Jews In America And Israel, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 24 2011 @ 12:23pm

Goldblog has responded to my contribution to the debate about Jewishness, Americans, Israel and Greater Israel. I ended my post with a question:

Benedikt notes that her position in the end is not that much different from Goldblog’s stated position: “I bet I land, uncomfortably, about where you land: If the decision comes down to brutal occupation forever to maintain the Jewishness of the state or true democracy, which would mean no Jewish state, I would have to choose the latter–but there is nothing easy or wishful in me writing that, and I hope it never comes to that (though more and more it seems like it will).” She’s right, isn’t she? So why the outrage?

Jeffrey’s answer:

The outrage comes from the fact that many of us — I would dare say most American Jews — believe that you just don’t get to walk away. I believe — not just me, this is one of the messages of the Passover seder — that all Jews are responsible for each other. This means when you believe a Jew (or, say, a Jewish state) is going astray, you are duty-bound to intervene. Abandoning Israel, abandoning the Jewish people, is abandoning your own family. As Andy Bachman noted, it is a rabbinic dictum that, “all of Israel (read, ‘the Jewish people’) are responsible for one another.” Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. They are the descendants of refugees from the pogroms; from the great Arab expulsions; and from the Shoah. They are our brothers and sisters. We may not like what they do. We may find them, as Allison Benedikt clearly does, aesthetically displeasing. But they are ours. We don’t abandon them.

This strikes me as odd, in the context of Benedikt’s essay. It’s a pretty lame account of a conversion but it sure doesn’t read to me like a “walking away”. If she had walked away, why would she write the essay at all? Why would she feel the need to express her angst? Why wouldn’t she just disappear into the great miscegenated mass of modern America and just stop caring? No, she has very much not walked away. But what she has said is that there could come a time when Israel betrays so many of its core principles, is so hostile and contemptous toward its American ally, so indifferent to the suffering of others under its control, and so determined to retain and demographically alter swathes of land gained in war … that she and others with a conscience informed by Jewish values will have to walk away. And this stance, held by increasing numbers of American Jews, especially in the younger generation, strikes me as more responsibly engaged with Israel than the more traditional position Jeffrey holds.

If no American Jew can conceive of a situation in which they would walk away from Israel, then there is no leverage at all to persuade Israel to act responsibly to save Zionism’s soul, or to behave as a constructive ally of the United States. If the tie is “unbreakable”, as Obama insists, it is no wonder he has no leverage to do anything to get Israel back to sanity. And the knee-jerk response of the American Jewish Establishment – to find excuses for Netanyahu’s manuevering and constant suspicion of Obama’s motives  – has only deepened the problem. 

When I read Jeffrey on all this, I keep reading two different people. There’s the Cassandra Goldblog admirably telling Israelis that their current strategy is doomed and they need to change quickly. Then there’s the AIPAC Jeffrey who, at any moment when the US government might have a chance of exerting real pressure on Israel to do what Jeffrey wants, jumps instinctively to Israel’s defense. There is no problem with internal tension on this, and Goldblog is an admirable forum for exploring this internal anxiety. But in so far as trying to get Israel to change – Jeffrey’s goal – it seems to me that Benedikt’s position – however odd and personal her journey to it – is the stronger option.

This is especially true given the lurch toward religious fundamentalism and polarization in Israel itself. The increasing power of the settler lobby, the influx of so many Russian emigres, the impact of the most extreme, and often American, Greater Israel Zionists, on the West Bank, the emergence of possible democracies in the Arab world with whom the US has more strategic interests than with a country that lost much of its strategic significance with the end of the Cold War: all these mean that time is short. Indeed, it may already be too late.

In this context, the position of Benedikt’s parents is a problem. The position is genuinely held, for good reasons, and the passion for Israel among many American Jews is totally understandable in the perpective of history. But it cannot suffice for the present moment, let alone the future:

What he doesn’t realize is that my parents don’t do facts on this issue. They do feelings. Israel is who they are.

While Israel self-destructs, Benedikt, it seems to me, for all her naivete and strange family dynamics, is taking a stand. Goldberg, meanwhile, is finessing a position, and policing the discourse, declaring who is or is not “anti-Israel” and who is or is not properly Jewish. I have little doubt whom history will eventually look more kindly upon.