Israel’s new far-right government continues to shake the country’s once unbreakable bond with America’s Jewish community.
Earlier this week, leading American Jewish organizations — including the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, and the right-leaning Orthodox Union — condemned riots on Sunday by Jewish settlers in the West Bank in which one Palestinian was killed and hundreds were injured.
On Thursday, major American Jewish groups announced that they will not meet Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — scheduled to visit the United States later this month — after he called for a Palestinian village to be “wiped out.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs of the progressive Jewish group T’ruah went further, calling for Smotrich’s visa to be revoked. The condemnation and boycott of an Israeli cabinet official by centrist U.S. Jewish groups are rare, if not unprecedented, acts.
Lander is New York City’s top Jewish elected official and a major progressive political voice in the liberal bastion of Park Slope. In his Haaretz article, Lander asserted that support to Israel “must be tied to following the rules, respecting rights, and acting democratically.” He added that “there must be consequences for not doing so.”
U.S. military aid to Israel, Lander wrote, “cannot fund Bibi, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s erosion of democratic institutions, or their illegal settlements, home demolitions or military detention of children.”
Lander’s embrace of restrictions on aid to Israel is not unprecedented for an American politician. Last month, Bernie Sanders called for the conditioning of U.S. assistance to Tel Aviv. And in 2021, Rep. Betsy McCollum (D-MN) introduced a bill that would do just that. McCollum’s legislation had thirty-two cosponsors — including Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and other progressives — but ultimately failed to gain traction.
To be clear, Lander has no influence over federal legislation. And one year into a four-year term, he’s unlikely to head to Washington anytime soon. But as comptroller, Lander is in charge of the city’s $242 billion pension fund system, which has invested in Israel Bonds since 2008.
While Lander has publicly opposed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel, if the Benjamin Netanyahu government moves forward with attempts to neuter the judiciary or annex Palestinian territory, one may see local voices call on the New York City government to divest from any Israel-related holdings it may have.
Notably, Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister, is slated to speak in Washington at a conference on Israeli state bonds. So those calls could happen sooner rather than later and have ripple effects in other states and municipalities.
Even if they do not take place, there is little, perhaps not even a change in government, that could arrest the growing divergence between young, progressive American Jews and the state of Israel.
As Gen Z Jews in the U.S. move further to the left, Israel is moving decidedly right, embracing a religious Zionism that marries the extremism of the contemporary global far-right and ultra-Zionists like Meir Kahane.
Young American Jews see their politics and religion through the prism of social justice. For them, the idea of Jews ruling over a stateless or second-class community is not just anathema, but something they must actively oppose. Not in spite of being Jews, but precisely because they are Jewish. It’s a values-based sense of Jewishness that is diametrically at odds with the militaristic chauvinism of Netanyahu and his allies.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.