A leading Reform Rabbi from New York has warned against anti-Israel trends within the Democratic party and said that “anti-Zionists” should not be allowed to damage the US-Israel alliance.
Responding to threats by several top-tier Democratic presidential candidates at the annual J Street conference in Washington this week to condition US aid to Israel, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Senior Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch underscored the mainstream American Jewish and Democratic support for a strong US-Israel relationship and expressed alarm at the encroachment of anti-Israel sentiments in the Democratic party.
“Overwhelmingly, most American Jews – including most liberal Jews – passionately support a strong US-Israel relationship,” said Hirsch. “They believe that foreign aid promotes the interests of both countries and oppose any cut in, or redirection of, those funds. American support helps Israel stand against an array of anti-democratic, anti-liberal forces that seek its destruction.”
Speaking on Monday at the annual J Street Conference in Washington D.C., Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he “would use the leverage” of the US support to Israel to push his policies.
“It is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government, or for that matter, to any government at all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy,” he stated.
Instead of giving all the funds to Israel, some should “go right now to humanitarian aid in Gaza.”
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren expressed similar ideas last week when she stated that “it is the official policy of the United States of America to support a two-state solution, and if Israel is moving in the opposite direction, then everything is on the table,” including the freezing of aid to Israel.
However, Hirsch warned that “the crisis of anti-Semitism within the UK Labour Party began with intense anti-Israel animosity at the party’s margins. That anti-Zionism increasingly devolved into the downright anti-Semitism of the Labour Party itself, severely damaging it’s standing and reputation and stripping it of Anglo-Jewish support. I fear that a similar process is beginning here in the United States.”
Emphasizing that criticism of Israeli policy is entirely legitimate, Hirsch drew a distinction between opposing a given Israeli policy and opposing the very existence of Israel.
“The Democratic party is increasingly tolerant of voices that are opposed to Israel’s existence. To allow this process to go unchecked will cause irreparable harm to the bilateral US-Israel relationship and to the Democratic party, itself.”
Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, members of The Squad within the Democratic Party, have all recently been elected to Congress and are vociferous supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement.
While Sanders put the onus for the crisis in the Gaza Strip on Israel, Hirsh said the Palestinian leadership was to blame.
“The Jewish community, along with most Americans, want the people of Gaza and the West Bank to have decent, productive, prosperous and peaceful lives. The main reason Gazans live in misery is the failed leadership of the Palestinians. Hamas, which rules Gaza, is a terrorist organization that deprives Gazans of basic necessities in order to build tunnels and rockets with which to attack innocent Israelis. The Palestinian Authority has rejected every peace initiative of the Israeli and American governments,” he pointed out.
“When the Palestinian leadership finally decides that it is in its interest to make peace with Israel, they will find a willing partner on the Israeli side, and an American-Jewish community that passionately supports a two-state solution,” he stated.
Rabbi Hirsch concluded by warning that “reducing American support for Israel will not bring peace any closer. To the contrary, it will distance it even further.”
The rabbi is an influential leader in the American Jewish community. The Jerusalem Post named him among “The 50 Most Influential Jews of the Year” in 2018 and City & State New York magazine praised him as “the borough’s most influential voice for Manhattan’s more than 300,000 Jews.”
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