Adelson on an initiative to combat B.D.S. on American college campuses; and publicly thanked Jared Kushner for pressing Russia to delay or defeat the 2016 United Nations resolution condemning settlements. Hillel chapters around the world must adhere to guidelines that forbid partnering with or hosting organizations, groups or speakers who “delegitimize” or “apply a double standard to Israel,” deny “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state” or support “boycott of, divestment from or sanctions against the state of Israel.” In 2016, Michigan’s Hillel affiliate received the top award for pro-Israel campus advocacy from Aipac; it has served as a headquarters for opposition to divestment.Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, or SAFE, is one of roughly 200 chapters of the main student divestment group in the United States, National Students for Justice in Palestine. One Jewish student, Ali Rosenblatt, said she felt that what she had been taught about Israel was inadequate to the task of “being confronted by real stories of people whose human rights were violated.”According to Ari Spellman, the chairman of the cohort of seven pro-Israel clubs in the Michigan Hillel that year, two members of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an advocacy group that works with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs to combat B.D.S., came from Washington to prep students. It has since worked to promote the notion that certain courses and pro-Palestinian events on campus violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin by any entity receiving federal funds or other federal financial assistance, and has argued that anti-Semitism, often “under the guise of anti-Israel sentiment,” creates a “hostile environment” for some Jewish students. But that was before Marcus, a Trump nominee, was confirmed by the Senate as head of the office in June 2018.The Department of Education adopted a relatively new definition of anti-Semitism, adapted from what is known as the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia working definition, which was promoted and partly drafted by pro-Israel advocacy groups including the American Jewish Committee (A.J.C.) and had been adopted by the State Department in 2010. It defines anti-Semitism, in part, as: “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” The definition has since been broadly applied to criticism of Israel and advocacy of Palestinian rights, causing its lead author, Kenneth Stern, the A.J.C.’s former director on anti-Semitism, to distance himself. But pro-Israel advocates have defined it as including calls for a one-state solution, for the return of Palestinian refugees or for Israel, within its pre-1967 boundaries, to grant equal rights to its Jewish and Arab citizens, thus rendering the country “a state of all its citizens” rather than a Jewish state.Palestine Legal, a legal-defense group devoted to safeguarding the civil and constitutional rights of pro-Palestinian voices, has responded to more than 1,200 incidents of censorship, punishment or restrictions on advocacy since 2014, most of them involving college students, faculty members and academic associations. First Amendment rights belong to the people, not the government.” Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and former director of policy at Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of the Israeli group Peace Now, which works to promote a two-state solution, says she worries that anti-B.D.S. laws set a precedent for legislative assaults on free speech in other domains: “The American Jewish community, which is broadly speaking liberal, has allowed itself in the name of defending Israel and fighting B.D.S. to become the leading edge of illiberalism by pushing legislation to curb free speech.”Few charges are as politically toxic as that of anti-Semitism, as the recent uproar over Omar’s comments shows. Though Young hoped to persuade the P.L.O. to postpone advancing a resolution calling for Palestinian statehood, which both Israel and the United States opposed, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yehuda Blum, declared Young’s behavior “highly disturbing.” Israel’s foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, lodged a formal protest with the United States government.Stuart Eizenstat, Carter’s chief domestic-policy adviser and a liaison to the Jewish community, wrote in a recent book that “Ambassador Blum insisted that the Israelis had never asked for Andy Young’s resignation. In June, several Arab members of the Knesset — out of 120 seats, 12 belong to the coalition of Arab-dominated parties, the Joint List — submitted an alternative basic law in response, calling for “the principle of equal citizenship for every citizen.” They were not allowed to introduce the bill on the grounds that it violated the Knesset’s regulations, which forbid any bill that denies “the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People.” The nation-state law passed a month later.Nadia Ben-Youssef, until recently the director of the Adalah Justice Project, the United States-based arm of Adalah, a human rights organization and legal center in Israel that works to advance the rights of the country’s Palestinian citizens, said that the passage of the nation-state law made her advocacy work in America easier. The St. Louis County Police chief, who retired shortly before Ferguson, was one of hundreds of American law-enforcement officials who traveled to Israel for counterterrorism training with the Israeli military, police and intelligence services.In 2015, Kristian Davis Bailey, a black activist who helped assemble a coalition to pass a divestment vote in the student senate at Stanford that year, co-wrote a “Black Solidarity Statement With Palestine,” endorsing B.D.S. It was signed by nearly 50 black organizations and more than 1,100 black activists, artists, musicians, scholars and members of the clergy. “Hillel ignores us all year and then becomes our friend during pro-Palestinian events like the divestment vote,” she told me.Lubow said she felt a “sense of personal responsibility for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians — like it’s almost the personal fault of me and my family and the communities I’ve supported all my life, and they’re doing it in my and our name.” She wondered if she should leave Hillel or J Street, which has resisted years of entreaties from some of its student leaders to move from rhetorical condemnations of Israeli policies to advocating economic and diplomatic pressure. Gillibrand withdrew her name as a sponsor of the bill, and Warren declared that she opposes B.D.S. but that “outlawing protected free speech activity violates our basic constitutional rights.” Later that year, in the House, Representative McCollum put forward a bill demanding that the secretary of state certify that “United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” Though it received no public support from J Street — previously considered the arbiter of the outer limit of what Democrats would back — 30 Democrats co-sponsored the bill.In December, after Tlaib won the Detroit congressional seat long held by John Conyers, she announced that she would not go on the free Aipac-led trip customarily taken by freshman members and would instead lead her own delegation to the West Bank, where her grandmother lives.

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