There was no doubt, in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, that American Jews would support Israel.
Four months later, American Jews have a new decision to make: Exactly which Israel do they support?
At least two visions of the war’s endgame are coming into focus, and they are starkly different.
The first is that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far right government. Netanyahu has repeatedly told Israelis the goal is “total victory” — without any specifics.
Last week, we had a glimpse of what he means. Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s ceasefire offer, which demanded a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, prompting President Joe Biden to publicly call on him to both continue pressuring Hamas militarily and work toward closing gaps in negotiations.
Bibi then ordered the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the evacuation of some or all of the 1.3 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah in southern Gaza, whose pre-war population numbered 280,000, in anticipation of an Israeli attack; and again promised to destroy Hamas’s tunnels, providing no details as to how — a task his own generals have said is impossible.
Meanwhile, at least three of his ministers, led by the far right Itamar Ben-Gvir, kept arguing against IDF plans to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza, and to eventually withdraw from the strip and leave it to Palestinian control.
I’m not the first to sum up Netanyahu’s endgame this way: If Netanyahu will only leave office when the war is over, the war will never be over.
He has plunged in the polls, and public trust in him across the political spectrum is at an all time low. His actions of last week make it excruciatingly clear that for him,“total victory” means endless war. As soon as the shooting stops, commissions of inquiries into Oct. 7 and new elections will follow.
But there is another possible endgame, one that translates Israel’s military gains into a political resolution. Last Saturday night, thousands of Israelis shut down part of Tel Aviv calling for a negotiated hostage deal and Netanyahu’s resignation. Thousands more joined protests in Jerusalem and Haifa.
This other Israel wants the government’s priority to be getting the 134 hostages still held by Hamas back safely. The alternative to endless war, for these Israelis, is initiating a diplomatic solution that frees the hostages, takes Israel out of Gaza, isolates and marginalizes Hamas, and sets Israelis and Palestinians on a path toward compromise and coexistence. If the army can free the hostages via dramatic rescues, as it did two hostages early Monday, great — but no one expects that to be a realistic possibility.
This other Israel understand that military pressure is unlikely to lead to further hostage releases. If anything, the longer the war drags on, the greater the chances are that the remaining hostages will be among its victims.
The voices of Netanyahu’s Israeli opposition are loud and growing louder. Those are the voice American Jews need to be amplifying — and the version of Israel they need to support.
“American Jewish leaders should be standing behind Israelis rather than behind the Israeli government,” Michael Koplow, chief policy officer of the Israel Policy Forum, wrote me in an email. “Sometimes those two things overlap, and sometimes they don’t.”
Prior to Oct. 7, Koplow pointed out, American Jews were increasingly siding with the anti-Netanyahu protest movement to protect Israel’s democracy from the government’s proposed judicial reforms.
Now, he said, “if most Israelis begin demanding a genuine shift in Israeli strategy, American Jewish leaders should follow their lead.”
The Oct. 7 attack galvanized and unified Israelis and Jews around the world, as it should have. But as the war grinds on, Israel and its supporters face hard political choices, and competing endgames that reflect very different visions of what kind of nation Israel should be, where its boundaries ought to be, and who really belongs inside its borders.
Netanyahu and his government have long pushed one sort of vision, advancing policies that are anathema to a growing number of Israelis, and to a majority of Americans and American Jews.
The war has reached a stage where it is no longer enough just to say, “I support Israel.” The struggle for Israel’s future is the real endgame of this war, and you need to pick a side.
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