Responding to threats by several top-tier Democratic presidential candidates at the annual J Street conference in Washington this week to condition U.S. aid to Israel, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Senior Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch reminded the candidates of the mainstream American Jewish and Democratic support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and expressed alarm at the encroachment of anti-Israel sentiments in the Democratic party.
“Overwhelmingly, most American Jews – including most liberal Jews – passionately support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Hirsch. “They believe that foreign aid promotes the interests of both countries and oppose any cut in, or redirection of, those funds. American support helps Israel stand against an array of anti-democratic, anti-liberal forces that seek its destruction.”
“The crisis of anti-Semitism within the U.K. Labour Party began with intense anti-Israel animosity at the party’s margins. That anti-Zionism increasingly devolved into the downright anti-Semitism of the Labour Party itself, severely damaging its standing and reputation and stripping it of Anglo-Jewish support. I fear that a similar process is beginning here in the United States.”
Emphasizing that criticism of Israeli policy is entirely legitimate, Hirsch drew a distinction between opposing a given Israeli policy, and opposing the very existence of Israel: “The Democratic party is increasingly tolerant of voices that are opposed to Israel’s existence. To allow this process to go unchecked will cause irreparable harm to the bilateral U.S.-Israel relationship and to the Democratic party itself.”
Lamenting the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Hirsch emphasized: “The Jewish community, along with most Americans, want the people of Gaza and the West Bank to have decent, productive, prosperous and peaceful lives. The main reason Gazans live in misery is the failed leadership of the Palestinians. Hamas, which rules Gaza, is a terrorist organization that deprives Gazans of basic necessities in order to build tunnels and rockets with which to attack innocent Israelis. The Palestinian Authority has rejected every peace initiative of the Israeli and American governments. When the Palestinian leadership finally decides that it is in its interest to make peace with Israel, they will find a willing partner on the Israeli side, and an American-Jewish community that passionately supports a two-state solution.
Rabbi Hirsch concluded by warning: “Reducing American support for Israel will not bring peace any closer. To the contrary, it will distance it even further.”
AMMIEL HIRSCH is senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. The Jerusalem Post named him among “The 50 Most Influential Jews of the Year” in 2018 and City & State New York magazine praised him as “the borough’s most influential voice” for Manhattan’s more than 300,000 Jews.”