Opinion: Embarrassed in America

Diaspora Jews observe the moral depravity of our politicians and wonder why Israelis are so silent.

US jews 88 (photo credit: )
US jews 88
(photo credit: )
The world's image of the Jew and its perception of Judaism are very much determined by what we Israelis do in our country. Israel is the yardstick by which the world judges the Jews. Therefore, a heavy responsibility rests upon those of us who live in the country, which is as it should be, for we have always propagated the notion that Israel is where the Jewish action is. Over and over again we have exhibited why Israel is so central for the Jewish world. We send the army to Entebbe to liberate Jewish hostages, we fly into war-torn Addis Ababa to rescue Ethiopian Jews and we absorb hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews. We are the proud face of the Jewish people. Even when we falter, tarnishing the positive image that we try to cultivate in the eyes of the Jewish community outside Israel, we have always been able to deflect criticism by comparing ourselves favorably to other nations of the world. Indeed, there is no shortage of criticism that one hears among our Jewish brothers and sisters abroad - our failed war in Lebanon, the lack of religious pluralism and the ill-treatment of Israeli Arabs, to name but a few. By pointing out the complex political and social realities with which Israelis live, we can, however, moderate criticism, often creating an appreciation for Israel's ability to be self-critical. However, as I travel the United States addressing Jewish audiences, I find it increasingly difficult to present Israel in a positive light. The reason is that I am rarely confronted with the commonplace questions I have faced in the past - about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the security wall or what will happen with Iran - questions that lend themselves to reasonable answers. Rather, no matter my topic, the most prominent concern of Diaspora Jews is the moral malaise that is sweeping the Jewish state - from a president who may be charged with rape and a minister of justice found guilty of indecent behavior to Tax Authority officials remanded for fraud and a prime minister suspected of breach of the public trust and possible criminal shenanigans. I EXPLAIN that the exposure of such aberrant behavior is testimony to Israel's vibrant democracy, its relentless system of justice and its energetic free press. We do not cover up our errant ways, but confront them. Yet as hard as I try to convince my audiences that hanging out our dirty laundry in the public arena is an affirmative act, such a creative interpretation does not resonate with them. It is as if I am trying to explain away the moral degradation that characterizes too many of our leaders. The sad truth is that it is impossible to say anything positive about Moshe Katsav, the president of the Jewish people, who may soon be indicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse. Katsav makes Bill Clinton - who gave new meaning to the concept of "sexual relations" in the Monica Lewinsky affair - look like a paragon of moral virtue. Whoever heard of a minister of justice forcibly thrusting his tongue down the throat of a girl who could be the age of his daughter? With such a sorry state of moral leadership, can we continue to put forth the argument that we in Israel should be representing the Jewish world? Diaspora Jews no longer consider our leaders as either heroic or mythic. Rather they are seen as moral degenerates who are undermining not just support for Israel among Jews in America, but are also lending credibility to those in the Diaspora who would claim that Israel need not be a central element in one's Jewish self-definition. We have created a depressing reality. I say this because none of us should think that our leaders do not reflect the moral will of the people. It is an old adage that we reap what we sow - and it is we who have allowed the lowest common denominator to rise to the very top, to lead our country and represent the Jewish world. To my Diaspora audiences, the most baffling aspect of the present sorry condition is not the ethical depravity of Israeli leaders, but rather the apathy of the citizenry and the inertia that seems to keep them from doing anything to alter the situation. What is not needed are Israeli apologists touring America to serve as spin doctors for a moral cancer that has infected our body politic. Instead, we need Jeremiahs and Isaiahs, Micahs and Amoses to rise up and lead the masses in protest. Thousands of Israelis must demonstrate outside the President's Residence, demanding that he stay in Kiryat Malachi, for his very presence in the presidential mansion defiles the universal home of the Jewish people. Our prime minister, Ehud Olmert, should follow suit. How many more outlandish scandals must we suffer before we are finally motivated to collectively stand up and say: "Enough"? It is time to express a righteous indignation at the behavior of our leaders; otherwise we will continue to alienate Diaspora Jews, as well as sully our own moral well-being. If we wish to again proudly proclaim that Israel is the face of the Jewish people, as well as to reclaim our own sense of integrity as a nation, we must demand that our leaders be above moral reproach.