Kahane was Both Right and Wrong

Last week I wrote a post entitled “Kahane was Right.” Apparently, the name “Kahane” has great power. One publication republished my article, and then tried to post it on its Facebook page, only to have it blocked, presumably because saying anything positive about Rabbi Meir Kahane constitutes “racism.” Another editor felt that he could not in good conscience publish it – because of parts that were critical of Kahane!

Facebook’s action, whether an algorithmic response to the title or the decision of a human who probably didn’t bother to read past it, is not worth bothering about. But I would like to talk a bit more about Kahane and reactions to him.

Kahane is important because he is one of the few thinkers who have faced head-on the very uncomfortable (and yet undeniable) fact that – for cultural, religious, and political reasons that are unlikely to change – Jews cannot coexist with more than minimal numbers of Muslim Arabs in Eretz Yisrael.

Keep in mind that individual Jews and Arabs often work well together, and can treat each other with respect and even form friendships. I know this as a fact from personal experience. But events during the 70 years of Jewish sovereignty here – and the Jewish presence prior to that – have shown that the ideal of coexistence is chimerical.

A major problem, perhaps the ultimate source of all of the problems from the beginning, is that Islam does not countenance non-Muslim – especially Jewish – sovereignty in a place where Muslims live. Another issue, since 1948, is that the Arab narrative of dispossession, along with shame from repeated military defeats, evokes fury in the honor-based Arab culture. Finally, the Arab leadership, starting with Amin al-Husseini, has always tried to exacerbate these feelings. Yasser Arafat, especially, created an educational system that transformed Arab boys and girls into vicious killers as a political tool.

Thanks to leaders like Arafat as well as interference from external antisemitic powers – the KGB’s embrace of the PLO comes to mind – the situation has only gotten worse. A “Palestinian” culture, which did not exist before the 1960s has come into being which is essentially (and murderously) oppositional to the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael.

Meir Kahane, sadly, was assassinated before the disaster of Oslo, but in “They Must Go,” written while he was imprisoned in Israel in the 1970s, he exhaustively documents the Arab hostility to the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael back to long before the founding of the state.

The conflict will not be solved by well-meaning attempts at dialogue. If the political aspects of the conflict that have developed over the years weren’t enough to make it insoluble, the religious side would be more than enough.

If you combine this with the simple geostrategic fact (just look at a topographic map) that an Israel without military control of Judea and Samaria would be indefensible, you arrive at what Micah Goodman called “Catch 67,” the dilemma which seems to force us to choose between military and demographic insecurity.

It’s even worse than this, because the problem is not only with the Arabs of Judea and Samaria. The relationship between Israeli Jews and the close to 20% of its citizens within the Green Line who are Muslim Arabs is also tense. A recent poll shows that two-thirds of Arab citizens of Israel do not believe that Israel has the right to be defined as the national home of the Jewish people. Arab members of the Knesset display varying degrees of hostility to the Jewish state, all the way up to calling for “resistance” against it, which is understood to mean terrorism. I can’t think of another country with even a 10% proportion of Muslims in its population that doesn’t suffer from serious instability, terrorism or insurrection connected to Muslims.

Kahane argued that higher birthrates among Arabs than Jews would inevitably lead to a Muslim majority, which of course would be the end of Jewish sovereignty. But time has proven him wrong – at least in the pre-1967 area of Israel – as the Jewish birthrate has increased while that of Arabs declined; and Israel received a surprise bonus of almost a million former Soviet Jews. Nevertheless, the tipping point for political instability may be well below the numbers needed for a Muslim majority.

Kahane’s conclusion was that Jewish survival demanded the emigration of most of the Arabs from the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. And I believe that he was right about this. That doesn’t mean that they should be expelled violently (as the Jordanians did to the Jews in the areas they occupied in 1948, and as the Turks are doing right now to the Kurds in the areas of Syria that they have invaded). Perhaps voluntary, incentivized, emigration is possible (see Martin Sherman’s comments about Gaza here).

But I cannot agree with everything he believed.  For one, he wanted a state whose laws would be the laws of Halacha. I think, on the other hand, that observance of the commandments by Jews should be a personal matter, not one enforced by the state. The state of the Jewish people must respect Judaism, but it must also respect its Jews; and many of them are only partly observant or not at all.

The other difficulty I have is more philosophical. In his view there is something essentially different between Jews and non-Jews. Kahane sees the “chosen-ness” of the Jewish people as a concrete property that connects them to Hashem in a way that no other people can be connected:

There is only one reason why Jews should be different, and that is the very special difference, the uniqueness that makes them separate and different from all other peoples. ONLY the election of Israel, only the concept of a Chosen people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; only the “Ata b’chartanu, You have chosen us from all the nations”: only the “hamavdil beyn kodesh l’chol, He who differentiates between and separates between holy and profane, between Israel and the nations”; only the need to be different, apart and separate NOT BECAUSE OF SOME VAGUE LANGUAGE OR HISTORICAL DIFFERNCE [sic] but because of the distinct uniqueness of Torah and the commandments as a DIVINE decree – only this gives any validity to the Jew remaining alive as a distinct entity. – Meir Kahane, Letter to a secular Jewish nationalist, 1973

Although I go to synagogue every Shabbat, apparently I am a “secular Jewish nationalist.” I see the “election” as the imposition and acceptance of the burden of Hashem’s mitzvot, not a metaphysical property that places me higher in the chain of being than an Arab. Indeed, I admit that I find the idea repugnant.

I don’t insist that the Arab and Jewish cultures are equally good or valuable. But my problem with the Arabs isn’t metaphysical, it’s concrete, based on their behavior.

For Kahane, the only kind of Zionism that’s worth having is a strict religious Zionism, one that doesn’t see its task complete until the State of Israel is a Jewish kingdom modeled on an idealized ancient Judea. Of course, if you think about our history as described in the Tanach, you’ll realize that everything wasn’t ideal back then either. Kahane’s belief is analogous to that of the Islamists who believe that “Islam is the answer” to all the problems of Muslim societies. That didn’t work for them, and I don’t think a similar approach will work for us. Just read the Book of Kings.

While I believe that Kahane was correct in his analysis of the Jewish-Arab conflict, and agree with him that the only acceptable solution to it is the emigration of most Arabs from Eretz Yisrael, I also think it is necessary for our survival that Israel be at the same time a modern, democratic state and one that is based on Jewish principles (and I don’t mean the “Tikkunist” principles of liberal Judaism).

Do you see the tension there? Certainly there is one. And I see my personal job as trying to understand how it’s possible to have a Zionism that can be justified on wholly secular grounds without losing its spiritual truth.

When I think about the difficulties, though, I am reminded of a remark made by the very liberal (but very smart and knowledgeable) Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, z”l. When someone asked him how he could both study biblical criticism and yet believe that every word of the Torah was given to Moshe at Sinai, he simply said that he was “a crazy Chosid who could hold several contradictory ideas in his head before breakfast.”

Maybe we all need to learn to do that.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, Zionism | 1 Comment

Keeping Our Honor in the Middle East

What I’m about to write will probably be off-putting, even offensive to some Western readers. But it’s a subject that is extremely relevant to life in much of the rest of the world, especially in the Middle East. Everyone knows that tribal identity plays an important role here, more so than in the West. And there is a related idea that is no less important.

I’m talking about honor, and what I believe to be the moral imperative to maintain one’s honor and the honor of one’s tribe or nation.

Right now, the Tikkunists of liberal Judaism (and liberal Christianity as well) are running for the exits. According to the philosophy espoused by liberal, humanistic Westerners, the only moral considerations are those that relate to not hurting others and being fair to all. Indeed, many believe that tribalism and nationalism are actually immoral, because they imply treating outsiders and insiders differently.

But in other cultures, there are other principles that are important, in many cases important enough to die – or kill – for. One of them is honor, which refers to the public reputation of a person or tribe for the willingness to do whatever is necessary to defend its property and interests. In the Middle East, a person (or nation) that will not fight to protect their property deserves to lose it.

This is at variance with Western usage of the word. In the West, honor is an objective characteristic of an individual. In the Middle East, it refers to the subjective beliefs of others about an individual, a family, a tribe, or a nation. In the West, honesty is the most important component of honor. In the Middle East, toughness and the willingness to do what you must to protect yourself or your group are what determine the degree of honor you possess.

When you lose honor, which you do by not defending yourself when someone takes something of yours or hurts you in some other way, you put the world at large on notice that it is permissible to hurt you. The consequences of losing your honor include losing your property or your life.

In some Arab societies the concept has expanded to a pathological degree. Insofar as women are considered property, even a hint that the “ownership” of a woman by her own or her husband’s family is compromised is enough to damage the honor of her family. Such cases often have tragic endings, when the woman is murdered by close family members in order to restore the family’s honor. This happens even among well-off, educated Arab citizens of Israel.

I do not suggest that we adopt the hateful pathologies of Arab societies. But many Israelis, particularly the Ashkenazi elite that comprise our decision-making classes, are too quick to trade honor for peace and quiet. Our enemies value honor more than we do. There are countless examples of damaging compromises: we don’t punish terrorists in a manner commensurate with their crimes (i.e., we don’t kill them, and sometimes we even punish our own soldiers for killing them). We don’t retaliate for arson balloons, or sometimes even for rocket attacks.

We allow Arab members of the Knesset to literally call for the destruction of the state, despite a law that says that anyone who does that may not sit in the Knesset (we disqualify right-wing Jewish candidates for less). We selectively enforce laws, tax regulations, etc., in favor of Arab citizens to avoid trouble. We allow our enemies to hold our citizens, dead and alive, captive. And, disgracefully, we have allowed the piecemeal takeover of the Temple Mount and most of the Old City of Jerusalem by the Palestinian Arabs, after the high price in blood that we paid to take them back in 1967.

I could go on and on, but it is always the same: it would be hard, expensive, dangerous, or – very important – make us look bad in the eyes of the West, if we were to protect our honor; and since honor is only subjective, why bother?

But honor is not “only subjective.” In the Middle East, deterrence is not determined only by the size of your army and whether you have nuclear weapons (not that these aren’t important); honor is a big part of it. Why is it possible for Hamas to keep throwing thousands of terrorists at our border fence every Friday, and to burn our fields and forests with impunity? Could it be that the repetition of rocket attacks is due to our policy of attacking empty buildings? When we don’t kill those who are trying to kill us, the message is sent that they should keep trying.

While Israel has great military power at hand, it keeps squandering its honor. When Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” he was saying that it is morally required to act in one’s own interest, no less so than it is morally wrong to be “for myself alone.” One of the characteristics of moral situations is that moral principles sometimes conflict, and that makes it hard to take decisions in particular cases. In Israel, it often happens that our Western moral sensibility conflicts with Middle Eastern imperatives. Unfortunately, the Western sensibility usually pushes the Middle Eastern one aside. We need to learn to balance these principles before our honor deficit becomes so great that we completely lose the ability to defend ourselves.

We can start by removing those members of the Knesset who despise and incite against the Jewish state, by ensuring that terrorists do not survive to enjoy the benefits paid to them by the Palestinian Authority, by taking back sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the Old City, by making Hamas pay in blood for burning our fields, and so on.

Some will say that this is unjust or illiberal, and perhaps by Western standards – standards growing out of Hellenistic and Christian traditions, which do not factor in honor – they may be correct. But we live in the Middle East, not Seattle or Berkeley, and in this neighborhood you can’t ignore tribe, nationality, or religion – and above all, honor.

Posted in Middle East politics, Terrorism, War | 6 Comments

Kahane Was Right

Rabbi Meir Kahane, the bane of the Left and the Arabs, the man whose very name evokes revulsion among liberals everywhere, was right.

He was also wrong, very much so, about some things. He was a racist, a Jewish supremacist. He favored a halachic state, and legislation to prevent marriage between Jews and Arabs.

I don’t believe Jews are superior to Arabs, and it doesn’t bother me when a Jew marries an Arab. They should be happy. I don’t want to live in a halachic state. But Kahane was absolutely right about one thing, and it is a big thing:

Jews and Arabs cannot coexist as equals in Eretz Yisrael (by which I mean the land between the river and the sea). The Land of Israel must be the exclusive property of the Jewish people.

Why do I think this? Not because I think there is anything inherent in the Arab brain, soul, or DNA that makes it necessary. There is no a priori reason that coexistence is impossible. It is just that the empirical evidence of the past hundred years or so shows that unless prevented, Arabs will try to expel or subjugate Jews, and will use any means, especially murder, to do so.

Last week a Jewish family including five children accidentally drove into an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Their car was cut off from behind and in front, and bombarded with rocks. Somehow they managed to communicate to the police where they were located – which wasn’t easy, because they were trapped in their car and could barely see anything – and they were rescued by heavily armed Border Police before they were dragged out and stoned to death or torn to pieces by the mob.

Almost every day, Jews are attacked by Arabs – stabbed, run down by cars, shot, or even blown up by explosive devices. Some of it is planned and executed by political groups like Fatah or Hamas, and some “just happens” when some Arab’s threshold of rage is crossed by a perceived insult, and he “acts out” murderously.

There is a clear message that they are sending by their actions: we will make your lives impossible here, so leave. We can respond by leaving, by making them leave, or by trying to keep a lid on terrorism without changing anything fundamental. The last alternative, doing essentially nothing as we have done for the 70 years that the Jewish state has existed, is the easiest, but it guarantees that the situation will continue. And as the Arab population grows, both within the state and in those parts of Eretz Yisrael that have not been incorporated into it, it gets worse.

In the areas that we, in our naïveté, permitted Arab sovereignty to arise, they created educational systems designed to turn their children into soldiers, even suicide soldiers, against the Jewish people. Among the Arab citizens of Israel, this has not happened. But the ideological commitment to the Palestinian Cause, the belief that the Arabs who have self-identified as “Palestinians” were unfairly dispossessed from their land and deserve to get it back – and that at some point they will inevitably succeed – is almost universal among Arabs in Eretz Yisrael. Especially in the better-educated classes, their political activity is aimed in this direction, even if it doesn’t (usually) take the form of terrorism.

For psychological reasons (see Kenneth Levin’s book “The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege”), Israeli Jews have ignored the clear statements, both from Arabs associated with the PLO and Hamas in the territories and from Arab citizens of the state of Israel, that make it clear that they are interested only in victory, not coexistence. Jews continue to try, over and over, by embracing appeasement, to show that they do not deserve the hatred and contempt of the Arabs. Of course, it only increases those feelings, and encourages the Arabs to believe that the success of their cause is closer than ever.

There is a solution to the problem. But it is not to try to bring about coexistence, which is impossible, or to partition the state yet again, which would make Israel impossible to defend.  It is not to move in the direction of a binational state, which would create a hell like Lebanon or Syria. It is the opposite: to emphasize the exclusive right of the Jewish nation to all of Eretz Yisrael and to encourage Arab emigration from the land.

That does not mean that a limited number of Arabs cannot live in the Jewish state, as guests, honored guests even, with full civil rights (unlike the “State of Palestine” planned by the PLO, in which there are intended to be no Jews). It does mean that those Arabs must understand and agree that all of Eretz Yisrael west of the Jordan river belongs to the Jewish nation, and that they will not be permitted to change it into the twenty-third Arab state. Not tomorrow and not ever.

If the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael can’t accept this – if they can’t accept the definition of the Jewish state provided by the Nation-State Law – then they should move to Jordan, a state which already has a majority of citizens identifying as Palestinians, and which is ruled by an undemocratic hereditary monarchy established by European colonialists after WWI. Let them remove the illegitimate monarchy and establish a “democratic state of all its citizens” there, as they say they would like to do here.

It’s not impossible. Thousands of Arabs have fled Hamas-controlled Gaza for Europe, and the government of Israel is even helping them. Jordan is unstable, and its minority rule will not last forever. An influx of Arabs from Judea/Samaria might be a bulwark against its becoming an Iranian satellite. In any event, at least the Israel-Jordan border is defensible, which the border with a “Palestine” created under a two-state solution would not be.

Israel could begin today, by taking immediate steps to signal that it did not intend to make further concessions to its enemies, such as annexing the Jordan Valley. It could actually enforce its Basic Law: The Knesset and disqualify Arab candidates who do not accept that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic state,” who incite racism against Jews, or who support armed struggle against the state. It could proudly press its claim on the land, and oppose the unjust claim of the Arabs. And of course it ought not to weaken the Nation-State Law in the slightest.

The central objective of Zionism is the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the historical homeland of the Jewish people. That has only been partially accomplished. There are parts of Eretz Yisrael, including the Temple Mount at the center of it where Jewish sovereignty is only partial, and Jews are not secure in many parts of their homeland – as is tragically proven by repeated acts of Arab terrorism.

Meir Kahane died a violent death for his beliefs, and his name was forever blackened among Jews in Israel and elsewhere. But he saw clearly what today’s Right seems to shrink from accepting.


Q: But the Palestinians are a people, too. Why don’t they have a claim on Eretz Yisrael?
A: The Palestinians have identified as a people only since the 1960s, and many of their families can’t be traced back farther than the 20th or mid-19th centuries. The Jewish people are the oldest indigenous people in the land, with a documented history  of thousands of years. Having said that, I honestly don’t care about the Palestinian Arabs, whose embrace of murder, pogroms, and terrorism in the past century and continuing today has put them beyond the pale. I suppose that many people expect Jews to absorb a certain amount of antisemitic murder from their neighbors as a regular thing, but I do not agree. Not in a Jewish state! There is a limit, and the Palestinians passed it long ago.

Q: Wouldn’t a large migration of Palestinian Arabs to Jordan destabilize the country, and wouldn’t that be dangerous to Israel?
A: Yes and yes. But annexing the territories along with their Arab residents would be destabilizing to Israel, and the alternative of granting sovereignty or even just autonomy to the Arabs of the territories (the “two-state solution”) would create an indefensible border with a hostile entity next to the heart of our country. From a geographic/strategic point of view, Israel’s eastern border must be the Jordan river.

Q: How do we get them to leave?
A: Carrots and sticks. Mostly carrots. Martin Sherman has discussed such a plan for some time.

Q: What about Arab citizens of Israel?
A: Many of them accept the idea that they are living in a Jewish state, and prefer the stability and economic benefits of it to the political and religious satisfaction of living in an Arab state. If a Palestinian state is declared in Jordan, then those who are uncomfortable here may consider moving there.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs, Jew Hatred, Middle East politics, Terrorism | 5 Comments

Young Woman is the Latest Jewish Hostage

Zion, will you not ask after the welfare of your prisoners,
Who seek your welfare, and are the remnant of your flock? – Rabbi Yehuda Halevi

Israel still doesn’t have a government, and Turkish planes and artillery are striking civilian targets in Kurdish towns in northeast Syria, while Syrian Sunni militias fighting on behalf of Turkey clash with Kurdish fighters. My newspaper this morning mentioned these things, but pages and pages were devoted to another subject: Na’ama Issachar.

Na’ama, 26, was returning to Israel from India in April of this year, but when she changed planes in Moscow, a dog detected a small amount (less than 10 grams) of marijuana in her luggage. She was arrested, and at first charged with possession, a crime that normally draws a sentence of about a month in jail and a fine, if it is prosecuted at all. But at some point, the Russians decided to change the charge to drug smuggling, and last Friday she was sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison.

The charge is ridiculous. Na’ama did not even have access to her luggage as she waited in the airport’s transit zone. She did not pass the border control. Can you convict someone of “smuggling” when they have not entered your country? Apparently the Russians can.

In a cute touch, the Russians scheduled court hearings for her case on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Na’ama was born in the US and moved to Israel when she was 16. She served in the army, and like many – virtually all – young Jewish Israelis, she wanted to travel the world and have adventures before settling down. She did not plan on this kind of adventure.

Some say that she was stupid to travel with any marijuana at all. In retrospect it was a bad idea, although as far as she knew, she and her luggage were going to Israel, where possession of less than 15 grams is not generally enforced, and possession of small amounts for “personal use” is punishable only by a smallish fine. And she certainly didn’t expect that her freedom would become a bargaining chip in a larger international drama.

The rub is that Israel is poised to extradite to the US a real Russian criminal, a hacker named Alexey Burkov, who is accused of stealing millions of dollars from Americans in a credit card scheme. He was arrested while visiting Israel in 2015 – he says he was “hijacked” although innocent – and held for extradition. The Israeli Supreme Court has approved the request, and he is expected to be shipped off to the US, whose federal justice system is known to be severe (ask Jonathan Pollard or Bernie Madoff). The Americans want Burkov badly and there are no further legal obstacles to his extradition.

Russia is more like a combination of a medieval kingdom and the Cosa Nostra than an actual country, and Burkov apparently has powerful friends who do not want to see him spend the next 20 or 30 years in an American federal penitentiary. They would like Israel to “extradite” him to Russia instead of the US, and they have let it be known that if that happens, maybe Na’ama will have her sentence reduced. Since she is both Israeli and American, she is the perfect hostage.

PM Netanyahu will raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That will put Putin in an interesting position. The government of Israel doesn’t want to irritate the Americans, so maybe they will find something else that Israel can give Russia in return for Na’ama. Or maybe not, in which case a way will be found to send Burkov to Russia.

Israel has a relationship to its children like no other nation. No culture that I am acquainted with dotes on them to the same extent, from the time they are born until well into adulthood. The national feeling about Na’ama is a complicated story, involving the commandment to redeem captives (pidyon shvuim) and the echoes of history, including the Holocaust. It’s often said that our soldiers are “everybody’s children” and she falls into that category. Like Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by Hamas for five years before Israel fought a war and ultimately traded more than 1000 convicted terrorists for him, including mass murderers, the Jewish nation will not let her sit in a Russian prison.

Posted in Israeli Society, Jew Hatred | Leave a comment

Batya Ungar-Sargon Meets Amon Göth

Batya Ungar-Sargon, Opinion Editor of the Forward, is shocked, hurt, and very angry after coming face to face with antisemitism at Bard College.

Invited to participate in several panels, she was informed that one of them – on  “Racism and Zionism: Black-Jewish relations” – would be disrupted by the local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). For those who might say “so what?” this means that there would be no such panel. Thanks to a combination of cowardice, laziness, and ideological stupidity, administrators in numerous universities have granted radical groups like SJP the right to veto of any activity that they don’t like. It is a “heckler’s veto” that needs no rationale and permits no appeal. Security personnel may prevent physical injury, but they won’t remove the disruptive students.

Ungar-Sargon tried to reason with them. In a cringe-inducing example of liberal not-getting-it, she begged:

As the protesters started to gather in the lobby, I approached them. I told them that I respected their passion and commitment to what they thought was right, but asked why they had picked this panel.

“Come to my panel tomorrow,” I said. “Come protest my comments on Zionism. I’ll be talking about the occupation. Bring your signs.”

I told them I’d reserve the first and second audience-questions for members of their group, but that protesting the all-Jewish anti-Semitism panel was undercutting their work.

“Don’t you see that?” I asked. Didn’t they see that protesting Jews over Israel when they are not even talking about Israel is racist? Didn’t they understand that saying we were responsible for the behavior of the Israeli Jews just because we shared their ethnicity was racist? That making every conversation with Jews about Israel is racist?”

The students weren’t buying it. “The conversation about anti-Semitism is already inherently about Israel,” one said, whatever that is supposed to mean in their world. And some of the other speakers and faculty members came to their defense.

When I read this, scene 14 from Schindler’s List  (video) came to mind. That’s the one in which a young Jewish woman engineer attempts to reason with the Nazi Amon Göth, and gets a bullet for her trouble. It’s not what she says or her competence that is important. There is only one relevant fact, and that is her Jewishness. And so it was for Ungar-Sargon, and she is rightly angered.

Ungar-Sargon does not understand that the student was correct. The conversation about antisemitism is about Israel. Had the state of Israel been in existence in 1940, perhaps the young woman engineer would not have been a slave of Amon Göth in the Kraków-Płaszów labor camp. If there were no Jewish state today, perhaps Ungar-Sargon would have gotten a bullet instead of an antisemitic insult. Who knows?

Ungar-Sargon’s opinion section in the Forward reflects her respect for the “passion and commitment” of those that want to see the Jewish state disappear in a puff of blood, like Peter Beinart who called for a Palestinian intifada on her pages.

Her commitment to the Jewish community, at least in America, is strong. She stood up to Ilhan Omar and other leftist antisemites, and didn’t just pick the low-hanging fruit of white nationalism. But she’s a diasporist, not a Zionist. In her opinion, Israel is “an increasingly illiberal ethnostate with a serious civil and human rights problem.” So when she gave the other academics at Bard a well-deserved piece of her mind, she made a point of disassociating herself from Israel:

The next time someone says, ‘What have you done to help Jews as anti-Semitism has spiked across the nation, as Jews have been murdered at their place of worship and Orthodox Jews get beaten to a pulp day after day in Brooklyn,’ you can say, ‘I sat idly by as Jews were protested for trying to talk about anti-Semitism. I allowed a Jewish woman to be held accountable — because of her ethnicity — for the actions of a country halfway around the world where she can’t even vote. I egged the protest on, in fact. And then I went to a party. [my emphasis]

American Jews helped Israel greatly in her early years, with financial contributions and political support. Now the financial contributions are not needed, and the political support is ebbing. Some of the distance between the two Jewish communities is caused by the very real differences in their experience. It is hard for an Israeli to appreciate the “passion and commitment” of SJP for the folks who are stabbing their friends and family members in the streets, or to agree with Peter Beinart’s call for another Intifada, when the last one cost more than a thousand Jewish lives (and no, it will not be “nonviolent” even by the Palestinian understanding of that term, which permits the use of  knives and automobiles as weapons).

But there is also the feeling by Americans that they are the senior partner in the Jewish enterprise, and that Israelis ought to be more grateful and take their advice more. They are hurt and resentful. That is unrealistic in today’s world, when the center of Jewish life has moved to Israel.

What I want to say to Batya Ungar-Sargon is that the diasporism she endorses is dying. It is being crushed by academic fascism in the universities and colleges like Bard, it is being nibbled away at by politicians like Ilhan Omar, shot down by homicidal white nationalists, and beaten to death by black and Hispanic thugs in Brooklyn. In a different way, the Reform Movement is also weakening the community by replacing traditional Judaism with a kind of liberal Unitarianism such that Jews will soon be indistinguishable from most other Americans. I suspect that some see this as a good thing, which is a symptom of the problem. The rest of the world is in even worse shape, from a Jewish point of view.

The central insight of Zionism is more and more being proven correct: much of the world is not a friendly place for Jews, and a flourishing and powerful Jewish state is the key to our survival as a people. Batya Ungar-Sargon learned the first part of this painful lesson at Bard College. The second part still eludes her.

Posted in Academia, American Jews, Media, Zionism | 1 Comment