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  • Writer's pictureRotem A. Oreg

The World is not divided into Friends of Israel and Antisemites

Let's start from the end: the outgoing president of Harvard University, Dr. Claudine Gay, is not the issue. She was a "lame duck" from the moment she mumbled in the Congressional Education Committee hearing, failing to provide a clear response to the institution's policy regarding calls for the destruction of Jews (and failing to provide the only equivalent answer - "we oppose"). She entered a vertigo that included the withdrawal of donors, a decline in applications to the university, and, of course, the exposure of plagiarism in her doctoral work. Her days at the helm of the prestigious university were numbered.

However, as mentioned, that's water under the bridge. What is interesting and important is the phenomenon exposed following her testimony and that of her colleagues from MIT and UPenn, and that is the excessive tolerance towards anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments in some strongholds of the American progressive elite. It is clear that this tolerance, seemingly under the commitment to freedom of speech, would not have been implemented if there were protests at Harvard calling for reinstating slavery or student organizations at UPenn issuing letters demanding a redefinition of homosexuality as a mental illness.

But according to the hierarchy of privileges, Jews in the United States (and consequently, in the State of Israel) are perceived as rich and white and, therefore, part of the hegemony, not as a minority suffering from persecution, both in the Jewish nation-state and in the diaspora. And if Jews are part of the hegemony, then a higher moral standard can be imposed on them, and if they do not comply - their calls for punishment can be ignored or even encouraged.

Nevertheless, the weird case of Dr. Gay should serve as a warning to all of us. Firstly, because her downfall may be a double-edged sword: there are already signs of a "witch hunt" campaign according to which Gay, the second woman and the first black person in history to lead Harvard, is being "persecuted" not because of tolerance for anti-Semitism or academic dishonesty, but because she is a black woman. Some try to link this to Israel and Zionism, and we must be cautious not to play into their hands (first and foremost because such claims are false).

Secondly, and more importantly, in a huge country like the United States, there must be ideological diversity even within distinguished groups such as progressives. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 6% of the U.S. population can be described as "progressive left" and another 10% as "outsider left." These two groups make up the progressive movement, and the main difference between them is their level of affiliation with the Democratic Party and its leaders. It is clear that 16% of the U.S. population - 53 million people - do not share identical opinions, and there must be 50 shades of blue among them.

For the purpose of discussion, let's set aside the liberal camp within the Democratic Party, led by President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Democratic leaders in Congress, and focus on the deep left in the United States. Regarding the Israeli issue, within the progressive movement we can identify four distinct groups in their attitude toward Israel:

First are the "Progressive Zionists": Yes, they exist. These are left-wing individuals who, due to the importance they attribute to historical justice and human rights, see Israel as an ideological partner of the United States. The return of the Jewish people to their historical land and the establishment of an ideal society ("Hevrat Mofet") defending itself against the extremism of the Middle East is the most progressive thing in their perspective. Some prominent figures in this group are Senator John Fetterman and Congress members Ritchie Torres and Shontel Brown, and the most important thing Israel can do is to strengthen and provide them with the tools to make their case - to help them help us.

On the other end of the spectrum are the anti-Zionists - there's no need to elaborate on them. There is no debate with those who see Israel as a country born in sin, a colonialist enterprise to be dismantled like the Spanish colonialism in Latin America or the French colonialism in Africa. They demand that Jews living in Israel "return" to Europe, or alternatively, propose a one-state solution "from the river to the sea," meaning the end of Israel as the nation-state for the Jewish people.

To the third group I refer as "David Supporters." This is probably the largest group, consisting of people who don't know much (or at all) about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but, due to their worldview in which world affairs are about power relations, and the natural tendency to support the weak (hence David versus Goliath), they show more sympathy for the Palestinian side. With this group, we need to engage in discussion, provide knowledge and narratives that align with their values of justice, equality, and peace, and convince them that despite Israel's strength, it is not necessarily to blame for everything. In essence, to cut the Gordian knot between strong and wrong.

The most interesting group, in my opinion, can be called "Holding Grudge, Open Mind." In contrast to "David Supporters," this group consists of people who are very familiar with the conflict and its details but choose to identify with the Palestinian side, hence "holding a grudge" regarding Israel. However, unlike the anti-Zionists, they understand that it is a complex and sensitive issue, and they don't have all the tools to understand it fully, so they are willing to listen and engage. As long as they condemn violence against innocent, they are potential dialogue partners.

This is perhaps the most important group since it has the potential to shape public opinion around it (and influence "David Supporters"). The discussion with them must be respectful, avoiding clichés such as "you don't understand" or "who are you to tell us how to act.", and a deep understanding of the value system they operate on and adjusting Israeli messages accordingly is required.

The Iron Swords War exposed how much Israel relies on the United States, from every aspect and perspective. We cannot rely solely on the Republican Party, and on the other hand, Biden and his successors will not continue to lead the Democratic Party indefinitely. We need to prepare for a day when the progressive stream will be more dominant in its leadership. Anyone who does not acknowledge the right of the Jewish people to a place under the sun and protection from persecution needs to be condemned and isolated, but for everyone else, we must extend a hand.

(the original article was published on Ynet, in Hebrew)

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