BarkSpeak, Part 2

BarkSpeak: the style in which, so often, members of the Israeli government and religious establishment address American Jews.

Three dogs (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Three dogs
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Writing multi-part columns when your work appears only monthly can be an exercise in absurdity. After all, it’s not like everybody’s waiting for the sequel, and there’s always that pesky question: How much space do you devote to review? “In our last episode... ” In this case, perhaps a bit of review might be useful, because the problem we’re looking at has worsened since the August column got filed in July.
So... in our last episode...
BarkSpeak is a neologism with many and varied applications. Here it alludes, generally, to a style that is worsening a set of inter-related dilemmas in American-Israeli and Israeli-Diaspora relations. Today, these dilemmas are no more obvious than, say, a hurricane just starting to form. But when they combine and hit, the damage could be, as we’re learning to say about hurricanes, incalculable.
In 1984, George Orwell made up the term Duck Speak to describe government verbiage that sounds like the quacking of a duck and signifies about as much. Courtesy of my neighbor Shimon and his endlessly barking dog, I came up with BarkSpeak – the viciousness, arrogance and nastiness that seem so much a part of Israeli discourse, until all you hear is barking.
BarkSpeak: the style in which, so often, members of the Israeli government and religious establishment address American Jews.
Those American Jews who still bother to listen.
No one will dispute that American Jews have been drifting away from Judaism and Israel for decades. Ignorance of both the faith and the state – in many cases an astonishing ignorance of even the most basic tenets and facts, including geography – is rampant among the younger set. Their common response to any kind of formal or informal outreach or attempt at dialogue: “Why tell it to me?” And when, from time to time, they encounter the BarkSpeak that routinely emanates from Israel, their response partakes in equal measure of indifference and disgust.
Yes, a very small minority of American Jews, for reasons of their own, oppose anything and everything Israeli. But for a much larger percentage, the prevailing attitude tends toward a fastidious lack of concern.
“Hey, Israel’s a going enterprise with an ugly side that I don’t care to consider too closely. They don’t need me and I have no reason to need them.”
As for the faith, as a millennial told me some time ago, “Judaism has a promotion problem. It’s also got a product problem.”
(Disclosure. I try to keep up with the academic literature and journalism on this subject. But much of my sensibility here derives from extended conversations with My Son the New York Lawyer Who’s Almost 31 and Still Not Married and his generational peers.) In short, the fundamental problem, at least demographically, in Israeli/American Jewish relations is not the opposition that’s rising. It’s the support that isn’t. The great danger is not hostility; it’s indifference. But as Shimon BarkSpeaked me when I complained about his dog, “My dog barks. So what?” It’s no secret that old-fashioned antisemitism has been rising in America for decades and that the prevailing attitude among the indifferent, especially the younger indifferent, is, “So what?” But the current president seems quite comfortable with this situation and is quite capable of encouraging it, should he find it advantageous. Plus – let’s face it – Donald Trump could pull the magic carpet out from under the US/Israeli relationship in a second, for any reason or for no reason at all. And neither his Court Jews nor the cringing stuffed and empty suits that pass, too often, for American Jewish “leadership” (who’s following them?) seem capable of effective response.
Great disasters are usually the result of the convergence of multiple problems, disastrous only in combination. The Trump presidency can be considered the latest entry in America’s trifecta of abysmal 21st-century presidents. But it’s a long way to 2020 and in Washington, DC, failure loves to hide behind the scandals of others.
In the August column, I suggested that there are probably major scandals hidden in the big-bucks American-Israeli defense relationship. Perhaps all that has kept it from exploding is the numbers and positions of Americans involved. But a failed Trump presidency, looking for cover, might well find such a scandal of value. And the antisemites would love and abet it.
Now suppose that such a long-running scandal coincides with a military confrontation between Israel and Iran in what’s left of Syria and Iraq. How might the two interact? And if Palestinian issues and sustained violence flare up? And if Hezbollah... and if...
We’re going to need all the support we can get. The time to start building support is now. Damn the BarkSpeak. It’s time for Israel to start talking to the American Jewish community like it’s needed again, and that includes religious as well as political differences.
You might not get them all back. But in the moment of peril, you might get enough.
The writer suggests that readers who find this argument either too compelling or too ridiculous pull up the August column. And shana tova to all.