American Jews, Israel and Me

I have the highest regard and the deepest affection for the Jews in my life. I find them, and the culture that I see in their actions, fantastically impressive. There’s a reason that Jews have won so many Nobel prizes, achieved so much in business and made their various marks on the world: their culture fosters achievement. And they not only demonstrate industry and wit, they are charitable – albeit often with somewhat more of a tribal focus than others might appreciate; but in considering that undoubted bias, one cannot forget that since time immemorial they have both segregated themselves, and been segregated, often abusively, by others; these are two sides of the coin of apartness.

The relationship between American Jews and Israel fascinates me. Most of the Jews I know are New Yorkers – as big, brash and full of life as New Yorkers of other backgrounds, but, as a group, even more politically left wing. Whatever: they contribute enormously to our city, our country and our common culture – so who am I to quibble with their political biases?

I have neither the time nor the expertise to delve into the sources of American Jewish liberalism, but one observation particularly interests me: I seem to be much more pro-Israel than are many of my Jewish friends.

Reflexively pro-Israel sentiments among American Christians who are politically conservative are often attributed by people on the left to beliefs in apocalyptic Biblical prophesies; such attributions say a lot more about the anti-religious bigotries of those who make them than they do about the convictions that drive conservatives like me to admire and support Israel.

I am pro-Israel because in that little country I see a robust democracy that has managed to create an oasis of prosperity – and a vibrant society – in a previously barren and decidedly hostile land. And it is a reliable ally to the United States – the only one in an awful neighborhood – and one of perhaps five or six worldwide. Often, it seems that nearly the whole world works against Israel, but it manages to carry on, and even thrive, surrounded by tyrannies and squalor.

I don’t blame the Israelis for the Palestinians’ problems. After the wars that gave birth to Israel, the Palestinians should have been absorbed into the neighboring Arab countries – much as the Prussians were absorbed into Germany after their expulsion from the areas now controlled by Russia and Poland; instead, the Palestinians were left in Gaza in camps that became festering sores, and in the West Bank, because Jordan didn’t want to be overwhelmed by them.

The Palestinians are stateless, fed just enough by support from other Arabs, the UN and Europe to live hopelessly and nurture their grandparents’ alleged grievances. Now, it seems, the UN also funds tunnels built for attacks on Israelis, and consciously shelters Palestinian fighters from reprisals for their rocket attacks.

Having watched Israeli politics for decades, I am convinced that if there were a deal to be made – land for peace, a two state solution – the Israeli public would grab it in a moment: they want only to live in peace and build their lives. But no such deal is imaginable while Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and so many of the Arabs’ religious leaders (with the government of Iran thrown in for good measure) declare that their aim is nothing less than the total destruction of Israel and the expulsion, conversion or murder of its citizens. Israel provides its neighbors with a ready scapegoat, allowing some of the worst regimes imaginable to channel their peoples’ frustrations and anger toward a convenient, and religiously-sanctioned, enemy.

So what’s up with America’s Jews, who overwhelmingly supported the election and re-election of a President who has made his disdain for Israel quite clear? And why do many of them express decidedly equivocal support of Israel? I have never heard an American Jewish friend argue that he or she supports Palestinian sovereignty, because it might be in America’s national interest to cozy up to the Arabs, even if it means the destruction of Israel. Instead their opinions are expressed with soft-focus “Give peace a chance” sentimentality.

Such sentimentality is generally wrapped in pity for the Palestinians; and who, really, doesn’t feel sorry for those poor, trapped people? The Palestinians are no less human than you and I, and under the present circumstances they have few achievable aspirations. But are they trapped by the Israelis’ unwillingness to grant them a “right of return” (just as the Greeks, for example, will never be given back Constantinople), or by their Arab cousins’ unwillingness to accept them, and their own ideology of hate?

How can the Israelis compromise with people who quite openly want to kill them? They cannot; at best, they can hold their self-declared enemies at bay.

In much European “anti-Zionism” I see old-fashioned anti-Semitism wearing new clothes. Evidently, in countries that are themselves tribal, anti-Semitism is one of these viruses that keeps coming back. The US was never a tribal country, so the Jews’ apartness never seemed so sharply different here: everybody was always too busy looking down on whoever was the newest crowd of immigrants to focus too poisonously on any one group; intra-group rivalries can be laughed at here because there are so many from which to choose – cue to “National Brotherhood Week”.

As noted, I am not qualified to analyze the left wing political orientation of most American Jews. I guess that where I differ with them politically is that they think that socialist-lite policies help the poor, whereas I am convinced of exactly the opposite. But how they can support a President who seems steeped in Europe’s now-fashionable anti-Zionism, I really don’t get.

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