Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

October 31, 2021

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • Mixed emotions are fine. We can be discouraged that we did not get more of Biden's agenda, recognize that what we got is better than what we have, and work to increase our majorities to get more of what we need.
  • The Senate should abolish the filibuster and pass democracy-protection legislation.
  • Antisemitism is worse on the right and in the Republican Party than on the left and in the Democratic Party. In a world of limited resources, we must prioritize--pretending that both sides are the same is irresponsible.
  • Pro-Israel advocates should not sugarcoat the policies of Israel's new government. Rather, we should teach by example how to criticize particular policies of a particular government and support Israel's safety and security.
  • Today is 38 days after the House passed $1 billion in emergency funding for Iron Dome, and Senate Republicans are still blocking it.
  • Why should Ben & Jerry's boycott Georgia and Texas? They are not boycotting Israel either.
  • Are opponents of Critical Race Theory racist or just anti-anti-racist?
  • Read to the end for upcoming events and fun stuff.

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Let's start with a pep talk. Many of us are discouraged that President Biden's bold plans have been whittled down by unanimous Republican opposition and opposition to parts of the plan from a few Democrats. Politics is the art of compromise. The stronger our side, the less need for compromise. We must elect more real Democrats in 2022. With two more Democrats in the Senate, Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) will lose their veto, and a few more Democrats in the House will blunt the influence of the so-called "centrist" Democrats.

In the meantime, keep in mind what President Obama said on Thursday: "Progress can often feel frustrating and slow, with small victories accompanied by frequent setbacks," but the Build Back Better plan remains a giant leap forward even though it doesn't contain everything we hoped for. While "the fight continues, [this] landmark agreement is an important step on our long journey to live up to our highest ideals."

The next step is rebuilding the infrastructure of our democracy, which depends on abolishing the filibuster. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) explains that "the filibuster defies the clear intent of the Constitution and its writers—and of the almost universal legislative practice that 'the majority rules.'”

Antisemitism is worse in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party. It pains some people and organizations to admit this because they don't want to lose the veneer of impartiality, but pretending both sides are the same when they are not is irresponsible. The way to get both sides to fight antisemitism is not intellectual contortions leading to the false conclusion that the problem is the same on both sides. Instead, we should unite in fighting antisemitism wherever it is and prioritize the greatest threats.

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) defended Nazi salutes as a legitimate form of protest. You don't see Democrats doing that--nor do you see Republicans condemning Cruz for doing it (but woe to any Democrat for correctly noting the similarities between the political climate in post-World War I Germany and the political climate fomented by today's GOP).

In explaining why Andrew Yang's proposed third party is not the answer to combating antisemitism, Matt Nosanchuk wrote that "The two parties are not equal: Donald Trump and the GOP openly condoned the blatant antisemitism of the 'very fine people' in Charlottesville in 2017 and the 'patriots' who stormed the Capitol on January 6. Meanwhile, when we’ve seen antisemitic language or tropes used by Democrats, party leaders have called it out, and most of the offending elected officials have accepted an opportunity to learn and grow." 

Right-wing extremists were responsible for 75% of extremist-related murders in the past ten years, including the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, the Tree of Life massacre, whose anniversary we commemorated last week. Those guards at our synagogues are not there to protect us from BDS supporters or critics of Israel's settlement policies (neither of whom are necessarily antisemitic). They are there in response to right-wing domestic terrorism.

Pretending that subtle, left-wing antisemitism growing slowly over time presents a similar threat is like putting off setting a broken arm because you're worried that in 40 years your hair will turn gray. That's not to deny that antisemitism exists on the left. Of course it does. But conflating criticism of Israel, even harsh criticism of Israel, with antisemitism is disingenuous. Equating Sunrise DC, which was condemned across the board, with violent right-wing antisemites chanting "Jews will not replace us" and deemed
"very fine people" by the President of the United States or equating a gourmet ice cream company's decision not to do business in the West Bank with the right-wing antisemitism that has infected the entire Republican Party is delusional.

Pro-Israel advocates should not sugarcoat the policies of Israel's new government. We can't advocate for Israel if we close our eyes, put our hands over our ears, and shout "la la la" when Israel's government acts contrary to the shared values that underlie the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Last week, Israel's government advanced plans to expand settlements, which the U.S. believes is "completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and damages the prospects for a two-state solution."

Israel's government declined to sign a U.N. statement expressing concern about the Uighurs in China. You would think that of all people, Jews would understand the importance of shining a light on millions of people sent to concentration camps, but apparently not.

Israel's government escalated its public dispute with the U.S. about re-opening a diplomatic mission for Palestinians in Jerusalem which, as Nimrod Novik notes, was established in 1844 and operated without interruption for 175 years until someone chose to ignore long-established U.S. policy and close it, and now, two years later, someone else wishes to make things right.

Right-wing pro-Israel groups will either ignore these actions or attempt to defend them because they don't know how to love and advocate for the real Israel. They inculcate in their followers a sanitized version of Israel that leaves their supporters uninformed and unprepared to address fact-based critiques of Israel and put them in perspective.

Now more than ever, it is important to distinguish between the State of Israel and the government of Israel. Fealty to our shared values will at times demand criticism of the current Israeli government. If we can understand why criticism of Trump, or Biden for that matter, is not inconsistent with support for America, it should not be hard to understand that criticism of Israel's current government can be consistent with support for the State of Israel.

At the same time, we must defend Israel's government when it is unfairly attacked and not be afraid to say, if we don't understand a particular decision, "let's wait for more information." For example, last week, Israel declared six organizations in the West Bank terrorist organizations because they allegedly funnel money to terrorist organizations.

Alon Pinkus called it "a stroke of political genius, timed to perfection: If the world isn’t interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if only a handful of die-hards still believe in the feasibility of a Palestinian state, if the coronavirus epidemic, climate change and China’s ascent dominate the global agenda, what should Israel do to get some attention? Declare war on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? No, that’s already been done. Instead, let’s designate some Palestinian civil society groups terrorist organizations and draw some more unwanted attention and criticism to Israel’s 'occupation.' It doesn’t get any savvier than that."

It might not be a savvy public relations move, and we don't know if Israel weighed the security risk against the reputational damage before making this decision, but that begs the question: What was the security risk, and why did it suddenly become unmanageable? Why now? Let's get the facts, and urge others to be sure they have all the facts, before jumping to conclusions (although it is concerning that the move seems to have caught the U.S. by surprise and if there is justification, it does not seem to be readily available).

Support for Israel means working toward a secure, Jewish, democratic State of Israel and keeping alive hopes for a two-state solution. Backing security assistance for Israel to defend against undeniable threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran does not preclude us from criticizing particular policies of a particular government that are contrary to our values. Rather, it's up to us to help policymakers understand that we should not put Israeli lives at risk by cutting security assistance because of important but discrete policy disagreements. Denying or defending the obviously wrong weakens, not strengthens, our credibility and our ability to defend Israel when it is right, as it often is.

Republicans are still blocking funding for Iron Dome. On September 23, after a two-day procedural delay, the House passed $1 billion in emergency funding to replenish Israel's Iron Dome; 38 days later, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is still blocking it. Republicans who were livid about the two-day delay (that they were partially responsible for) have been silent for over a month, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), hailed by the right as a legislative genius who stops at nothing to get what he wants, is suddenly impotent in the face of Paul's intransigence. Do you think this would be stalled if McConnell wanted it to move? On the other hand, maybe McConnell really is a genius. After all, how many voters will be scared by the image of a middle-aged white man who looks like their doctor or stockbroker?

Why does Ben & Jerry's continue to sell ice cream in Georgia and Texas? Our right-wing friends loved the spectacle of a couple of old Jewish men caught off guard by a gotcha question from a young articulate reporter a few weeks ago, and the clip went viral. But their non-answer proved only that they could have used some media training.

For those still smugly asking this question, here's the answer Ben and Jerry should have given, which happens to be the truth: "We strongly disagree with legislation passed in Georgia and Texas restricting voting rights and abortion rights, and we strongly disagree with Israel's settlement policies. But we are not boycotting Israel. In fact, as we announced, we intend to continue selling ice cream in Israel. Consistent with that decision, we are continuing to sell ice cream in Georgia and Texas. We decided to stop selling ice cream in settlements outside Israel because that is specifically what we object to--the correct analogy would be for us to stop selling ice cream precisely where votes are suppressed or abortion clinics are shut down, but that's not feasible. However, there is no double standard in our doing what we can to protest policies we find objectionable, and continuing to sell ice cream in Israel is the opposite of boycotting Israel. Any other questions?"

Are you racist or just anti-anti-racist? Jews who have jumped on the anti-Critical Race Theory bandwagon are not only paving the way for racism – they are also opening the door to Holocaust denial. Read Shai Franklin's article and his thread (each has different content) to understand why.

Tweets of the Week. These should be viewed in order for maximum enjoyment: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Chelsea Popekin, and back of the jacket.

Facebook Post of the Week. If Halloween was a Jewish holiday.

Video Clip of the Week. The magic that was Siskel & Ebert.

Upcoming Events. Join me and Dana Gordon on Wednesday, November 3, from 6:30 pm to 7:15 pm CT for an event with Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and special guest David Makovsky, noted Middle East/Israel analyst. As always, contributions are welcome but not required. RSVP here to get the Zoom link.

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