The American Jewish establishment is terrified of Palestinians

This is a very sad story. And it happens all the time now inside the American Jewish community, but it is particularly poignant right now.


This week the Palestinian political cartoonist Mohammed Sabaaneh, whose spirit cracked in an Israeli prison, is having a tour of New York, New Jersey and D.C., all in leftwing spaces. Sabaaneh tells us a compelling story about Israel and its power; but will any big Jewish space host him? Of course not! Some day maybe, in 50 years. (Though Eli Valley is appearing with him; wonderful.)

And meantime all week long in prestige Jewish spaces, what is the fare, but Israeli and American Jews wringing their hands about the future of Israel and the US Jewish relationship with Israel. The unending lament.

Mohammad Sabaaneh

First tomorrow night in New York at the Hebrew Union College, two Jews, Israeli and American, discuss: “A House Divided: Israel and Progressive American Jews.” Is either one of them even actually progressive? Former Israeli diplomat Ido Aharoni is founder of “the Brand Israel program,” which many Palestinians might see as the Brand Israel pogrom.

Then on Wednesday in a White Plains synagogue, there’s “Can Judaism survive the 21st century?” featuring an Israeli and American Jew, Tal Keinan and David Gregory, surely speaking about their differences.

Then on Thursday night in New York, “Across the Divide“: more fretting about American Jews abandoning Israel, this program featuring right-center Zionists Yair Rosenberg of Tablet and Bari Weiss of the New York Times, along with Batya Ungar-Sargon who represents perestroika at the Forward.

And really the only question about all these events is, Do you think you can have a discussion of the Jewish/American-Israeli future without hearing from Palestinians? I don’t. It would be like having a discussion of the future of the American South in 1964 with a bunch of white people. It’s privileged and incomplete.

I recognize that all these events are billed as Jews on Judaism or Israel. There’s no false advertising. But the segregated character of this discussion is unsustainable. You can’t just keep having one event after another featuring American and Israeli Jews in American Jewish spaces bellyaching to one another about what Israel will do without American Jews. When half the population under Israel’s governance isn’t Jewish and have to have a say in the matter.

These people really are terrified of Palestinians. American Jewish leaders have been demonizing Palestinians for 60 years and they believe their own shadow puppets, and so the comfort that American Jews have hosting black civil rights activists or radicals even is absent when it comes to hearing from Palestinians.

It goes back to the 70s, when Arthur Waskow and the good Jews of Breira were exposed by Wolf Blitzer, then of AIPAC and the Jerusalem Post, for having a secret meeting with the PLO. Breira fell apart after that. Or back to 1980 and the editor Leonard Fein daring to say he was opposed to Menachem Begin and suddenly all his financial support from “Jewish liberals” disappeared.

Or back to 2011 and the 92d Street Y cancelling an appearance by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who had lost three daughters to an Israeli attack on Gaza, because his Jewish Zionist co-speaker had canceled for reasons beyond her control, and his talk could no longer be “balanced.” The doctor had to speak at Cooper Union instead…

It goes back to 2012-2013 and the Hillel at Northeastern University cutting off sponsorship of a trip to Israel because “the itinerary includes time in the West Bank and visits with Palestinians, including in a refugee camp” (per Hannah Bernstein’s report). 

Jewish leaders are simply terrified of Palestinians. At some level they know, if they actually listened to one independent Palestinian, their whole world would collapse. Certainly their moral righteousness would fall in shreds.

And PS, the Lara Alqasem boomlet just proves what I’m talking about. The American Jewish community, and the liberal Zionists, rallied around the idea that a Palestinian-American student from Florida should be allowed to leave Ben Gurion airport where she had been detained for two weeks to pursue her studies at the Hebrew University. But they could only rally around her because she was an accommodating Palestinian. She’d renounced her support of boycott, BDS, she wanted to study at a great Israeli institution.

There is simply no ability inside American Jewish spaces to hear Palestinians on their own terms. And the consequences are just tragic, for Jews, for Palestinians, and for Americans too.

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of



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