Hotovely's faux pas: Telling the truth about American Jews

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely's remarks about Diaspora Jewry have struck a chord with many.

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November 28, 2017 22:18
4 minute read.
IDF soldiers during a training exercise

IDF soldiers during a training exercise. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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What Germans might call the Hotovely-Americanische Judische-wort-gewitter – Hotovely’s American Jewish verbal thunderstorm – has hit. As usual, truth and reason suffer.

Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely is being called “ignorant,” even “antisemitic,” for noting that Americans Jews live safer, more “convenient” lives than Israelis and “most” don’t serve in the military.

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Apparently, obvious truths aren’t very diplomatic these days.

Perhaps we could discuss our differences calmly if she had first affirmed that American Jews are our “brothers” and sisters and that she “cares” about them. She could have “welcomed” all Jews to see Israel as their “home.” And she should have singled out radicals trying to impose a “liberal dictatorship” who shut down alternative viewpoints and only blame Israel without acknowledging the conflict’s “complexity” or any Palestinian culpability.

Surprise! Watch the entire i24 interview: that’s what she did. She highlighted the importance of the relationship before conveying her accurate criticism.

Many Israeli and American Jewish leaders seem to be suffering from an attack of the stupids. Israeli and American Jews have never had more constructive grassroots contact. Forty percent of American Jews and Israelis have visited one another’s country. That percentage doubled in 20 years, thanks to Birthright Israel, general tourism and other bridge-building initiatives.

Yet too many leaders, who should know better – along with loudmouth extremists in both countries who don’t want to know better – foul the relationship with aggressive demagoguery and thinskinned responses.

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The leaders and the extremists should learn from the masses and the centrists. We have more in common than ever. Yet we differ, especially regarding what Hotovely’s neither ignorant nor antisemitic remarks emphasized.

Consider two moments.

Three years ago, over July 4th weekend 2014, we hosted two dozen North American friends and relatives for our daughter’s bat mitzva in Jerusalem. Hamas fired 162 rockets in three days. As sirens wailed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, my wife and I counseled scared loved ones who felt guilty about wanting to go home. “Go, this isn’t your fight,” we told them lovingly, respectfully.

“It’s also one thing to scurry to shelter in some strange hotel and [another] to do it in the comfort of your home.” (No one changed a ticket.) One afternoon, I shared a bomb shelter with some liberal rabbis. I sensed their fear – and their new recognition of the difficulties Israelis face. I could imagine the high holiday sermons being written as we hunkered down. Still, I was shocked when some invoked Holocaust analogies to explain their feelings. I didn’t feel powerless: the IDF was defending me, them, our neighbors, and, frankly, the West.

More generically, imagine the moment in a 12th grader’s life this spring, when that acceptance email arrives, solving the “where will I be and what will I be doing the next few years” mystery. It’s dramatically different choosing a college and being assigned an army unit. The preparation for each begins formally years earlier – and culturally at birth.

So it’s true: Israelis are targeted by Palestinian terrorism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and every antisemite and anti-Zionist on the planet, while American Jews barely are. And the typical Israeli serves in the army, while the rare American Jew does.

With respect to my Jerusalem Post colleagues, running front-page photos of Lone Soldiers in Israel to refute Hotovely’s words confirmed them. Those brave soldiers represent a mini-minority making a tremendous sacrifice that most of their American Jewish peers can neither fathom nor follow.

Attending university in the United States was a defining experience for me. I enjoyed campus life so much I became a case of arrested development – I never left. I therefore can say lovingly, respectfully, authoritatively, that the different experiences my kids have as soldiers and their cousins have as students merits thoughtful conversation, not finger-pointing or posturing.

Most American Jews are Isaiahans, framing their Judaism as continuing the Prophets’ universal call for peace and social justice. Israelis are Davidians, continuing the kings’ experiment in fulfilling Jewish ideals through sovereignty in the homeland.

Moreover, American Jews view their world as “the Promised Land,” the Golden Medina. Israeli Jews view their world as “the Promised land,” the land flowing with milk and honey – which can also devour its inhabitants. Acknowledging those differences can frame more meaningful conversations.

I wish this latest fight would restrain American Jewish radicals from calling Israelis theocrats, oppressors, racists. I wish this latest round would restrain radicals Israelis from using “hareformim” as a modern curse word.

And I wish this latest fight would remind leaders – from Right to Left, in Israel and America – to start listening generously, responding thoughtfully, behaving constructively. We need more humble breast-beating, from each side, and less arrogant finger-pointing, with true leaders who are willing to make necessary compromises, and seek constructive solutions.

Let’s stop letting the demagogues stir us up. Follow the bridge-building ways of Natan Sharansky – who negotiated the Western Wall compromise. Read Avraham Infeld’s constructive primer on cultivating Jewish peoplehood, helping us “remain unified rather than uniform.” This master educator explains his famous Five-Legged Table Metaphor, in his new memoir A Passion for a People, co-authored with Clare Goldwater. Infeld recognizes that Jewish identity requires at least three of the following five components to stand: Memory, Family, Covenant, Israel and Hebrew. Let’s open a conversation about which components Isaiahans and Davidians use.

And, before getting hysterical, why not watch all five minutes and 27 seconds of Tzipi Hotovely’s thoughtful – and thought-provoking – interview.

The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University.

Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.

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