I had a clarifying moment this early afternoon sharing notes with TPM Reader MH via email. This was about the situation in Israel/Palestine but more particularly how it is impacting both people’s views and politics in the United States. What I think has happened is that the events, which began with the Hamas massacres in southern Israel on October 7th and has continued with Israel’s merciless retaliation, has pushed the discussion among not just Democrats but everyone to the left of the 50 yard line of American politics from “should Israeli policy be different” to “should Israel exist.”
The first is fairly unifying. The second is profoundly divisive and, for a non-trivial chunk of the Democratic coalition, existential.
By “should Israel exist” I don’t mean, as the more florid online debates and protest slogans sometimes have it, should the Israeli Jews be exterminated or forcibly displaced or even necessarily that the country and society should be forcibly reconstituted. (Maximalist slogans like “from the River to the Sea” are by design vague and menacing and easy for people to pour their preexisting fears into. Jews may jump to fears about extermination, but let’s just say it’s a touchy issue.) In a sense, even if these things were being discussed, it wouldn’t really matter since those things aren’t happening. What I mean is something different: that there is a discussion about whether it is right or moral that Israeli society and state, more or less as it now exists and within its 1967 borders, should exist. Should it have come into existence? Should it continue to do so now, etc.?
Even in this more toned down sense that ‘debate’ is, just in the nature of things, pretty threatening to Israeli Jews and to the great majority of American Jews who have some communal affinity with that country and those people. In this case, I’m just using ‘affinity’ as a catchall for the range of attachment that majority feels toward Israel, ranging from vague attachment to being totally bonkers obsessed.
Stated in these less heated and more analytical terms I think this is explains why this is, at least for the moment, a significant thing in the Democratic party and a fairly big thing for many American Jews, even for the majority who have been increasingly turned off by the rightward trend of Israeli politics for many years.