Petitions against Israel’s planned extension of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (or as they put it: annexation of the West Bank) are all the rage these days. Last week we read that “Jewish Studies Scholars Oppose Annexation,” and the week before that “Gap-year alumni are against annexation.” At this pace, expect a petition by American Jewish Gerbil Owners Against Annexation some time next week.
No doubt the planned extension of sovereignty over 30% of Judea and Samaria is triggering hand-wringing in certain quarters of the American Jewish community. In an article in Ha’aretz last month – histrionically titled “Will Annexation Be a Death Blow for American-Jewish Support of Israel?” – one young American Jew was quoted as warning, “Annexation will push American Jews deeper into what has already been the trend, which has been to decide to not identify with the State of Israel because it is either way too complicated or because they fundamentally cannot have a relationship with a country that is behaving so counter to their values.”
In another opinion piece in Ha’aretz – titled “The Real Reason for ‘Mainstream’ Jewish America’s Appalling Silence on Annexation” – the head of Americans for Peace Now, Hadar Susskind, tried to marshal opposition to sovereignty by admonishing, “[W]e will fight for the vision that reflects both Israel’s founders and the view of the vast majority of American Jews. We call on all our colleagues to join us in protecting a Jewish and democratic Israel by clearly and forcefully opposing annexation.”
In the coming weeks we will be seeing even more headlines trumpeting polls and petitions that will seek to paint the planned move as being contrary to the wishes of American Jewry. No doubt the American Jewish establishment will lament that the proposed plan will be another “nail in the coffin” in the already strained relationship between American Jewry and the State of Israel, joining a long litany of examples of this supposed rift.
Despite the noise, empirical evidence does not support the premise that engaged American Jewry opposes Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. In fact, the exact opposite is the case.
A highly accurate survey of American Jewish attitudes toward Israel occurred this year as American Jews elected delegates to represent them in the 38th World Zionist Congress (WZC). More than 120,000 American Jews of all stripes participated in this open election directly in the shadow of Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to extend sovereignty. This election was conducted in a highly professional manner with third-party monitoring, providing American Jews passionate about having a say in Israel with the perfect opportunity to make their voices heard.
And vote they did, in unprecedented numbers. Parties supporting the settlements in Judea and Samaria won a dramatic and under-reported victory over those vowing to fight “occupation’’ and “annexation”– a substantial 80-to-69 seat win. The Hatikvah slate, of which Mr. Susskind’s Americans for Peace Now was a member, only garnered 6.42% of the total vote despite a clear investment on their part to increase their share of the vote.
Let me repeat that: On an even playing field, American Jewish Zionists, by a wide margin, cast their votes for parties which either explicitly endorse sovereignty or do so implicitly by their stated support for the Israeli settlement movement. The WZC elections shed light on a very important fact that flies in the face of contemporary wisdom: American Jews who are engaged on matters related to Israel and who desire to have their voices heard actually support settlements in Judea & Samaria by a significant margin.
These election results provide far more insight into American Jewry’s relationship with Israel than the small-but-very-loud numbers of professional fringe activists falsely claiming to speak on our behalf. The hard numbers tell the real story.
Opponents of sovereignty warn that its application by Israel would erode US Jewish support for Israel. The truth, in fact, is the exact opposite. Not seizing the opportunity to apply sovereignty would have the effect of alienating higher numbers of America’s most committed Zionists than allowing this unique moment in Jewish history to slip through our fingers.
The writer is senior fellow for Israel & Jewish affairs at the American Conservative Union and executive director of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, GA. He is a ZOA coalition delegate to the World Zionist Congress.
This Op-Ed was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.