American Jews and Israel

It's good that American Jews still concern themselves with Israel.    One can hope for better information among them, and more sanity at the extremes. Being Jews, however, those are probably hopes to be frustrated.   The range of what we hear isn't all that different from what Israelis express. Likewise, the certainty of Jewish opinions there and here seems about the same, i.e., much of it is higher on the scale of intensity than on the scales of knowledge or wisdom.   Thinking about Jews is in our intellectual DNA. It's been there since someone (God Himself, according to the story) wrote that we were God's Chosen, and the idea caught on.   Jews were not the first people to acquire literacy, but we may have early become the people having the highest incidence of literacy. What we've written and expressed about ourselves and others finds itself in libraries and on electronic servers throughout the world, most likely in all the languages that are written. It enlightens, amuses, confuses, and/or annoys those who notice.   Some American Jews are writing that we have a moral imperative to solve the problems of Gaza, while others say that we must rid ourselves of the Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza, as well as those living in Israel) if we are to survive. Somewhere toward the left side of that spectrum is yet another committee of self-designated Jewish worthies--most likely Democrats--who have gathered together in order to examine and promote what they find think is a road to peace.   Can't our American cousins find something closer to home that they are more likely to understand? That won't quiet nutty Israelis--those on the right who think God gave it all to us or those on the left who consider us fascist murderers--but it might add a bit of good sense to hyper-active Jewish thinkers.   Inner-city slums in the US are at least as bad as anything Palestinian with respect to violence and lousy education, and a lot worse in terms of self-destructive use of drugs and unmarried teenagers who make babies likely to make babies of their own when it becomes biologically possible.    The other side of this complex are American police who harass or harm minorities, sometimes with minority police doing what's unprofessional.    There should be enough in the American morass to satisfy the need of American Jews to do something morally imperative, or at least useful.   For American Jews with an inclination to look outward, then Africa, much of Latin America, and other parts of the Third World are at least as worthy of attention as anything Palestinian.   Perhaps our overseas cousins are concerned to help us help ourselves--either by pressuring us to do what we haven't done, or making God's Holy Land better by improving its surroundings.   A bit of history might convince them that Israelis have tried a lot over the course of a century or more, some of it even before they were officially Israelis.    And other bits of history will show that Jews have always lived among or close by others, sometimes with tension or worse, but often with accommodation.   Israelis and American Jews, along with cousins in most other places are, arguably, safer, more prosperous, and more integrated with others than at any time in history.   Those with dismal inclinations can say that German Jews expressed themselves in the same fashion up to when it began to go bad.   There are no guarantees. However, there is no significant cluster of Jews suffering intolerable persecution in places that they cannot leave.    The situation of the Jews of Iran may be closest to what is historically undesirable, but those with Iranian connections quarrel about it.   A Jewish itch to do something about what is perceived as intolerable has been with us since Biblical times. The right wing appeared early on with respect to what was said about the Amalekites    'Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (I Samuel 15)

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
It's good that American Jews still concern themselves with Israel. 
 
One can hope for better information among them, and more sanity at the extremes. Being Jews, however, those are probably hopes to be frustrated.
 
The range of what we hear isn't all that different from what Israelis express. Likewise, the certainty of Jewish opinions there and here seems about the same, i.e., much of it is higher on the scale of intensity than on the scales of knowledge or wisdom.
 
Thinking about Jews is in our intellectual DNA. It's been there since someone (God Himself, according to the story) wrote that we were God's Chosen, and the idea caught on.
 
Jews were not the first people to acquire literacy, but we may have early become the people having the highest incidence of literacy. What we've written and expressed about ourselves and others finds itself in libraries and on electronic servers throughout the world, most likely in all the languages that are written. It enlightens, amuses, confuses, and/or annoys those who notice.
 
Some American Jews are writing that we have a moral imperative to solve the problems of Gaza, while others say that we must rid ourselves of the Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza, as well as those living in Israel) if we are to survive. Somewhere toward the left side of that spectrum is yet another committee of self-designated Jewish worthies--most likely Democrats--who have gathered together in order to examine and promote what they find think is a road to peace.
 
Can't our American cousins find something closer to home that they are more likely to understand? That won't quiet nutty Israelis--those on the right who think God gave it all to us or those on the left who consider us fascist murderers--but it might add a bit of good sense to hyper-active Jewish thinkers.
 
Inner-city slums in the US are at least as bad as anything Palestinian with respect to violence and lousy education, and a lot worse in terms of self-destructive use of drugs and unmarried teenagers who make babies likely to make babies of their own when it becomes biologically possible. 
 
The other side of this complex are American police who harass or harm minorities, sometimes with minority police doing what's unprofessional. 
 
There should be enough in the American morass to satisfy the need of American Jews to do something morally imperative, or at least useful.
 
For American Jews with an inclination to look outward, then Africa, much of Latin America, and other parts of the Third World are at least as worthy of attention as anything Palestinian.
 
Perhaps our overseas cousins are concerned to help us help ourselves--either by pressuring us to do what we haven't done, or making God's Holy Land better by improving its surroundings.
 
A bit of history might convince them that Israelis have tried a lot over the course of a century or more, some of it even before they were officially Israelis. 
 
And other bits of history will show that Jews have always lived among or close by others, sometimes with tension or worse, but often with accommodation.
 
Israelis and American Jews, along with cousins in most other places are, arguably, safer, more prosperous, and more integrated with others than at any time in history.
 
Those with dismal inclinations can say that German Jews expressed themselves in the same fashion up to when it began to go bad.
 
There are no guarantees. However, there is no significant cluster of Jews suffering intolerable persecution in places that they cannot leave. 
 
The situation of the Jews of Iran may be closest to what is historically undesirable, but those with Iranian connections quarrel about it.
 
A Jewish itch to do something about what is perceived as intolerable has been with us since Biblical times. The right wing appeared early on with respect to what was said about the Amalekites 
 
"Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (I Samuel 15)
More moderate is the justification of a pre-emptive attack that appears in the Talmud, and is widelyquoted in modern Israel.
 
אם בא להורגך השכם להורגו 
 
If someone comes to kill you, rise and kill him (Sanhedrin Chapter 8, p. 72)
 
Some read "Do not kill" in the Ten Commandments, but a more accurate translation of "לֹא תִרְצָח"  is, "Do not murder."
There's plenty from the left throughout the Prophets. Especially notable is a passage from the Book of Amos that elevates justice above religious ritual.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:21-24)
Ecclesiastes provides as good an expression of Jewish cynicism as anything written since..
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.. . . .. 
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (Ecclesiastes 1, 12)
And from the same book, early signs of Jewish relativism and social science. The appeal of this passage appears in the folk songs that set it to music.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (3)
So where are we?
Many of us are still showing the Jewish itch to do something, even to solve problems that may be without solution.
There are also a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other care providers, many of them Jews, urging us to cope with problems that we cannot solve.
Comments and quarrels are part of it.
-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
irashark@gmail.com