Mizrahi and Soviet Jews now challenge US assumptions

In his analysis of why President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy, following on from President Obama’s,  is out of touch with Israelis,  Walter Russell Mead writing in the Wall Street Journal invokes the influence of ex-Soviet immigrants and refugees from Arab countries (with thanks: Lily):

US President Joe Biden

The more liberal wing of the Israeli political establishment was rooted in the “Ashkenazi ascendancy” that dominated Israel in the early decades of independence as thoroughly as WASPs once dominated American life. But over time a mix of Sephardic and Russian immigrants, along with the rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic populations, began to challenge the old, largely secular and Western-minded elite. The old establishment held on in the judiciary, the universities and certain institutions in the security field. But its members were increasingly alienated from the less polished, less Western, less liberal, more religious and more Middle Eastern country Israel was becoming.

In an Israeli form of identity politics, right-leaning voters, resenting what they saw as discrimination and contempt from the establishment, banded together behind leaders like Menachem Begin (prime minister from 1977 through 1983) and Mr. Netanyahu (1996-99, 2009-21). These leaders were less open to American ideas and less vulnerable to pressure from Washington than their predecessors had been. The Russian, Sephardic and ultra-Orthodox voters who supported them mostly didn’t share the feeling of guilt about the Palestinians that haunted the old Israeli establishment. Their knowledge of Arab culture, language and attitudes left them contemptuous of what they saw as fuzzy-minded Americans spouting foolish platitudes about the Arab world.

They had even less respect for the opinions of American Jews. These Israelis or their parents were often refugees from Arab countries, where they had suffered discrimination and persecution. They felt they owed the world and the Palestinians no apologies. As they saw it, pampered and affluent American Jews who had never held a gun, patrolled a Palestinian street or crouched in the basement with their families as Palestinian missiles soared overhead had no business lecturing Israelis on where their boundaries should be.

Neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Obama seems to have understood how their own personal unpopularity in Israel changed the politics of peace among Israelis. As Jews from the former Soviet Union watched Mr. Putin run rings around Mr. Obama on the international stage, as Mizrahi Jews from Muslim countries heard Americans echo the flabby liberal rhetoric of a condescending Israeli establishment that despised them, association with those Americans became toxic. Right-wing politicians saw no reason to conceal their disdain for the Americans and their process; attacking Mr. Kerry in particular brought political dividends. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (2013-16), in conversations with journalists, would mock what he saw as American naiveté, messianic delusions and arrogance. The only thing that will save Israel, he was quoted as saying in 2014, “is for John Kerry to win his Nobel Prize and go home.”

Some of the key arguments the Americans used to convince Israelis to move toward a two-state solution lost traction. Unless a Palestinian state could be established, Americans often argued, Israelis would face the choice between becoming an undemocratic “apartheid” state ruling over an Arab majority and watching the Jewish character of the state disappear as Arabs took over the Knesset.

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