Comment: One Jewish People, now more than ever

Might it just be that the era of the American Jewish Left preaching and moralizing to us Israelis about the conduct of our affairs is ending?

November 19, 2016 13:41
4 minute read.
Stephen Bannon

Stephen Bannon is pictured during a campaign meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan in August. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Almost two weeks of nonstop stunning changes in American politics have left many of us gasping for breath.

Not long ago, few would have imagined that we would ever be uttering the phrase “President-elect Trump.” The possibility that a leader of the alt-Right like Stephen Bannon, a white supremacist on whose website there appeared an article not long ago, “Bill Kristol, Renegade Jew,” might occupy a position of significant influence in the White House crossed few minds.

Bannon, whose own ex-wife, it should be noted, accused him under oath of antisemitism, will have no less influence than the White House chief of staff.

Still unknown is whether Keith Ellison, a Muslim congressman who has good relations with his local Jewish community but who is a vicious and unrelenting critic of Israel, will lead the Democratic Party.

One shudders to wonder what might be next. The mere suggestion that one might seek a silver lining in these devastating changes might sound ludicrous, but I would like to propose at least one: might it just be that the era of the American Jewish Left preaching and moralizing to us Israelis about the conduct of our affairs is ending?

I am on record, in many places, as believing that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, for the long haul, would be devastating for Israel’s soul and the Jewish state’s international standing and I have also made clear that I think Israel has no good moves on the chessboard at this point.

I therefore take no offense when American Jews urge Israel to end the occupation; many Israelis agree, and American Jews have every right to their opinions. What has long seemed to me very unseemly, however, has been the “holier-than-thou” preaching to Israel, this notion that somehow the enlightened American liberal Left will “show the natives” how it ought to be done. Even more distressing – I would go as far as sinful – has been the implicit threat that if Israel does not change its ways then American Jews will walk away.

Now that the liberal edifice in America, both its good and its absurd, are under frontal attack, while Israel is under relentless attack at the UN and in European capitals, it is time to say clearly what we have long known to be true.

We are one people, and when we stop feeling and expressing that, we flirt with existential danger.

Jews rise or fall together. In threatening the Jewish state from your seemingly uber-secure perch in the United States, you broke a cardinal rule of the Jewish people. Do you disagree with Israel’s government? Feel free to, since many of us do, as well. Do you wish Israel would end the occupation? That’s also fine; so do many Israelis. But you threatened and demeaned us in a way that people who are part of a family do not do to each other.

Do you realize that your hypocrisy has been unmasked? If you are horrified by Trump, are you walking away from America? No, you are not. If you are devastated by the meanness that now has the United States in its grip, are you giving up on your country? Once again, no, you are not, because you are truly committed to America. You will fight Trump and the snake pit of neo-Nazis over whom Bannon presides, because you understand that commitment to a country means doubling down when times are rough.

That is precisely what you should have been doing all these years with Israel.

Rather than engaging in rhetoric that gave young American Jews an excuse to walk away from the Jewish state, you should have been telling them to go to Israel, to work for the Labor Party, to volunteer for organizations that seek to further coexistence. Instead of taking your marbles and going home, why did you not raise $10 million a year for those enlightened Orthodox rabbis (Benny Lau and Shlomo Riskin are two who come to mind) so that they could have unlimited resources to spread their message of a tolerant, caring traditional Judaism across the country? Why did you lead trips to Hebron rather than to Israeli emergency rooms, where Arab doctors treat Jews and Jewish doctors treat Arabs? Why did you adopt a position of hostility to the Jewish state? Because, at least in many cases, all your rhetoric notwithstanding, you didn’t really love the Jewish state. How do we know? We know because we see the difference between your approach to Israel and your approach to an America that is becoming, in front of our eyes, utterly repugnant.

So let us move forward, together. Admit you were wrong. Israel’s move to the Right came about because Israelis are afraid. Now that Americans have grown afraid and frustrated, they have elected someone who makes Netanyahu seem almost enlightened, and they are witness to their incoming administration flirting with much, much worse.

We know, despite the years of your dismissive rhetoric and you holding us to a standard to which you never held America (think Native Americans, for example), that the Jewish people will rise or fall together.

So we say, unequivocally, from way over here, we know you are in trouble.

We are here for you. We are your refuge.

We are your partners. We are your people. No matter how hard you tried to push us away, we are your fellow Jews, and because we care, we will stand steadfastly by your side.

The writer is Koret Distinguished Fellow and Chair of the Core Curriculum at Shalem College in Jerusalem. His new book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, was just published by Ecco/HarperCollins.

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