American Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Part of the Problem or Part of Solution?

I have an op-ed in Ha’aretz today in which I argue that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent appeal to them, American Jews are unlikely to push the Israeli government to make peace with the Palestinians. I give three major reasons for this:

“First, American Jews are not quite as ‘dovish’ as many people would like to believe (or as organizations like J Street like to claim). Although they are famously liberal on domestic issues, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American Jews are more conservative—they are ‘hawkish doves.’ Although a majority consistently supports a two-state solution to the conflict, most Americans Jews are very skeptical about the chances of achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and they are also very suspicious of Arab intentions (in recent surveys of American Jewish opinion, sponsored by the AJC, roughly three-quarters of American Jews say they think that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel”). In this sense, American Jewish sentiment is very similar to that of Israeli Jews, most of whom want peace, but don’t trust the Palestinians to deliver it. 

There is also no strong American Jewish support for the establishment of a Palestinian state any time soon. In fact, in recent surveys, roughly half of American Jews oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, and this opposition has actually increased in the last few years (from 41 percent in 2009 to 55 percent in 2011). Even more American Jews are against a division of Jerusalem in any peace agreement with the Palestinians (in the 2011 survey, 59 percent were opposed to dividing Jerusalem). Given these views, American Jews can hardly be expected to push any Israeli government to make major concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of peace. 

Second, even if more American Jews really were ‘doves’ and strongly supported the establishment of a Palestinian state, many would still be reluctant to pressure Israel to allow this. It’s not that American Jews aren’t willing to criticize Israeli governments. On certain issues, especially those that directly affect them (most notably, the perennial issue of ‘who is a Jew’), American Jews have no qualms about openly criticizing Israeli governments and pressuring them to change their policies.  But when it comes to the life-and-death issues of Israeli national security and foreign policy, American Jews are, understandably, much more reluctant to speak out, let alone apply pressure. They know that it is not their lives on the line, or their children who are serving in the IDF. They recognize that they are not ones that must live with the very real risks that Israel will have to take to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Much as they want peace for Israel, most American Jews are reticent about telling Israelis what they must do to achieve it, especially when Israelis might disagree with them.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, American Jews simply have many other things on their mind.  While most care about Israel and want there to be peace, they are, at the end of the day, not all that bothered.  Only a minority of American Jews are deeply invested in Israel’s cause and heavily engaged with Israel. This minority is more politically conservative and rightwing when it comes to Israel than the majority of American Jews. Increasingly made up of Orthodox Jews, it is this highly engaged minority of American Jews who are the most easily mobilized on issues concerning Israel. During the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, it was this minority that opposed the peace process and made the loudest noise, while the majority of American Jews who supported the Oslo Accords were largely quiet. As long as most American Jews lack the burning desire and determination to energetically champion the peace process, they will not put any real pressure on American or Israeli leaders to advance it.”

Here’s the link to the full article:
http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/american-jews-are-part-of-the-israeli-palestinian-problem-1.531936#.UcmUYxcUJyA.email

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About Dov Waxman

Dov Waxman is Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies at Northeastern University and the co-director of its Middle East Center. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, and his B.A. from Oxford University. He has previously taught at the City University of New York, Bowdoin College, and the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. He has been a visiting fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, the Avraham Harman Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and St. John’s College at Oxford University. He is the author of "The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation" (2006), and the co-author of "Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within" (2011).

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