Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gummy Jews

Special to the Jewish Times

Just as the Jewish state is smooshed in a vise between sides that want to drown it in the sea, the state of Jews in America is pulled like gummy Passover candy in various directions.

Here in the United States, many Jews who typically lean leftward are wary of an Obama presidency. That’s due less to his actual stance on Israel and more by his association with the radical Rev. Jeremiah Wright and rumors that have circulated on the Internet that Obama is a Muslim. Even if we know it to be bogus, a little voice inside is, hmm … suspicious.

On the other hand, with the last eight years of Bush, who was just in Israel (again) and its champion, it’s evident to see how Jews, liberal on most issues, feel uncomfortably conflicted when it comes to supporting Israel.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/arts/31jews.html?_r=1&emc=eta1&oref=slogin

For them, having lived with President Bush since the millennium, to paraphrase Groucho Marx in “Horse Feathers,” “Whatever Bush is for, we’re against.” So if he’s for Israel, then something’s got to be wrong with supporting Israel. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PY7N4iRgLQ)

I’ll never forget being at Camp Ramah as a 10-year-old, and I had a counselor named Shiah. He was tall and handsome and when I asked who he wanted to be president, he said, “Nixon. He’s a friend to Israel.” Well, when I told my mother as she picked me up on camp’s last day that I was for Nixon, she almost plotzed. Little did I or the world know then what Nixon really thought of Jews.

But in those days, for many Americans Israel was still a David. The amazing success of the Six Day War was fresh and Jerusalem was our shining city on a hill. Kibbutz was a term we still heard and Soviet Jewry was the cause.

Since then, things have gotten a little more complicated. Begin and Sharon invaded Lebanon and suddenly we were no longer the nice guys. College campuses fueled hatred equating the mogen david with the swastika and any sense of moral order and equilibrium came apart. Again, whether it was true or not had little to do with the impression made in the mind. When such symbolism and iconography are branded into the consciousness, it burrows a hole inside and festers.

The logic then follows: I am a liberal. Many liberals are against Israel. Therefore, I should be against Israel.

But I ask those who contemplate such a view, what happens when “Israel” is replaced with the word “Jew”? In a deft maneuver, that’s happening. It’s no longer just a political attack.

In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has a cover story entitled, “Is Israel Finished?” In it, he cogently lays out the many-sided conundrums of Israel and how they’ve evolved. http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200805/israel

What I found most disturbing are some choice quotes. Here’s one.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has said, “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.”

It’s been said that you can be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic. But how far can criticism go before it becomes hate? Forcing the paradox, Israel’s enemies manipulate the earlier syllogism.

For American Jews who think Israel is for Israelis and as they’re not Israeli, they can spout all the anti-Israel talk they want without sounding anti-Semitic, there is all the more reason for Israel to proudly re-emphasize itself as a Jewish state — a Jewish state that is also the only democracy in the region.

Subsequently, as the falafel stands and flags celebrating Eretz Yisrael at 60 are stored away, American Jewish leaders need to re-navigate the dynamic, complicated territory in the minds of American Jews for supporting Israel at 70.