Monday, March 5, 2012

A Secular American Jew and a Love for Israel

As many of you know, I have dedicated many postings to the State of Israel on a range of topics including: it’s history, the present day government, the Jewish-Palestinian question, and the region in general.  Growing up in a liberal conservative Jewish household (the oxymoron is quite common as American Jews were almost exclusively political liberals and the conservative branch of Judaism the most common) and attending Hebrew school as a kid you obviously build an affinity for the State of Israel.  I do not remember the Six-Day War of 1967, but I have vivid memories of celebrating Israel’s 25th anniversary in 1973 and the Yom Kippur War later that year.  As a ten year old attending Yom Kippur services I saw the worried looks on my parents and the other adults at the shul as members of the congregation would periodically step outside to get news reports from car radios and transistor radios (We still drove and used electrical appliances during the high holidays, though several families eschewed those devices over the holidays).  Those worried looks reflected the grave concern that the very existence of the State of Israel was in serious jeopardy.  Israel survived though the price was heavy.  In the nearly 40 years since the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli cause has gone from one of  global love and support to one of public outrage.  In the world’s public opinion, the Palestinian has gone from the terrorist to the persecuted.  Where the world once marveled at the chutzpah and skill of the IDF and Mossad, like the 1976 raid on Entebbe, Uganda, it now condemns altercations with flotillas at sea.  Equally strange, in the United States, support for Israel has shifted from Liberals to Conservatives.  Zionism was declared a noble endeavor over a hundred years ago, today it is called racism.  What has happened?

Let’s go back to the idea of the Jewish state and the man most often credited with spreading the concept; Theodor Herzl.  Herzl is credited with being the driving force of the Zionist movement, though he did not create the name, following the publication of his 1897 book Der Judenstaat.  The movement promoted the settling of European Jews in the ancient biblical Jewish homeland of Palestine.  Having witnessed Jewish persecution in the late 19th century across all of Europe, Herzl concluded:

“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.”

In its simplest definition Zionism is a nationalistic movement that supports the establishment and protection of a Jewish State for the Jewish People to preserve the Jewish culture.  The drive to create a homeland where persecution does not exist, where being a Jew is not punishable. 

I will not retrace the history of the Palestinian conflict and the birth of Israel as I have done that in previous posts and you can use keyword Israel to find dozens of postings at  Instead I want to speed up to today and tackle these questions:

1)      Is Zionism racism?

2)      Can you separate a people from its government?

3)      Does the U.S. fight Israel’s battles?

4)      What do Israelis think of all this?

Israel is not only home to Jews, but also Christians and a very large population of Arabs.  As the Arab and Palestinian populations outpace the Jewish population, concerns of Israel no longer being a Jewish home.  Sound familiar?  The threat to Herzl’s dream is real.  But has Zionism taken on a racist tone?  Has Israel willfully and knowingly punished non-Jews?  Has it violated the rights of citizens in the name of race?  Normally, I would say that is for the courts to decide, but like this country the hard tack to the right by the government has also affected the courts.  I can understand the Jewish leaders wanting to protect the ideal of a Jewish state, but to do so at the expense of others is immoral.  If I condemn the nativist movement in the U.S., I should also condemn the same in Israel.

So where I am going with this?  With all of the talk and war drum beating going on recently about an Israeli attack on Iran and whether the U.S. would get involved, I started to think about the emotional bond that Jews have for Israel.  I do not go to Temple, but I have such a strong love for Israel thanks to my upbringing.  It is why lobbyist organizations such as AIPAC have so much political clout and why there has been such a backlash against Israel from many Americans.  But there is something else at play, something Americans should understand.  It is possible and necessary to distinguish between a people and its government.  For eight years we suffered as a result of how the world viewed us based on the words and deeds of the neocon laden Bush administration.  That cabal reduced our global stature to the extent our athletes were getting booed at the Olympics.  The Olympics!  No matter how hard we tried to explain that we didn’t agree with our President we all were guilty by association.  I make note of this because this is what is playing out in Israel right now.  I love the people, but at times I despise the Netanyahu government.  A strong Israel is very important to me, but strength is not measured in the number of bombs and tanks and how much better off you are than your neighbor.  It is measured by having  a lasting peace with your neighbors, a peace not based on coercion, but respect.  That being said, as President Obama said in Cairo, the use of force should never be ruled out and may be just under certain circumstances.

As for whether Israel needs the U.S. to fight its battles, the answer is quite gray.  No U.S. troops have fought on behalf of or to protect Israel.  To that end, Israel has on multiple occasions fought off those that seek to destroy her and have taken out the nuclear reactors in Syria and Iraq on its own.  Yes Israel fights its own battles.  But to say they fight alone is also not quite accurate.  $Billions in direct and indirect economic and military aid from the U.S. have enabled Israel to be the best equipped military fighting force in the region and the most economically advanced.  There is also the question of the source of the uranium used to develop the Israeli nuclear arsenal.  So I have no doubt that Israel could take on Iran and its proxies if it needed to, but to say they had done it alone would also not be quite accurate.

Recent polls in Israel show just how much the Israeli people think differently than their leaders.  In a survey conducted by the University of Maryland and the Israeli Dahaf Institute, a wide majority of Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike on Iran or would favor an attack only if it was carried out with US agreement. The poll found that 34 percent of the 500 people surveyed believed that Israel should not strike Iran and 42 percent said it should attack only if the United States backed the decision.
Only 19 percent believed Israel should attack even without the support of Washington.  Meanwhile with respect to Palestine and a two state solution:
70 percent of Israelis said Israel should accept the decision if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state according to a Hebrew University poll. In the face of UN recognition of a Palestinian state, 69% of Israelis thought that Israel should accept the decision and either start negotiations with the Palestinians about its implementation (34%) or not allow any change on the ground by the Palestinians (35%); 16% said Israel should oppose the decision and intensify the construction in the settlements; 7% think that Israel should annex the PA territory to Israel; and 4% think Israel should invade the PA territories and use force to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Then there is the question of how do Israelis feel about President Obama?  Following Sunday’s speech at AIPAC, even conservative writers in Israel were very impressed by the President.

“Those disappointed by Obama’s speech yesterday, and it turns out there are such people, claim that he didn’t make a clear commitment to a military strike,” wroteplain spoken conservative writer  Ben-Dror Yemini in the daily Ma’ariv. ”Come on, really. He couldn’t be clearer.”  Wrote Nadav Eyal, also in Ma’ariv: “A masterpiece of political work.”

The analysts were no less enthusiastic in Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest paid daily. ”Yesterday Obama gave Israel’s citizens a good reason to be friends of his,” wrote Sima Kadmon, under the headline: “Shalom, Friend.” ”His speech was aimed directly at our nerve center, at our strongest existential fears. Obama promised us that the United States would not accept nuclear weapons; it simply would not permit their existence….It was a good speech for us, even an excellent one. We heard in it everything we wanted to hear—and heard that we have someone to rely upon.”

So my love of Israel is a strong as ever and while politicians will all too often do what is politically expedient for themselves, I believe President Obama has Israel’s long term interests at heart, more so than Prime Minister Netanyahu.  A nuclear armed Iran is a threat to our national security as well as Israel’s, but I do not believe Iran would attack Israel.  It’s plans are simply to dominate its Sunni Arab neighbors.   That being said, I do appreciate the feelings of Israeli Jews and the threats they face and ask Americans to walk the same mile in their shoes.

Most of all, I just hope I never have to see those faces of fear and worry that I saw as a ten year old back in 1973.

ארץ ציון וירושלים


  1. Wow..this is truly the most thoughtful piece I've seen written on Israel and it's conflicts and reputation.
    The ability to separate a people from it's leaders is not something many people have. For sure, it is not something the media encourages. I see this same paradigm in smaller, local communities.
    Bush did more to set back peace in his years in office than almost any president I can remember.

  2. Thx Cricket. Lot's of passion with respect to Israel.

  3. Your love of Israel shows. You speak from a place of knowledge and love. That puts you head and shoulders above most of the "leaders" who profess to know what's best.

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  5. A good article, based more on fact than anything else. But you left questions as well:

    What do the native Druzim think, and where do they stand?

    Do you have a good representative sample of all Israelis, including secular Jews, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox (whatever that is), Chasidim, Coptics and other native Christians (I exclude the proselytes, because they're all batshit crazy), and other non-Druze native Arabs?

    Why do you think Bibi doesn't have the best long-term interests of his own native land in his heart? How can you even say that, when he's a war hero, and his brother Yonni died rescuing the hostages from Uganda?

    The name Netanyahu has been synonymous with 'heroism' or 'patriot' since I was a teenager. So, I don't quite get your drift. I know the Kach movement isn't looking to sign any agreements, but Bibi? He's given the other side plenty of opportunity, but was walked out on.

    I attempted to enlist in the IDF, during the Yom Kippur War, as I was 18 at the time, and would MUCH rather have fought for Israel than against Vietnam, but apparently they didn't accept Americans for that reason - some kind of red-tape because effing Nixon hadn't ended the draft yet, and I'd pulled Number 98, and they'd already conscripted 1-75, so I was on Tricky Dick's radar. TG, he ended the draft before they called 75-150. I think that was my gift from Hashem for at least trying to enlist in the IDF.

    Back to your post: it was thought-provoking, and I know where you're coming from, and can identify, but I'm not one hundred percent sure I know exactly where you stand.

    Please feel free to message me through my blogspot blog -- I'm a former journalist and have a son who just completed his service in the IDF, so I think we could have a good exchange.

    Shalom, and a zissen Pesach.
    Next year in Jerusalem, bro.

    Note: would also like to contribute my editorial skills, srsly. =o)

    1. Um, sorry about the incredibly long sentence about IDF. I kinda got caught up in the memory of that time. I'm a better editor than that.