On the left, in the United States, Israel is probably the single most divisive issue we face. Most American Jews vote for Democratic candidates, and the Jewish community is a vital fundraising source not only for candidates, but many important progressive causes.

The struggle for racial equality and civil rights was galvanized by the Holocaust and African-American participation in the war. Without the active and energetic participation of Jewish organizations, it is doubtful that we would have seen the end of Jim Crow in the mid-1960’s.

The very soul of the modern Democratic Party is intricately wrapped up in millennia old principles of social justice exemplified by Jewish prophets like Amos.

And yet, the modern Democratic Party is essentially secular in nature. By secular, I do not mean that we are opposed to faith. I mean that we are reflexively resistant to basing policy on Biblical or Koranic texts or interpretations.

On most issues, this point of view is in lockstep with the majority of American Jews. After all, as Betty Rollin has pointed out:

“Forty-five percent of American Jews are secular — the highest rate of any religion. But “secular” includes people who may not practice their religion but who believe in God. Of secular Jews, 34 percent don’t believe in God. Still, they consider themselves Jewish.”

And herein lies the source of so much cognitive dissonance. I think the tension lies within the Zionist movement itself, and bleeds over into the leftist politics of the United States.

Zionism, which arose as an essentially secular movement, still relied heavily on Biblical histories to justify a Jewish homeland in Judea and Israel. And this comes into conflict with two main facets of American leftist thought. First, we tend to oppose appeals to Biblical literalism and/or precedent. Second, we oppose any melting of the state with one particular religion.

Thus, the desire of Israel to remain a Jewish state is frequently compared to the apartheid system in South Africa. In short, many on the left consider a state that treats its citizens differently based on their religious self-identification, to be undemocratic.

Three other factors have contributed to increasing hostility from the left, towards Israel, and Israeli policies.

First, the shock of the Holocaust has begun to wear off. We no longer feel the high level of empathy for the Jewish people that we felt back in the late 1940’s, when Israel became a state. Therefore, we no longer empathsize with taking extraordinary steps to protect the Jewish people.

Second, American attitudes towards Jews, i.e. anti-Semitism, have diminished to such a degree that we no longer resist further immigration of Jews to the United States. The initial support for the creation of Israel cannot be seperated from the simultaneous desire to prevent massive Jewish immigration.

Third, our support for Israel’s policies, post-1967 war, has now become a source of great risk to our security. This is understandably resented by many Americans of all political persuasions.

I’d like to add one other point, speaking only for myself. The Israeli settlement policy only makes sense if Israel faces a real threat of being overrun and swept into the sea. In other words, the only non-Biblical justification for holding territory seized in the 1967 war is a military one. We could obviate the need to hold the Golan Heights, for example, by agreeing to come to Israel’s defense if they are ever attacked.

It is therefore, quite frustrating to see the Israelis refuse to make concessions and to continue to encourage new settlements in occupied territory.

And it is within that context that I approach the following BBC article:

Jews held over Jerusalem ‘bombs’: There are fears ultra-sensitive sites could be attacked. Israeli police have arrested two Jews suspected of planting fake bombs in Jerusalem to try to disrupt plans to pull settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

The pair were caught after leaving a backpack rigged with wires, police said.

The arrests come amid heightened fears that right-wing activists will step up attempts to sabotage the withdrawal.

A Jewish group meanwhile has called for a mass rally against the pullout at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site.

The group, Revava, says it wants at least 10,000 Jews to ascend the hilltop known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif on Sunday.

Fearing an eruption of violence, Israeli authorities have closed the site to non-Muslims, but Revava has vowed to defy the ban.

Heightened alert

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the men who were arrested belonged to an outlawed ultra-nationalist group, Kahane Chai.

He said the suitcases contained wiring, a note and cardboard, without elaborating on what was written on the note.

An Israeli police spokeswoman said some of those opposed to the Gaza withdrawal planned to distract the security services “so that they will not be able to carry out evacuations”.

The arrests came a day after police in Jerusalem raised the level of alert in the city, amid growing fears of sabotage attempts by extremists.

So, here we see the citizens of Jerusalem being terrorized by Jewish radicals. It’s important to realize that religious extremists from both sides are the main obstacle to finding an acceptable compromise on the Israeli/Palestinian issue.

The dispute over the Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif is so sensitive that it has the power to catalyze a whole new round of mutual recrimination. We saw how Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, led directly to the second intifada. Now, we face the potential for another escalation of ill-feeling and violence.

Amos Gilad, a senior defence ministry official, said there were fears of an attack on the Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif, but he said authorities would use “all means available, including unprecedented ones” to prevent it.

Revava leader Israel Cohen said supporters would try to enter the compound regardless of the ban.

“We reserve the right to pray at our holy site. We will arrive in masses… and we will in any case try to enter,” the Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying.

Islamic leaders in Israel have called on Muslims to amass on the site to prevent Jews from entering.


What is needed are calm heads on both sides. We should not let hot-heads drive the debate, and we need to occassionally turn the other cheek to provocations.

The current administration’s approach to the Middle East conflict is so one-sided that many on the left have drifted toward an openly hostile stance toward Israel. But one day we will be back in power, and we need to debate the issues. I think our internal divisions, as well as our strong emotions, lead us to avoid the subject entirely. That is not the correct approach for a government-in-waiting.

So, flame away.

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