For the past seven years I’ve written a regular column for a newsletter that is distributed several times a year by the Jewish Federation in my home town in California. I write about what’s going on in Israel, explain our convoluted, even Byzantine, political system, and tell about my own experiences as a former American living in the Jewish state. Naturally my ideology comes through. How could it not?
So I recently wrote one which, in part, dealt with Israeli concerns about Iran, both the conventional military threat and the very real possibility of a nuclear one. I mentioned that I didn’t think that the negotiations now starting in Vienna were likely to improve the situation, and that a conflict was probably inevitable. Since it was almost Hanukah, I signed off with a line borrowed from a recent blog post. I wrote, “I want to take this opportunity to wish all my friends … a very happy Hanukah, and to remind them what it is all about: staying Jewish and defeating our enemies!”
When it was published, I saw that the last part of my final sentence had been left out. When I asked the editor about it, she told me that she had left it out because she “found it to be bellicose and was offended.”
I was at a loss on how to answer. What did she think had occurred so that the Temple needed to be rededicated? What might have happened to the Jewish people if their enemies had not been defeated? Could she not see the parallel between the dual threats of antisemitism and assimilation facing us today, and the dangers our people had to confront in the year 165 BCE? What part of staying Jewish and not being wiped out is offensive?
I sent her a long response. I mentioned the worldwide explosion of Jew-hatred in the past few years, and how it was closely tied to the extreme, irrational, and obsessive hatred of Israel that has permeated the discourse of the extreme and even the moderate Left in her country and in much of the rest of the world. I mentioned the real existential threat from Iran, both conventional and nuclear. I explained that while Israel is powerful, she is also exceedingly vulnerable because of her small size and population. I said that Israel could disappear in a week’s time, and that if that happened, the rest of the world’s Jewish population would stand alone, exposed to the bitter winds of antisemitism with no backup and no escape. It’s neither “bellicose” nor offensive to want to defend yourself.
I pointed to the growing social and economic instability in America, and noted that the Jews, as always, are caught in the middle, scapegoats for the extremists of both sides. If the exception from Jewish history that has been the US since 1945 suddenly reverts to “normal,” who will help American Jews? The imam with whom the local rabbi has engaged in “interfaith dialog?” The black community that admires Louis Farrakhan? The Evangelical Christians that they have consistently disdained and spurned?
Her answer didn’t relate to any of this. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I think that she does not believe that Israel is in any great danger, and that American Jewry has little to worry about, particularly from the Left. I think that she believes that if Israel would just stop being obstinate about settlements and make peace then her problems would go away. I think she trusts in the American ideal of tolerance, and I think she believes in social progress, in which the present disturbances are only hiccups.
This seems to be the view of many liberal American Jews over the age of about 50, of whom she is representative. It is certainly the picture that is pushed by the media that they most trust, such as the NY Times and NPR. It is what they hear from most of their Reform rabbis.
These ideas are wrong. Israel is in as much danger today as she was in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The weapons in the hands of our enemies right now are incredibly dangerous. There is not now, and hasn’t been a possibility of rapprochement with the Palestinian Arabs since Yasser Arafat took over their movement in the 1960s. This is not because of anything Israel is doing, other than existing as a Jewish state in the Middle East. Settlements aren’t an obstacle to peace; the irredentist Arab presence in the Jewish heartland is the obstacle.
As far as America goes, I would like to think that the ideals of freedom and tolerance that were expressed by the Founders had always characterized the nation, but history tells a different story. The US was never very friendly to minorities in general; the good treatment of the Jews after 1945 is actually exceptional, both for America and for Jews. It is threatened today by the intersectionalist cultural revolution that is trying to remake the country into a totalitarian “people’s republic.” There is certainly social change, but there is no such thing as positive social progress.
But it may be that the pendulum is finally swinging in the other direction for some younger people. We hear a lot about the young Jewish kids who join Students for Justice in Palestine, or (even worse, in my opinion) IfNotNow. But there are also those who resist the trend. Some go to Israel and volunteer to be lone soldiers, a difficult, dangerous, and courageous road to take. Others, like the members of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) are starting groups on campuses to push back against the intersectionalist tide.
Indeed, just as the Republicans will sweep the coming midterm elections as a direct response to the excesses of woke intersectionalism, I’m hopeful that students on the campuses will turn back the Maoist trend that has held free expression hostage for the last few years.
As for my column in the Jewish Federation’s newsletter, I plan to keep trying to sneak some sensible pro-Jewish and pro-Israel content into it. Who knows, maybe the older generation can change too.