A recent Pew Research study revealed some enlightening trends regarding the perception of Israel by American Jews. According to the study, support for Israel is highest among Orthodox Jews, while secular and reform Jews are not as unified in their support for the state. Only 43 percent of Jewish respondents identified “caring about Israel” as essential to Jewish identity.
What, then, could be responsible for this shift in attitude? Israel’s drastic and at times inhumane treatment of its non-Jewish residents could finally be alienating a largely liberal population of American Jews.
My Jewish identity has always informed my liberal beliefs. It is because of those beliefs that I cannot fully support a state that institutionalizes segregation and targets civilians in military conflicts.
While these were not the values on which the state of Israel was founded, they have become inseparable from the current culture. For example, Israel has long segregated its buses between Palestinians and Israelis. These segregated buses service the contentious regions of the West Bank and Jerusalem, which have admittedly far more conflict than other regions of Israel.
In 2012, Israel carried out Operation Pillar of Defense in response to the fire of Palestinian rockets into Israel. The weeklong conflict ended in a ceasefire when both sides claimed victory.
While the Israeli Defense Force claims to not target civilians, the United Nations Human Rights Council eventually determined that 107 Palestinian civilians were killed in the conflict.
It should be wholly understandable, if not intuitive, that all of this would cause Israel to fall out of favor with American Jews. In the same survey on Jewish identity, over 50 percent of respondents identified “working for justice/equality” as essential to Jewish identity.
Jewish history is essentially a primer on the dangers of persecution of a specific group. To give a brief synopsis of the formation of Israel, persecution of European Jews in the 19th century lead to a renewal of the Zionist movement. Jews immigrated to the region en masse and, shortly after World War II, the state of Israel was officially founded.
It is ironic, then, that a state founded in direct response to a group of people’s persecution would codify some of the same policies formerly used to marginalize Jews.
Rather, Israel should use Jewish history as a means to guide its relations with the Arab world. While it is true that neither side is blameless in the deterioration of diplomacy, Israel should know quite well the dangers of resorting to violence and segregation.
This puts me and, I suspect, many other Jewish people in a peculiar situation. For 5,000 years, Jews have been persecuted without a safe haven. Israel was created to offer just that.
Over the course of its history, Israel has benefitted from the broad support of the international community, particularly from the United States. The recent study on Jewish support, however, indicates that such support may be starting to waver. If Israel wishes to remain in favor of the international community, it must change course.
You would be hard pressed to find a Jewish person who does not agree with the concept of a Jewish state. But when that state is founded on principles directly contrary to the foundation of the Jewish faith, then clearly there is a problem.