by Heather Stone and Elana Sztokman
Michael Oren is an observant guy. The former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and current deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office recently noticed that many progressive American Jews are unhappy with Israel. That's the good news – and does not in itself constitute evidence that he has gone off the rails, as Haaretz's Allison Kaplan Sommer hinted.
Unfortunately, rather than engaging with the sentiment of American-Jewish disappointment in Israel, he has taken the patronizing approach of asserting that progressives need to be "reformed". This is not only a bad sign for Oren. It is also a bad omen for the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community.
In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Oren cited a recent Pew study that found that a nearly equal number of American Jews sympathized with Israel as sympathized with the Palestinians. Taking a Rocky Balboa approach to that statistic, as if political views are a winner-takes-all fight-to-the-death prize to be won, he proposed using some Israeli mega-budgets to target Jewish progressives in order to convince them (us) that we are wrong.
His idea reads like a strange cross between kiruv and conversion therapy. As if to say that American Jews who hold progressive views must have something wrong with their brains or their chemistry. Cue eye-roll. His idea reads like a strange cross between kiruv and conversion therapy. As if to say that American Jews who hold progressive views must have something wrong with their brains or their chemistry. Cue eye-roll.
As those who would be the likely target of such a campaign – we are the Chair and Vice-Chair of Democrats Abroad, Israel – we would like to clarify that his proposed strategy is not only obnoxious but also doomed to failure.
There are a few things wrong with his whole idea.
First of all, sympathy is not a zero-sum -game. Just because a person sympathizes with Palestinians does not mean that they do not sympathize with Israel or vice versa.
This is such a crucial piece of understanding that some of our leaders in Israel and America would do well to note. Jews have some good points, and Palestinians have some good points. It is not one or the other. The future cannot be viewed as us-or-them. Maybe if we stopped this square thinking that "sympathy" is weakness and instead experimented with complex understandings that appreciate all people as real humans, we would be able to find a way out of this ugly quagmire called The Conflict.
Second of all, despite Oren’s assertion, the Democratic Party is not anti-Israel or even pro-BDS. The Democratic Party platform promotes a two-state solution and rejects BDS. Some people are so accustomed to demonizing Democratic leaders with hyperbole, lies, and fear-mongering that they lose sight of basic facts. Progressives are not radical extremists. Actually, we believe that we are kind of, you know, normal.
Furthermore, progressives are currently bearing the entire burden of moral leadership in America. In an administration that is so wrapped up racism, sexism, professional lying, bullying, economic self-interest and hate-based social policy, American progressives are a group of national heroes. Yes, heroes. And heroines. Thank God a small minority of Jews voted for Trump and there are members of the Jewish community who are still capable of distinguishing right from wrong.
Instead of labeling progressive-minded Jews as needing to be saved, Michael Oren would do well to try and understand why so many of them/us are disillusioned with Israel.