The Israeli government is completely out of control

The Israeli government is completely out of control

Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to America Despite a traditionally strong pro-Israel lobby there, the Jewish community has become increasingly critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s far-right policies. As at the Jewish-American Benamram family’s dinner table: ‘Today’s youth show their love for Israel by criticizing it.’

Maral Noshad Sharifi

‘Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech Ha’Lam’, ringing Friday evening at the Benamram family home in New York. Father Oz (56), mother Kali (61) and their three grown sons sing around a wooden dining table. Through this prayer, God, the King of the Universe, instructs the people to light the Sabbath candles.

Penamrams do not celebrate the Sabbath every week, the Jewish day of rest that begins at sundown on Friday. Then the whole family eats at home. According to the old regulations, no work should be done on the Sabbath. Food should be prepared in advance. But not all traditions are preserved equally, certainly not in this liberal-Jewish family.

Like a dance, family members moved from the kitchen to the dining table. Asparagus pulled out of oven, lemon squeezed over salad, watermelon sliced. As one tradition fades, another survives: Challah, the braided bread, comes to the table. Two candles were lit and the red bottle was passed around. “Shabbat Shalom!” Father Oz yells, holding his glass in the air. “Shabbat Shalom!”The rest are responsive.

About the author
Maral Noshad Sharifi is a US correspondent D Volkskrant. She lives in New York.

Now there is a tradition with this family: sooner or later the conversation at dinner turns to Israel. Notably this week, Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the United States. He will address Congress on Wednesday and will be hosted by his counterpart Joe Biden on Tuesday. It won’t be an easy conversation, is the prediction on the table. “I’m glad that Biden is taking a very critical stance toward the Israeli government,” Oz tells his children. ‘They have gone absolutely mad. Someone should stop them’ he said.

Subversion of the rule of law

The White House has taken a tough line against Israel in recent months. Since Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aligned himself with far-right politicians and ultra-Orthodox Jews last December, there have been fears that the rule of law could be undermined. Last week, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to speak out against the government. Demonstrators hope that America’s largest Jewish community, numbering six to seven million people, will also speak out.

For years, Jewish Americans have found it difficult to criticize Israel — fearing anti-Semitism. It is slowly changing. “I’m going to say something that will offend some people,” influential Rabbi Sharon Bruce said in a sermon in Los Angeles last February. He says it’s time for the Jewish community in America to develop a “muscle” to criticize Israel. She gets support The New York TimesColumnist Thomas Friedman, himself Jewish: “American Jews, you should be on your side when it comes to Israel.”

The Benamram family in the kitchen.Image for De Volkskrant by Jonah Markowitz

The right-wing pro-Israel lobby is very powerful in Washington, but it is run by ultra-Orthodox Jews and right-wing conservative evangelicals — both of whom are often poor representatives of the liberal Jewish community. Uncomfortable debates are being held in countless American synagogues and newspapers. About 18 percent of the residents are Jewish, as are the dining tables in New York.

Criticism of Israel

“It’s easier to criticize the government more in Israel than in America,” says Oz Benamram, who works at a law firm. Most Jews in America are liberal: at least 70 percent vote Democratic. “Many are brought up with the message to always support Israel.”

Criticism of the country, however, was never taboo among Benamrams. They have also considered renouncing their Israeli passports. Since the new government took office in December, Oz has been active with USA For Israeli Democracy, an NGO that supports dissidents in Israel. Demonstrations were also organized in New York, but Oz did not join his children.

“During the protests you don’t say anything about aggression,” says Tom, a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher who joins his girlfriend Ariel at the Shabbat dinner. He refers to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“I understand your frustration,” Oz replies, eating the green crop. But our priority is that the people who voted for Netanyahu don’t do it again. He says pure pragmatism.

Father and son Benamran.  Image for De Volkskrant by Jonah Markowitz

Father and son Benamran.Image for De Volkskrant by Jonah Markowitz

Tom didn’t want to put up with it. The government has right-wing extremists who want to sideline the Supreme Court because they want to expand Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. ‘I find it uncomfortable that aggression is not explicitly mentioned,’ says Tom – as if the subject is being ignored. ‘I need not be among them as a protester.’

Generational difference

The American view of Israel has changed a lot in recent years, says Dov Waxman, director of the Center for Israeli Studies at the University of Los Angeles. ‘Fewer and fewer Jews respect the romantic image of older generations.’ They showed their love for Israel by avoiding criticism, says Waxman. ‘Including human rights violations. Today’s youth express their love by criticizing.’

After the Holocaust, many Jews in Israel found a safe haven for their devastated community. It may feel different to the new generation. “I don’t need Israel to be safe,” says youngest son Amos (20). “I should have joined the army. I feel safe here.’ As Father Oz’s head grows redder and redder, he hears how his American children are losing their love for their motherland. “We used to see Israel as David,” Oz says, “and young people see it as Goliath.” He repents, but he also loses faith.

After the Sabbath prayer.  Image for De Volkskrant by Jonah Markowitz

After the Sabbath prayer.Image for De Volkskrant by Jonah Markowitz

Polls show that a majority of American Jews support a two-state solution. But peace between Israel and Palestine has never seemed more impossible than it does now. Over the past 15 years, 6,354 Palestinians and 313 Israelis have been killed in clashes and attacks. Also, according to UN figures, more than 150,000 Palestinians and nearly 7,000 Israelis have been injured.

When each member of the table was asked what three words they associated with Israel, it was noticeable that the children often mentioned negative things. For Father Oz, Israel is ‘his home’ more than America. Tom feels a ‘deep shame’ with Israel. It shows the generation gap.

Either way, the family is united in hopes that US President Herzog will announce that Netanyahu’s days are numbered, Oz Benamram said during a Shabbat dinner on Friday. Otherwise US support will be lost. To make that message even clearer, I will be in DC for another protest during his visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top