Everyone is talking about Naftali Bennett. Again.

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I realize I’m a little late to the game on this (I just got back to the US) but I wanted to just note here that this past week the American Jewish establishment did the unthinkable: it criticized a prominent Israeli politician and government minister. After the AJC denounced Naftali Bennett for his opposition to the two-state solution and proposed annexation of the West Bank, I kind of want to say “I told you so.”

A month ago the activist collective All That’s Left (of which I’m a member) interrupted Bennett’s speech at the MASA closing event to draw attention to the problematic nature of his politics. Bennett doesn’t represent Diaspora Jews, we claimed. In the days following the action I doubted if we had been right. The responses I received on both the post I wrote for the Times of Israel and on this blog (you can still see some of the crazy comments on other posts) seemed to indicate that Diaspora Jews were more than tacitly supportive of Bennett’s apartheid plan: they were actively calling for it. I have to admit I despaired a bit, based on the reception of the action, that the American Jewish community largely stood behind Bennett and his plan. Very few voices of support were heard after the interruption, and none from Diaspora institutions. It’s entirely possible they didn’t hear of the action.   But what’s more likely is that they didn’t feel they could speak out against an elected Israeli official.

I don’t know what pushed the AJC to make a public statement. As Mairav Zonszein wrote, “This is certainly not the first time the AJC has issued a statement of criticism, but it’s still quite a rarity.” But I think it is a sign of a tension beneath the surface of the American Jewish terrain. There is growing dissent and disapproval of Israeli policies within the community. There is perhaps a silent plurality that is opposed to Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank. There is an increasing readiness to confront Israeli politicians who demand American Jewish support for policies that clash with the community’s shared values.

I know I’m a bit naive sometimes but I think there is more to this than a cynical attempt by American Jewish leaders to save face after their true intentions were exposed to the public. Contrary to what Alex Kane wrote, that “Bennett had the gall to say what smart observers know but what the American Jewish wants unspoken,” I think there is a significant portion of the American Jewish community that genuinely wants to see the establishment of a Palestinian state and opposes the occupation on moral grounds. I have no doubt that there are also large segments of the American Jewish population that want to see Jewish control over every inch of historic Palestine. Still, the AJC’s decision to speak out against Bennett and the response by other American Jewish institutions – which was basically, “well, yes, of course we don’t agree with Bennett” – is encouraging for those of us who are working to end the occupation. It means that there are people who can be reached and encouraged to speak out against politicians like Bennett. They just need to feel comfortable enough to do it.

A month ago the Bennett interruption may have looked like a rude provocation carried out by a new, fringe-y group (neither are true). Now, in the context of the AJC’s statement, Roger Cohen’s Op-Ed in the NY Times, and a number of anti-Bennett articles and comments, the protest at the MASA event looks like a cutting edge action. I hate to say “I told you so”, but it looks to me that over at All That’s Left, we were right all along.

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