Americans who like Israel — and polls show that’s a vast majority — have many reasons to be happy that the Jewish state, established in 1948 after the Nazi Holocaust, marked its 70th birthday this week as a success story.
Yet with the good news comes plenty that is bad.
What many friends of Israel have not noticed — or refuse to acknowledge — is that a wedge is growing between the country and many Jewish Americans who ought to feel affinity for Israel. Most Jews are politically liberal, and they are uncomfortable with Israel’s leadership and with President Donald Trump.
Jews who are politically conservative are confident their numbers and influence are growing. They felt joyful affirmation in Monday’s opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The joy was soured, however, by the clashes along the Gaza border where Israeli soldiers killed 60 Palestinian protesters and wounded many more.
Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted triumphal smiles to dominate the news from Israel. Instead, headlines blared of a massacre 60 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
The split-screen effect was half-ugly and half-celebratory. Right-wing Jews loved the embassy ceremony and were happy to hear the warm words of evangelical preachers from Texas. Left-wing Jews resented the platform given to men they consider champions of intolerance.
Liberals also were dismayed to see that the only members of Congress who attended were Republicans — as Democrats insist they were not invited — and in the front row, next to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, sat a man who also controls a vast treasury: Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul from Las Vegas who is a top contributor to Republican campaigns.
Adelson, according to people close to Trump, stayed in touch with the president after donating $10 million to the campaign and $5 million to the Trump inauguration committee. Adelson’s principal requests: Always take Israel’s side, and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The three previous presidents, since Congress passed legislation in 1995 calling for that move, invoked waivers that claimed an embassy transfer could endanger America’s national security. Trump, with his taste for the unconventional and the incentive of pleasing Adelson, announced his decision in December and absurdly claimed it would boost the chances of peace.
Tell that to the Palestinians who feel belittled and habitually humiliated. They feel more certain than ever that the United States unfairly sides with “the Jews who stole Arab lands” — as their narrative puts it.
The relatively moderate Palestinian leaders in the West Bank cut off all official contact with Washington. Their rival leaders in Hamas, the extreme Islamic faction that rules Gaza, cooked up a plan to win the world’s attention and sympathy. It organized large and flame-hurling protests, vowing to cut through the border fence built after Israel withdrew in 2005.
Israeli leaders insist their troops warned the crowds to stay away and tried nonviolent methods to disperse them, but in the end claim they had to open fire. More than 100 Gaza residents, including children, have been killed since March.
Israel is protecting itself, but in some ways it’s also falling into twin traps. It is facing worldwide condemnation, while creating another generation of Arabs who will hate the Jewish state. Also, it’s a mistake for Israel to rely on right-wing Americans for support. It was better off with bipartisan backing in the United States, an asset that disintegrates day by day.
Dan Raviv, senior Washington correspondent for i24NEWS, is author of “Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.”