There have been remarkable acts of civil protest and disruptions over the last few months. From the women’s march, to sit-ins about Obamacare, attempts have been made everywhere to stymie the chaos that has governed our lives and the news cycles since Trump’s inauguration.
This renewed sense of political urgency has been no different when it comes to Jewish communal responses to the potential impact of this new regime. And amongst many other worries of increasing anti-Semitism, the oppression of religious minorities, the confirmation of David Friedman as the Ambassador to Israel this week is in many ways a watershed moment for diaspora Jewish engagement with Israel/Palestine.
This appointment is a blow to many of us who believe in the values of democracy, and human rights, and who believe those values are found staunchly within our Jewish religious and cultural tradition. Yet a man who has publicly called Jews who don’t support settlement expansion as “worse than the kapos at Auschwitz”, and who continues to deny the rights of Palestinians, is now charged with representing the one of Israel’s closest international allies.
There is a growing sentiment amongst the American Jewish community that feels worried about the authority a man like Friedman will have in influencing actions on the ground in Israel/Palestine. It is inevitable that his confirmation will only embolden Netanyahu’s government in pushing for a hard line, pro-settlement, anti-democratic stance. For me, the fundamental injustice of this appointment is what it signifies for the possibility of an end to the Occupation. It’s tragically poetic that during the year of the 50th anniversary of Israel securing control over the territories, an individual whose repugnant ideas of what it means to support Jewish self-determination, one which rests unequivocally and unapologetically on the oppression of another people, is now legitimised in an unprecedented way.
Not to mention the alarming on the ground consequences that will arise were Friedman to fulfil his promise, for example, to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. It is yet another example of this dumpster fire of an administration’s ability to dredge up individuals with the capacity for potential for harm so great, that it leaves me with an existential anxiety that is difficult to shake.
Even AIPAC, an organisation which is continuously criticised amongst the liberal Jewish community for failing to effectively address the Occupation, settlement expansion and the undemocratic legislation passed recently in the Knesset, continues to support at least in words, a two-state solution. The fact that even by their standards, Friedman’s attitude towards Israel/Palestine is inflammatory is indicative of the changing political landscape that seeks to legitimise these extremist views as valid avenues for diplomatic action.
Here in the UK research shows us that the majority of Jews in this country support a two-state solution and are concerned that the settlements continue to be an obstacle to peace. Many of us mourn the seemingly never ending Occupation – it fills us with a sense of despair. Organisations like J Street, If Not Now, and their equivalents in the UK have given young Jews like myself a space to engage with Israel in a way that allows us to hold onto our values of social justice and human rights. To be slandered by the likes of Friedman as a “kapo”, language usually reserved for the likes of social media trolls, sends the message to the progressive Jewish world that we are not welcome. It is a message to progressives that is echoed in other appointees, cabinet members and staff of the Trump Administration; to challenge the status quo, to work for a more just world is no longer part of the plan.
This type of hyper-nationalist rhetoric does not represent me. It doesn’t represent the thousands of activists and allies who will continue to demonstrate the number of ways that Friedman’s appointment will only bring strife to Israel/Palestine. It is likely that his role will cause the Jewish community across the political spectrum to question what it means to have a connection to Israel. In all likelihood, things will inevitably get a lot worse, before they get better. If that makes you feel a bit hopeless, join the club.