Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dov Waxman's "Trouble in the Tribe"

Dov Waxman is Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies, and the Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University. He is also the co-director of the university’s Middle East Center. An expert on Israel, his research focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli foreign policy, U.S.-Israel relations, and American Jewry’s relationship with Israel.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel, and reported the following:
Trouble in the Tribe examines the growing debate and divisions over Israel within the American Jewish community. There used to be a broad consensus among American Jews in strong support of Israel, but that consensus has steadily eroded and there is now a bitter argument over Israeli policies, especially towards the Palestinians. In the book, I identify the four main ‘camps’ in this argument, and I describe their contrasting views in some depth.

Page 99 outlines the views of those on the American Jewish right:
Unlike the center-right, […] the right completely opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state (unless it is located in Jordan), and it rejects even the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most it is prepared to offer the Palestinians is some kind of autonomy under Israeli rule. The right’s firm opposition to a Palestinian state is based not only on its deep suspicion of Palestinian intentions but also on its conviction that the entire Land of Israel, including all of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), rightfully belongs to the Jewish people, whether on historical or theological grounds. Nevertheless, those on the American Jewish right tend to offer security arguments to justify Israel’s continued control over the West Bank, rather than the historical and religious arguments that those on the Israeli right often make. They stress the risk to Israel if it withdraws from the West Bank, not the historical or divine right of Israel to possess this territory.

As a corollary to the right’s belief that Israel should have sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, the right also insists that Israel is absolutely entitled to establish Jewish settlements throughout the entire area. Whereas the center-right’s attitude toward Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank is lukewarm and noncommittal, the right is committed to the settlement project for historical, religious, and security reasons—claiming, for instance, that Israeli settlement building actually promotes peace by demonstrating Israel’s strength and determination. The right, therefore, provides financial, political, and moral support to Jewish settlements.

Notwithstanding its support for the Israeli settlement movement, only a minority within the American Jewish right—almost all of them Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (haredim)—really have a strong religious attachment to the Land of Israel, and even fewer believe that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would be a violation of God’s will (unlike much of the Israeli right). In general, the American Jewish right is driven more by ideology, than by theology or eschatology. Revisionist Zionism and neo-conservatism shape its perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict much more than Judaism does.
Most American Jews do not hold this view. Although they are divided over whether a Palestinian state should be established in the near future, a majority of American Jews continues to support an eventual two-state solution to the conflict. But while those on the right are a minority within the American Jewish community, they are highly mobilized and vocal. They constantly criticize mainstream American Jewish organizations for not being assertive enough in their defense of Israel, and they vociferously denounce American Jewish organizations and individuals on the left who are outspoken in their criticisms of Israel. What makes the American Jewish right particularly important today is the fact that most of the members of the current Israeli government share its hardline views.
Learn more about the book and author at Dov Waxman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue