Rotem bill, currently frozen, provoked strong opposition stateside
There’s a remarkable passage in New York Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner’s report on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deal to freeze the Rotem bill for six months:
American Jews, who are mostly politically liberal—some 80 percent voted for President Obama—have felt their attachment to Israel strained during its military operations in Lebanon and Gaza and the recent attack on a Turkish flotilla seeking to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. And since the conversion bill is being sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu, the nationalist and mostly right-wing party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, conditions were especially ripe for mistrust.
“There is increasing discomfort among American Jews with Israel,” commented Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, which is devoted to exploring Jewish issues. “This issue is a place where they can express the displeasure that they might not be willing to state on the flotilla and other political matters.”
For that reason, some here, even among those sympathetic to the Reform and Conservative movements, like Rabbi Hartman, feel that the American reaction to the Rotem bill was overly aggressive.
“They overstated this one,” he said.
In other words, the Rotem bill was a pressure valve enabling American Jews generally loathe to criticize Israel a place to let it all out, under the justification that, unlike the flotilla raid, this potential Israeli policy was (to borrow from Jeff Goldberg) a message in a bottle that reads: “Israel to Diaspora: Drop Dead.”
However, to believe that this reaction—which was undoubtedly strong; have American Jews been so galvanized over an Israel-related issue since the Second Intifada?—derives from something more than just the substance of the bill itself, you must subscribe to a view of the world wherein there are relatively observant Jews who tend to be pro-Israel (and, frankly, not liberal), and relatively non-observant Jews who tend to be indifferent to Israel (and these, I suppose, are the liberals). Statistically and anecdotally, that binary seems to be oversimplified at the very, very best. (more…)