Israel, the Left, and the Jews: A brief synopsis

What is there in the Jewish psyche that impels many of us to act as advocates for everyone else’s cause but our own?

Israeli and Palestinian left-wing activists hold placards during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya January 4, 2013 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Israeli and Palestinian left-wing activists hold placards during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya January 4, 2013
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
CLAUSEWITZ once said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” Both war and politics are subjects that Israel understands well. Re-established in our ancient homeland after 2000 years of exile, Israel was born out of the world’s revulsion after the extent of the Nazi Holocaust became known. It has hardly experienced a moment of peace since its inception.
The Soviet Union initially supported the establishment of a Jewish state and this is an important point to remember; without Soviet support, the creation of Israel would have been impossible. Most of the Middle East during the post-WWII era was under the direct or indirect control of Great Britain and France; both of whom were allies of the United States in the newly emerging Cold War.
Since the vast majority of Jews tended to be on the left of the political spectrum, the Soviets believed that Israel would be a pro-Soviet state; a Communist bloc ally adrift a sea of Western imperialism. In the context of the Cold War this was a plausible prospect, however, the expected alignment of Israel with the Soviet bloc failed to materialize by the 1950’s. Simultaneously, this era saw the growth of independence movements throughout the rest of the Middle East, and as a result, the Soviets began a re-orientation away from Israel and toward the newly emerging Arab states; Egypt, Syria, and Iraq among the foremost.
THE RESPONSE of world Jewry in general and American Jews in particular has historically been highly supportive of the state of Israel. The incredible victory of June 1967, followed by the pyrrhic victory of October 1973 was a cause for celebration. But victory did not bring about the desired comprehensive peace, even with the subsequent Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties. The exponential growth of Islamic fundamentalism coupled with the “Arab Spring” movement unleashed a torrent of nationalistic and religious fervor among the Arabs, further exacerbating the problem. The response of the radical left to these developments has been to mirror the re-alignment policy of the former Soviet Union toward the Arab cause. Israel, once seen as the only functioning democracy in the Middle East; is now depicted as an aggressive apartheid state. David has become Goliath.
JEWISH SUPPORT for leftist and liberal causes goes way back, and has its roots in the persecution suffered by our forebearers in the shtetels of Eastern Europe. The formation of the Jewish Bund in 1897 gave form and expression to these new ideas as Jews eagerly embraced Socialism and Marxism. Since Marxist ideology stresses universal equality for all, it is easy to understand how attractive these ideas could be to a people suffering for centuries under the weight of oppression.
In other areas of the Diaspora, notably the US, Socialist and Marxist ideology flourished. It seems to be a part of our DNA; something we ingested with our mother’s milk, to accept these ideologies; and this was inculcated within successive generations. Unfortunately, what many American Jews fail to comprehend is that the radical left of today has adopted the pro-Palestinian anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Semitic mantra of fundamentalist Islam.
AMERICAN JEWRY today, finds itself in somewhat of a quandary when it comes to support for Israel. Do they remain true to their ideological heritage and condemn Israel? Or can they, as some do, maintain their liberal/left beliefs while still advocating for the Jewish state? A great many Jews support the two-state solution as the only viable way to achieve peace in this troubled area. Many Jewish organizations such as J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, and the Jewish Voice for Peace lend their voices in support of this cause. These organizations include some of the most influential Jews in the United States, many of whom possess very impressive résumés. There is no doubt that these individuals are sincere in their quest for peace; nor should anyone believe that they are anything less than fully committed to the righteousness of their cause. But then, so was then-British prime minister Neville Chamberlain on the eve of the Munich Conference. What these well-meaning individuals fail to recognize is that it takes two sincere partners to come to the peace table and reach an agreement.
Unfortunately, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not one of them. To trust an enemy that is committed to driving you into the sea is not a rational policy to follow. In embracing the cause of those who seek our destruction, they have not advanced the cause of peace, but undermined it. By giving aid and succor to our enemies, they have strengthened their hand, not weakened it. We must understand that true peace comes from strength and unity, not divisiveness and appeasement. The years of the Carter presidency were marked by indecision, weakness, vacillation, and timidity; traits which our enemies took full advantage of. Only when former US president Ronald Reagan embarked on a program of “peace through strength,” was the Iranian hostage crisis resolved and the Cold War ultimately ended.
THE JEWS as people have survived 2000 years of exile, dispersal, discrimination, expulsion, and finally, extermination. We experienced the Chmielnicki massacres, the Czarist pogroms, the Black Hundreds and the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz. We were subjected to the blood libel, forced conversions and charges of deicide, yet still, as a nation, we survived. Now, we have acquired a small strip of sand on the coast of the Eastern Mediterranean that we can call home; yet even here, our enemies bide their time, gather their strength and plot our demise. The Jews wish to be loved and admired, but the fact of the matter is that we are the most loathed, despised, and detested people on the face of the Earth. Even so, in spite of all of our misfortunes, we have been among the most generous. We have given more of our time and monies proportionally than any other group, yet, we are stereotyped as a race of selfish and greedy shylocks. We have injected ourselves into just about every cause imaginable from the civil rights movement to the struggle against apartheid, yet we are not appreciated for our efforts.
What is there in the Jewish psyche that impels many of us to act as advocates for everyone else’s cause but our own? Are we somehow ashamed of our successes? Other groups that have thrived are certainly not ashamed. Do we feel that we are betraying our ideological pedigree if we advocate for Israel? Our enemies show no compunction about embracing the concept of a unified Palestine. Do we believe that we must somehow atone for the very act of survival?
THE ARMENIANS and Native Americans do not subscribe to this point of view. Are we as people afflicted by a particular form of mental aberration known as the Stockholm syndrome? Our adversaries do not display any indication of suffering from this malady. There is no Palestinian equivalent of J Street, no organization called 'Imams for Human Rights', and no group entitled the 'Arab Voice for Peace'. Over the last few decades, the world has experienced an exponential growth in instances of anti-Semitism. There are those Jewish “academicians” who maintain that this spike in anti-Semitism is caused by continued Israeli occupation of Arab land. They say that if Israel would only accede to Palestinian demands, or would by some miraculous event, disappear altogether, then the problem would be solved. They conveniently overlook that Jews were indigenous inhabitants of the land for the last 3500 years of Jewish history; not all Jews were dispersed.
This past November 2013 marked the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, an event which in 1938 served as a clarion call for many Jews, and yet, the Nazi regime had been in power since January 1933. The Nuremburg laws were promulgated in 1935. German Jews had more than five and a half years to react to these developments, but most refused to believe the worst. After all, this was the country of Beethoven, Bach, and Goethe. How could such a civilized people succumb to the lowest level of debasement and depravity?
Today, we are faced with a similar dilemma. Only the main threat today comes not from the far right, but from an unholy alliance between militant Islam and the radical left. Sadly, the vast majority of Jews do not see it that way. In times past, when our enemies came for us, they did not ask about our political or ideological affiliations. They were not concerned about our contributions to the world in every field of human endeavor, nor did they care that we were the first to embrace the concept of monotheism. As far as they were concerned, we were Jews; and that fact alone was reason enough. This was true whether we lived in Russia or Germany, and it is true today whether we live in Israel or America. We must understand that the world at large perceives us as one people, regardless of our individual beliefs. It is therefore as one people that we must face our common destiny.
Caren Besner is a retired teacher currently residing in Boynton Beach, Florida who has written articles published by Sun-Sentinel, Jewish Journal, IsraPost, and American Thinker.