Do Americans like Israelis?

Nope. Never have, never will.

A worker cleans the stage near Israeli and American flags  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A worker cleans the stage near Israeli and American flags
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Do Israelis like Americans? Hard to tell. These last few years have been rough. Still, when you see all these people wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts with American English emblazoned on them – messages ranging from the saccharine and the simpering to the salacious, supercilious and surreal – you wonder.
So nu? Since when did Israelis have to import their attitudes? Maybe the State of Israel should start selling vanity license plates? Subjects for some other sermonette. In this episode, we ponder, “Do Americans like Israelis?” Take your pick: – Impossible to tell.
– Nope. Never have, never will.
– No matter. What we need now is not good vibrations but something much harder to engender.
– And a new sense in America that Israel is on somebody’s side besides her own.
And the Republican Party’s.
I like them all.
When pondering human attitudes, the default position is to check the surveys and polls. Erroneous juju. Statistical sampling has come a long way since its dubious early decades. Still, when confronting any hyperventilated announcement that “a survey shows” it’s vital to keep in mind that the party that pays the piper calls the tune. Without knowing the identity and intentions of the funder...
Also obvious: The answer you get depends on the question you ask. Surveys may be skewed in many subtle ways.
Therefore, although one rarely, if ever, has the time and access, it’s revealing to see the actual questions and know whether they were asked by telephone, computer, or in person. Also, what the sequencing and other variables were.
So, any survey, cum grano. Or perhaps with a whole shaker full.
Which shakes us off at the next item.
Do Americans like Israelis? Nope. Never have, never will.
Prior to 1967, few Americans thought much about Israel. Many, to adapt novelist Herman Wouk’s summary of Jewish attitudes, felt some admiration but kept their distance. Then the Six Day War became the stellar epicenter of what seemed, at the time, a permanent alteration in the status and prospects of Jewry. Suddenly, Jewish was fashionable.
American Jews had been openly and exuberantly penetrating the professions and the arts for decades. Leon Uris’s debauched fantasia, Exodus, oversold the product obscenely. Moshe Dayan and Woody Allen became, if not sex symbols (well, maybe a little), certainly sexualized representatives of new kinds of Jews.
Then it all started to implode. By the mid-1980s, Entebbe and Osirak were ancient history. “Jews ain’t news” became a journalistic cliché, except, perhaps, when the fraud and statutory rape indictments came down. And as the decades passed, an increasing segment of good and thoughtful Americans began to conclude that, while they supported Israel’s right to exist in security, that didn’t constitute a blank check for anything Israel wanted to do.
And, inevitably, Israel began to wear out its welcome among them. The Israeli culture of dominance segued into nastiness for export, free-floating arrogance, and an angry unwillingness to countenance any criticism: character traits that in an individual might well be deemed sociopathic.
Israel started looking, more and more, like Uncle Sammy’s spoiled brat.
And despite all the media screaming, decent Americans don’t like to be screamed at by brats. They might listen.
Then they’ll smile politely, turn away, and you’ve lost them.
So how do you get those people back? A snide response might be, “Observe Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy) and the fuming and whining of America’s Israel supporters. Then do the opposite.”
Snide, perhaps. But far from entirely wrong.
Still, it can be done. The decent have not lost their decency.
But to reach the doubters, the women and men who still value rationality and courtesy, first you must recognize whom you’re not going to reach.
The early Zionists assumed that a Jewish state would forever put an end to anti- Semitism. Didn’t quite happen that way.
And pathological anti-Semitism has reappeared in a historically unprecedented way. The Internet and social media have empowered millions of people who, in previous eras, would have remained under their rocks. Empowered them and bonded them – and it does no good to attempt to engage or refute them. Rather the opposite.
They’re not your vital target audience, and getting all irate and flummoxed simply gives them what they want.
There are other ways to take out the trash.
Instead, engage the skeptical but not yet totally hostile segment. This requires, foremost, a complete reversal of approaches.
It’s no longer all about us. Islamism is at war with the world. That much is obvious. Therefore, it’s time to talk less about ourselves and pay more attention to Israel’s American patron – a nation in deep trouble that doesn’t need any more scolding, lecturing, hectoring or high-level insults.
It’s time to understand the difference between “Look how great we are” and “This is what we offer.”
And the difference between “Look how we’ve suffered” and “The United States is also in pain. So is civilization.”
Try this.
“The secular Zionist vision has always been that Israel should take its place among the nations. We reaffirm that goal, and understand that taking our place means doing so in the world of the 21st century, as it is. In the global struggle against Islamism, we intend to do more than episodically shoot ’em up (‘manage the problem’) and occasionally slip the good guys some actionable intelligence.
We intend to do our part to forge a regional alliance against this barbarism – an alliance that will have global aspects. Beyond this, we commit our country to developing the technologies and techniques that will make a difference, perhaps a vital difference, as climate change plays out.
“Such is our world today.
“So, dear good Americans, we don’t expect to be liked. Or adored. Nor are we interested in treating you, any longer, as Uncle Sugar and His Bottomless Bank Account.
“We want something more. We want to become more of what we should have been, and still can be.
“And we want, in our way, to help you to do the same.”
The writer is an American oleh who sees new possibilities.