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In June last year, Peter Beinart published an article in the New York Review of Books that created quite a storm by pointing out the deep estrangement between the young generation of American Jews and Israel. A year later, it is time to take stock.
Unfortunately, the situation has only grown a lot worse. In my travels to Europe I speak to predominantly Jewish audiences, but also to non-Jews who care deeply about Israel. They voice their pain and anguish openly: They want to understand what has happened to Israel. They desperately want to stand by it, but they are, increasingly, at a loss of knowing how to do so.
Their questions are simple. They know that Israel is located in one of the world's most difficult neighborhoods; they have no illusions about the Iranian regime or Hezbollah; and they know the Hamas charter. But they don't understand how any of this is connected with Israel's settlement policies, the dispossession of Palestinian property in Jerusalem, and the utterly racist talk about the 'Judaization' of Jerusalem. They feel that they no longer have arguments, even words, to defend Israel.
Israel has never had a government that so blatantly violates the core values of liberal democracy. Never has a Knesset passed laws that are as manifestly racist as the current one. Israel has had foreign ministers who were unworldly and didn't know English; but it has never had a foreign minister whose only goal is to pander to his right-wing constituency by flaunting his disdain for international law and the idea of human rights with such relish.
Moreover, there has never been a government so totally oblivious of its relation to world Jewry. It passes laws that increase the Orthodox establishment's stranglehold on religious affairs and personal life - completely disregarding that 85 percent of world Jewry are not Orthodox - and simply dismissing their Jewish identities and their institutions. As a result, this majority of world Jewry feels Israel couldn't care less about its values and identity.
Israel's Orthodox establishment claims that by monopolizing conversion to Judaism and the laws of marriage, they are preventing a rift in the Jewish people. The exact opposite is true: It is Israel's turn toward racism that extends not only toward its Arab citizens, but toward Ethiopian youth not accepted into schools in Petah Tikva, toward Sephardic girls not allowed to study in Haredi schools in Immanuel, that most Jews in the world cannot stand for.
For most of world Jewry, the idea of Yiddishkeit in the second half of the 20th century meant that Jews must never compromise on the equality of human beings before the law and the inviolability of their rights. So how can they stand by a state that continues to pay rabbis who argue that Jewish life has a sanctity that doesn't extend to gentiles, and that it is forbidden to rent property to Arabs?
Israel was a state created for Jewish people from all over the world to call their home. But due to security fears, growing numbers of Israelis want to leave, opting for EU or American citizenship to meet their expectations of a promised land.
The Israeli armed forces have, over the last decade, spent an increasing amount of their time dealing with religious extremists. Most of the time, the enemy is some Islamic radical group, like Hamas or al Qaeda. But more and more, Jewish religious radicals have become a threat, often from within.
A big problem is draft exemptions granted to members of conservative Jewish sects.