Once again, the United States is caught in the whirlpool of chronic conflict between Palestinians and Israel.
As a progressive and a Jew, I care deeply about any threat to Israel’s viability. But as an American, I worry about the impact of these conflicts on domestic American politics, particularly as they relate to the Democratic Party.
Like most progressive American Jews, I question Israel’s settlement policy; and I detested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interference in domestic American politics. It was dangerous for Israel and a slap in the face to the Democratic Party and its historical support for his country.
My fears have gone from theoretical to real over what could be disastrous implications for the Democratic Party. Here’s why:
Stable politics in America is hanging by a thinner thread than at any other time in our memory. The Republican Party has been transformed into a personality cult heavily influenced by white nationalists and evangelicals. Its lack of commitment to fundamental democratic values is an insult to the Republican Party’s proud history.
The only thing standing in its way is a Democratic Party that can only be successful with unity among its disparate constituent groups, particularly Blacks and Jews. Their historical unity has been critical to every success the Democrats have had.
This latest round of conflict in the Middle East has led to an increase in visible anti-Semitism in America and heated criticism of Israel by younger progressives in the Democratic Party.
Sadly, there is a need to remind older progressives and educate younger ones that every successful progressive idea in this country was robustly supported by American Jewish manpower and money. Without those, success would have taken significantly longer. For example, in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court based its decision on a study by Black sociologist Kenneth Clark that found that segregation placed the stamp of inferiority on Black children. That study was commissioned and paid for by the American Jewish Committee.
Jews also provided manpower. One Black leader estimated that 30 percent of the white Freedom Riders were Jewish.
However, it is stunningly naïve of older progressives like me to think this is the prism through which younger progressives and Blacks, view American Jews. Ethan Katz of Stanford University is an expert on Black-Jewish relations. He proffers that, “To many, if not most, Blacks, Jews matter less as a specific group than as a group seen as other White people who are part of a larger problem . . . and the Middle East has become, in American politics, a proxy struggle where the progressive left is creating a litmus test that requires one to be anti-Zionist if they are to have credibility.”
Katz says that Israel is perceived by Blacks not as the idealistic nation that used to inspire many on the left, but as an increasingly powerful oppressive regime.
The division and vitriol between younger progressives and Blacks and inherently progressive Jews is a dangerous split, and my party, much to the Republican Party’s delight, has been kicking the can on the underlying tension down the road on it for a long time. But the Democratic Party cannot be successful without that alliance intact. Typically, Jewish voters support Democrats by more than a 3-1 margin and any decline can tip the scale in a swing state such as Georgia.
At the same time, I realize how little I understand the grievances that exist towards American Jews. We need each other.
I have a challenge for my fellow progressives: Do not make this a binary choice between whites and people of color. In that vein, what is the righteous indignation for the Palestinians about anyway? The Middle East is a cesspool of human-rights violations. The Palestinians ceded control of their near state to Hamas, a terrorist organization. Would the “Squad” in the U.S. House enjoy serving in their government? Would women, Blacks or gays for that matter?
Just because a country is composed of people of color does not mean they share our values. We have an existential political battle going on in the United States. This is one fight the progressives are wrong on. It is not progressive.
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party and a former state legislator. He is a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.