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Five American Jewish worries about Israel

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“No one worries in our family; Jeff does it for us.”

That’s what my mother, who would have turned 92 last week, used to say about me.

I am hardly alone. Since the elections in Israel last week, many American Jews have been expressing their concerns, doubts, and struggles regarding Israel and its future – especially its relationship with the United States.

So, let’s make a list of those worries, and try to talk ourselves out of them.

1. Under President Obama, the relationship between the United States and Israel is at a historic low point.

It certainly seems that way – at least, at this moment. I think that it is not about President Obama’s feelings about Israel. It is more about President Obama’s feelings about Prime Minister Netanyahu (and vice versa).

How about a little history?

President George H.W. Bush complained about pressure from AIPAC on loan guarantees to Israel. "I'm one lonely little guy" up against "some powerful political forces" made up of "a thousand lobbyists on the Hill." His secretary of state, James Baker, is reputed to have said: “F-ck the Jews; they don’t vote for us anyway.” Oddly enough, some Jews now cast sudden doubts on whether Baker actually said those words, and are ready to rehabilitate and even embrace him.

President Reagan sold AIWACS to the Saudis, and visited he German military cemetery at Bitburg. Richard Nixon infamously ranted about the Jews. Harry Truman helped create the State of Israel, and his best friend was Eddie Jacobson. But, from time to time, he also made borderline anti-Semitic remarks.

2. Israel will become increasingly isolated. A major, legitimate fear.

Some Israelis seem to take delight in this pugnacious, “we can go it alone” rhetoric. But they can’t, and they shouldn’t want to try. It's not that "Jews should know their place." Yes, Zionism came to eradicate that slur. But Israel is a small nation, and small nations need healthy relationships with other nations -- especially the United States.

This would be the right time to remember that lesson. When the heathen prophet Balaam said that “this is a people that dwells alone,” he didn’t intend that as a blessing.

3. American Jews will cool off on Israel. I am not talking about the non-Zionist or anti-Zionist  Jews.

I mean your average, Israel-admiring American Jew.

What issue, above all, will contribute to the lowering of the emotional thermostat?

Religious pluralism. While it is too soon to know what Netanyahu’s coalition will look like, many American Jews are simply fed up with the Israeli government’s pandering to the ultra-Orthodox. We are, after all, not dealing with a generation of American Jews whose main cultural artifact is "Fiddler On The Roof." They neither appreciate nor romanticize an obscurantist Orthodoxy that is anti-democratic, anti-modern, and anti-woman.

Some will ask: "Well, how much did those 'cooled off on Israel' Jews ever care about Israel, or about Judaism in the first place?"

That's a nice sociological question.

But in everyday discourse, it is a non-starter, and will only make things worse.

4. Netanyahu’s reelection will result in increased anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. 

No, it won’t. Those incidents have nothing to do with who the prime minister of Israel is.

Those incidents have everything to do with the fact that Israel is. And that the Jews are.

When it comes to European anti-Semitism -- "been there, done that." Check out Jeffrey Goldberg on this.

Except: this time, every European head of state has condemned anti-Semitic acts. The Jews are not alone.

5. If American Jews cool off on Israel, it will be bad for American Judaism. 

This is a valid worry. Here’s why.

Let’s go back to the heady days after the Six Day War in 1967. American Jews were ecstatic about Israel’s lightning victory. Historians have noted that the Six Day War was powerful enough to reboot a fading American Judaism. Every American Jewish innovation – Jewish studies programs on campus, havurot, the rise of an American Jewish culture – all happened post-1967.

And now?

Once upon a time, observers like Jonathan Woocher described the American Jewish attachment to Israel and activism as the "civil religion" of "sacred survival." Yes -- it turns out that commitment to Israel is part of American Judaism.

If American Jewish support for Israel wanes, that will mean that American Jewish connection to the Jewish people will also wane. A diminishing support for Israel will demoralize American Jews. That demoralization will have negative impact on every aspect of American Judaism.

American Jews must be able to say, to themselves and others: It doesn’t matter who the Prime Minister is, or what the coalition looks like.

We love Israel, and that love transcends the political frenzy of the moment.

We loved America under Nixon; we will continue to love Israel under Netanyahu.

True -- we do not like some of the actions of the ultra-Orthodox.

But we love Israel more than we don’t like what they do.

A man came to his rabbi and said: "My son is disappointing me. What do I do?"

Said the rabbi: "You love him more."

It is time for us to love Israel -- even more.




  1. On point #1, I don’t agree. I think if the Zionist Camp won and formed the new government, there would be a short “honeymoon” based on false expectations. The President might expect Herzog to be “pro-peace” and willing to do what he was told, but I think eventually Buji would have to say “no”, particularly when it came to dividing Jerusalem and certainly on the right of return. He even said during the campaign that he would not include “peace” in his platform and campaign promises because it would lead to disappointment. I think that was a nice way of saying what Bibi said about no Palestinian state during his term. I think ultimately Obama would become disillusioned in Herzog and be just as angry.

  2. I think that a critical mass of American Jews remain in a state of shock and denial over the fact that old friends on the left end of the political spectrum are no longer for Israel. The more reflective ones have a sinking feeling that this is no random shift in the political winds, but that it reflects the ultimate contradiction between left-wing universalism and Jewish particularism (or for that matter, any form of particularism). Given the left’s fondness for the underdog — due to its penchant for equality of outcome in all things — this contradiction has been papered over for decades. But once Israel ceased being the underdog in left-wing eyes, especially since 1967, it began rising to the fore.

    If this is so, American Jews have a lot of ideological sorting out to do in the coming months and years. It doesn’t necessarily mean a shift all the way to the right. But what it does mean is a rejection of the ideology and politics of the hard left. It means a rightward move toward the center. There really is nowhere else to go.

  3. Let’s be honest, folks. Barack Obama’s recent temper-tantrum has already signaled his sincere intentions to BETRAY Israel, and to sign that Pro-Terrorist “U.N. Resolution” mess.

    Obama don’t like the way Netanyahu stole his thunder (which is easy to do anyway, as Vladimir Putin has repeatedly demonstrated). So now Obama’s WILL be doing his revenge on Israel — and that means selling out Israel to Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, and a nuclear Iran for 30 pieces of Terrorist silver,

    I like Rabbi Salkin’s moderate essays, but NOW is the time for him to sound the alarm. Barack Obama is about to stab YOUR country, America’s greatest ally Israel, right in the back. Barack Obama has even publicly specified the exact butcher knife that he will use (the “U.N. Resolution.”) He means to do the dirt on you, just to salvage his own immature temper-tantrum ego.

    Simply stated, NO American Jew should be trusting Obama or the Democratic Party at this time, any more than they would trust Iran or ISIS. Obama is NOT a friend of Israel; instead Obama has become a threat to Israel’s future.

  4. Jack,

    With the exception of those abiding in extreme views, the “American Jew” has always been in the center—socially and spiritually. They have been a core piece in ALL things. *Take the NT … it would not be without its OT, but what came before has yet to be realized in fuller measure.

    You say, “There is really nowhere else to go.” For one of gnosis, there is always the upward move—Spirit Intellect. There is a great need for moving out of these heated political climates to restore balance in the “family”. This can be exercised in ways visible to the people, as well as serve for the purpose of healing … healing those not like you. When you take the attention away from yourself within good and honest desire, you find the door open to new and rewarding places to grow.

  5. 2016 will be interesting on this issue. The Jewish electorate has trended Democratic for some time. It is to the left on most social issues, and in general Democratic presidential candidates in recent times have been solidly pro-Israel. But there is a sense of dismay over the Obama-Netanyahu feud and what it may portend for the future. There already was a kerfuffle at the 2012 Democratic convention over pro-Israel language. Nevertheless, Hillary has always been tight with the Jews and can likely count on their support. That’s as far “right” as it’s going. Rafael Eduardo Cruz can go to as many pro-Israel talks and rallies as he wants, but US Jews are not one-issue voters and are not going to support someone as far to the right on social issues as him.

  6. Opheliart, I’m talking about the political arena alone, but you’re right at least about the people I know. It’s a totally separate issue, but you’ve touched on an interesting paradox that about American Jewry — it votes left but lives right…..not in all cases, of course, but often enough.

    It’s precisely the opposite of the larger American culture, which talks a good game about family values, but often is very, very tough on family life. Our rugged individualism ethic is a mixed blessing. It makes us a nation of independent-minded people, but it is not great for family life.

  7. Opheliart, I tried to respond but it didn’t go through. I limited my post to politics, but you make a good point about culture and balance….beyond the political.

    On that matter, there’s an interesting paradox about American Jewry….in the aggregate, it votes left but lives right.

    That’s the opposite of the larger American culture, which talks a good game about family values, but can be very, very rough on family life. I believe in American exceptionalism, yes, but have no illusions about some of our weaknesses. Rugged individualism is a mixed blessing. It makes Americans an independent-minded and innovative people, but it is not great for family life and the stability of neighborhoods and communities.

  8. Garson, for the reasons you stated, I obviously don’t foresee American Jews tilting toward Ted Cruz, either, if he becomes the GOP nominee (which is unlikely though not impossible). But if you think that Obama is an anomaly, first of all, and that, second of all, the problem with him and Netanyahu is only a personal one, then you haven’t thought deeply enough about what you cited about the 2012 Democratic Convention. That was no blip on the screen, either.

    In other words, the problem transcends Obama and Bibi….

    The base of the Democratic party is becoming less and less sympathetic toward Israel and there is no likely way that will change. It’s the logical outcome of ideology being worked out in the real world. The logic of the hard left leads to anti-Israel, not pro-Israel policies, and if you ask people on the hard left to make an ideological exception for Israel, they might tell you what you want to hear, but in the end, it won’t happen.

    As you said, most Jews disagree with Republicans on other issues. Put those two facts together and what you have is a need to be more independent politically, which will happen.

    But besides Israel, there’s at least one other issue which puts the hard left and American Jews at ultimate loggerheads. It’s the equality-of-outcome issue. The hard left is first and foremost about equal results. It sees any difference in wealth among people as a bad thing in itself. It’s not shy of demagogic talk against the financially successful, which it defines quite broadly. If there’s one thing the history of anti-Semitism teaches, it’s that appeals to envy and hatred of people who are successful in life leads every time to hatred of Jews. It is a warning, a harbinger of that.

  9. “tough on family”

    People allowing themselves to be labeled, grouped, sized … is where a lot of the conflict is born, and where our youth are becoming increasingly disgusted. I am not of political insight (as you can probably tell), but here in MA (Pioneer Valley—also lg. Jewish pop.) we now have the United Independent Party. I am weary of the cat fights, because what I see is children slipping through the cracks, and Religions are too often caught up in their “rights” and “rituals” to tackle some of the more serious issues. We have a heroin epidemic in NE (esp VT). And look at the college/univ. issues all over! … If our children are getting constant abuse signals from what they once thought (were taught) are trustworthy places/positions, well … imagine the confusion.
    I am seeing more college age looking toward the Independent Party. I see this growing in our area.

  10. Good points, opheliart……especially about neither politics nor religion doing a particularly great job of helping enough people who are hurting and/or in trouble. One problem is that governments have the money but not the know-how while the nonprofits (both religious and secular) have the know-how but not the money. This suggests the two need to partner more, no?

  11. I don’t think American Jews necessarily need to stop being Democratic yet…..but I do think at least the larger fundraisers, bundlers, and other strategically key supporters should use their leverage in the party accordingly.

    They should go to the congressional Democratic leadership and the Clintons and say, “if you want us to help you in 2016, you had better find a way to tell Obama to cut the crap right now on Israel. It’s obvious where this is all heading, and we find it intolerable and will go to the mat on it.”

    Believe me, if they do this, they will throw the leadership into panic mode and they will move heaven and earth to get Obama to back off. And in the end, he will because if he doesn’t, his support among the movers and shakers of his party will collapse. And that will put his presidency in genuine danger.

  12. “Good points, opheliart……especially about neither politics nor religion doing a particularly great job of helping enough people who are hurting and/or in trouble. One problem is that governments have the money but not the know-how while the nonprofits (both religious and secular) have the know-how but not the money. This suggests the two need to partner more, no?”

    People cannot agree on who should partner 😀

    Religions desire control for reasons we find selfish and incongruent. There is pride of feature—pride of title, ordinance, prophet, theologian, doctrine … the list is endless and ridiculous. Man is in adolescence in his understanding of God; he should just admit this and move on. What I hear in the Spiritual Symbology of Holy Scripture I can’t even share on any forum or discussion board. The Religionists, and this includes those of Government, are fogged in and demeaning, and so attached to their version of what God is they cannot see the trees in that good forest God made. Indoctrination is a tomb not a well filled with the water of the Living. Why should a woman work with an Institution that discriminates against women? Who see her as less than? Why would anyone in their right mind give time and money or their trust to men who denied and covered up sexual abuse of children … who ordain men who are shown to be unsafe? including governments allowing these men and women to get away with this just because they are of titles that indoctrinated people worship? These work from the same placard, you see. We look at this thinking they are all terribly unsound. And why should secularists trust people who say their God murders those who do not think like them? As you know, the history of Christianity alone is tragic … and so many continue to adhere to these same principles—the ones that enflamed men to torture and murder, manipulate and threaten for power. Even today, Jack, in AMERICA, people like me get harassed, threatened … for speaking up, asking questions … I could tell stories that would cause you upset. Heck, I have never known a day where I did not believe in Spirit and I really don’t trust those who say they believe in God! And Governments that don’t take the time to address the crimes in the Institutions are what? Hypocrites—so many of them. THEY SHOULD KNOW BETTER, but they are caught up in their riches … appeasing their gods.

    Seriously, when they can step out of themselves and take a good look at what they look like, and step into the shoes of another and feel what this is … then they will be able to partner.

  13. Opheliart, I’m just responding on how best to help the poor and needy.

    As for what you said, I suppose there are good and bad people in any organization or group, religious or secular.

    Give any person or group too much power — religious or secular — and they will abuse it. History bears witness to it.

    If you don’t mind my asking, what beliefs are you being harassed for?

  14. Sharing on the Symbolism of Holy Scripture (OT, NT, Gnostic Literature: Gospels of Thomas, Philip, John, James …). Nothing scares a religionist of TRADITIONAL Christianity more than a gnostic (and I am NOT of Gnosticism) writing on the SYMBOLIC of God’s Word in a manner that unifies Entity. It is like something goes off in their minds and they become fearful. They launch into attack mode and say things to disparage reputation. They will make up things to demean, even accuse you of manipulating people, saying you are starting your own religion … anything to get people to not converse with you (had this happened on a public forum a few years ago and I was astounded at the behavior!) They will publicly attack your business site—reputation—anything to try to make you look suspect, without facts—no real evidence for the accusations. I was dialoguing on a public forum for a while where staunch RCs had been posting for years and the next thing I knew, I had threats coming in through my Gallery site, and strange requests. I finally had to report it. There is something taught to them that says gnosis is forbidden. The gnostic from ages ago through Roman Catholicism/Orthodoxy was branded as the heretic—EVIL—and many of those bound to their religious dogma seem not to be able to move out of this mindset. Even some of the parish priests are nutty about clinging to their doctrine. They are so fearful their “flock” might explore—ask questions—get ahead of them? It really is cult-like that their parishioners are not permitted to move into greater Spiritual Awareness on God’s Word (won’t share what happened to me in the parishes 🙁

    Challenge them to stir things up a little and bam … they launch into their church doctrine as absolute truth and NOBODY can dispute it. It’s wearisome.
    Oh, and when I was in the Greek Orthodox Church, and shared on some of the theology mixed with what I had been instructed in through The Philokalia (ancient wisdom texts), some RCs started casting shadows on the Greeks, accusing them.

    *I am currently working on a trilogy having to do with RELIGION … so, all of these exchanges are research for the books on spiritual abuse, physical and sexual.

  15. Well, I’m a “traditional” Christian on the opposite side of Gnosticism because I always favor writings written closest to the events they portray, but harassing people is wrong. If someone is literally threatening you with harm (not clear whether this is so but just in case it is), don’t hesitate to call the police.

    Stay safe and don’t get discouraged.

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