New Jewish relationship to America: A cause for concern

New Jewish relationship to America: A cause for concern

The Jewish leaders who met with Obama at the White House last week complained that his talk about the inevitability of war if the Iran deal is rejected, his noting that Israel is the only country openly opposing the deal and his citing the role of billionaires in fueling opposition to the deal were making American Jews uncomfortable. Yet all the President’s points are demonstrably true.  Israel is not only openly opposing the deal but for a year or more has been doing so in ways that constitute an unprecedented level of intrusion into American politics.  Absent diplomacy — especially if, as the critics claim, Iran is so dedicated to its goals — an Iranian sprint to the bomb, with nothing to stop it but military action, is a likely outcome of killing this deal.  And billionaires in both parties — e.g., Adelson and Saban — are energizing and paying for much of the opposition.

Our fellow Jews in Israel and here are committing two acts of chutzpah.  Their over-the-top interference in American politics and near-demonization of the President is chutzpadik.  But, in addition, they now demand that no one talk about it.  The editors of Tablet Magazine are aghast at linking opponents of the deal with the likelihood of war.  (Meanwhile, a relative of mine just whispered into my ear at a family gathering that Obama “is a black anti-Semite.”)

Are these linkages uncomfortable for some? Could they lead to a weakening of Israel’s status in this country and to the weakening of American Jewry’s position? Yes.  The solution, however, is not to suppress discussion but to cease the problematic behavior.

It is a sad, very dysfunctional thing when Jews cannot tell friend from foe.  Not only is Obama not an anti-Semite, he is arguably a philo-Semite.  He may have more direct experience with and knowledge of Judaism and Jewish life than any President in history–and has positive attitudes about it.

We used to have a traditional Jewish appreciation of the US as the goldeneh medinah, a grateful wonder at things like the Marine Band playing Maoz Tsur at the White House Hannukah party last December that brought tears to my eyes. Jews used to say “only in America” about such things; but this is being replaced by a rigid, tone deaf, factually oblivious attitude that says America is never good enough if it is not doing exactly and everything that the Israeli government — at least a right-wing Israeli government — wants.

The critics of the deal are prepared to call Obama a bigot.  I detect no upset amongst them at the intrusiveness of Israel’s involvement in this political struggle; I hear no concern among them about the strong possibility that their advocacy, if successful, will get American servicemen and women killed in war, or will bring them home impaired, often for life, with the US taxpayer shelling out new trillions to pay for a war that became inevitable because the diplomatic option was foreclosed.

Many of our fellow Jews seem to have the same attitude towards America and their fellow Americans as embodied in the late Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s notorious comment that “the goyim exist so that they may serve us.”

We are wearing out our welcome in the Democratic party and African-American community.  We are probably doing likewise within other sectors of the population.  It is hard to believe that some GOP office holders are not also sick of AIPAC’s heavy-handed methods, although they feel themselves less at liberty than Democrats to say or do anything about it.

The day may come, however, especially if we go to war against Iran, when these resentments spill out in public in new attitudes and behavior towards the Israel Lobby, Israel and Jews.  We may rue the day Bibi gave the word and AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, some Jewish community Federations, and such Jewish community leaders as Malcolm Hoenlein (executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) robotically swung into action.  Such an emerging new Jewish relationship to America is mistaken and unwarranted.  It may also prove harmful to all concerned.

By | 2015-08-11T06:26:01-04:00 August 11th, 2015|American Jewish community, Blog|14 Comments


  1. Alice Rothchild August 11, 2015 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Excellent analysis.

  2. Oscar Shank August 12, 2015 at 6:57 am - Reply

    I agree. Succinct, deep, objective analysis.

  3. Ken Bob August 12, 2015 at 10:17 am - Reply

    This is a good piece, but as a “Jewish leader” who participated in the meeting at the White House last week, your opening line “the Jewish leaders who met with Obama at the White House last week” really should read “some of the Jewish leaders.” There were several of us who were openly and vocally supportive of the president’s policies.

  4. Glenn Becker August 12, 2015 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    If Netanyahu, his minions at AIPAC and the shameless neocons manage to entrap the U.S. in a war with Iran, every American casualty will be blamed on Israel and American Jews. When the American people identify the Jewish community as the cause of its renewed Middle East suffering, don’t expect the Republicans to share the blame or to deflect it.

  5. J.J. Surbeck August 12, 2015 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Your condescending arrogance is breathtaking. To depict everyone who opposes this wretched deal as robots mindlessly following Netanyahu’s marching orders is deeply insulting, ignoring the fact that they have come to the conclusion that this deal is horribly dangerous for everyone, but especially the US and Israel, all on their own, as I have. If that were not the case, then you are as much a mindless robot following the orders of Kim Il Obama. Get off your high horse.

    • Glenn Becker August 13, 2015 at 1:33 am - Reply

      Kim Il Obama? You gave away the game with that.

  6. Werner Cohn August 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    +++Jews — you are a bad bunch. Both in Israel and the US. If you don’t behave better, well, the goyim are on to you. They will punish you, as well you deserve to be punished.+++ This, in a nutshell, is Mr. Goldstein’s message.

    A majority of the US Congress is against this Iranian deal. Never mind, Jews have no right to express yourself similarly. The ayatollah threatens both the US and Israel with “death.” Never mind, Bibi is the real villain.

    And to top it all off, the late Rabbi Yosef of Israel, who died long before the Iran deal was concocted, is trotted out like one of those long-nosed caricatures in the Stürmer: the malevolent enemy of humanity. Mr. Goldstein, who is said to have taught “Jewish Studies” before he entered the “business world,” does not bother to give us the context of the alleged utterance. It doesn’t seem to matter, this little tidbit being such juicy proof of the malice of all the Jews.

    As for me, though Jewish, I will continue to express myself on the life-and-death issues of both the US and the rest of the world. That is not only my right, it is my obligation. I need no lesson in US patriotism from Mr. Goldstein. As it happens, I served in the US Navy in time of war. That does not confer any special virtue on me. But just wondering, Mr. G.: have you done more for our country than I ?

    • Ralph Seliger August 16, 2015 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      Werner and I have known each other for a number of years. There are things we agree upon, but (sadly) fewer and fewer as time goes by.

      Werner has every right to express himself on this and other issues. But I remind Werner that he has long suggested that those of us who disagree with the government of Israel have no right to express that disagreement if we don’t live there. And in his last paragraph, is Werner implying that since he’s served in the US Navy in wartime, those of us who haven’t done likewise should keep our mouths shut?

      This is a curious argument about the freedom of speech. It’s also a formulation that borders on the ad hominen — an approach that Werner has long inveighed against when made, or seemingly made, by people he disagrees with.

      • Werner Cohn August 16, 2015 at 5:32 pm - Reply

        Veteran or not, of course, by all means, full freedom of speech for all. That is obvious. The problem lies elsewhere. It was your chaver Goldstein who has suggested that Jews should restrain themselves in the public realm of debate lest the non-Jews will take offense. In Goldstein’s view, the patriotism of American Jews is somehow suspect. Of curse, pace Goldstein, I should not have to demonstrate my patriotism to have freedom of speech. But, as it happens, as a veteran, I have demonstrated this patriotism. Just wondering: has Chaver Goldstein done as much ? But whether he has or not, by all means let him express his opinions. All I ask that he will let me do the same.

        • Werner Cohn August 16, 2015 at 6:01 pm - Reply

          One more thing. I have never said, as Ralph here falsely claims, that Jews outside of Israel have no right to criticize the Israeli government. What I have said repeatedly is that it ill behooves American Jews, using their US citizenship, to push the US government into coercive action against the democratically-elected government of Israel.

          • Ralph Seliger August 16, 2015 at 11:18 pm

            I think that Werner has amply expressed his conviction that American Jews should limit their First Amendment freedom of expression when it comes to Israel.

  7. Edward Goldstein August 17, 2015 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Mr. Cohn has missed my points. I did not argue that American Jews should be quiet lest the gentiles get upset. I pointed out that many Jews seem to have lost our traditional appreciation for America and also seem heedless that their advocacy may send Americans to fight and die in the Mideast….again. Also heedless about unprecedented Israeli meddling. Under our Constitution, the Commander-in-Chief decides on sending troops, not another country’s prime minister. I did observe and predict that we are wearing out our welcome in certain quarters e.g., Democratic Party, African-American community which we may come to regret. It’s not that we shouldn’t have opinions but when we’re heedless of the consequences for the US, and focus only on Israel, when we measure the US solely by its willingness to do what Israel wants, as opposed to respecting American interests and US service people and taxpayers…then we are in a new Jewish relationship to this country. Not one of appreciation and consideration but one of (to many Jews and others) a rather off-putting sense of entitlement. Primarily, I am concerned with what’s happening to us, not with others, although there may be real-world consequences with others. Finally, I will ignore the snarky aspects of Mr. Cohn’s comments. They are a glaring departure from the usual tenor of discussion on this distinguished blog.

    • Werner Cohn August 17, 2015 at 4:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Ed, for your reply.

      Now about those “snarky” aspects, by which I assume you mean my comments about your bringing in the late Rabbi Yosef.

      Here I must appeal to your having taught Jewish Studies at several universities, i.e. your status as a scholar. So here are my questions:

      1) What exactly is the relevance of Rabbi Yosef’s work to the question of the Iran deal ?

      2) What exactly is the context in which Rabbi Yosef is said to have made the comments that you cite ? What was the influence of these alleged remarks in the Jewish world ? What is the significance of these remarks — always assuming that they were indeed made as you report — on Israeli and Jewish opinion worldwide ?

      3) What exactly is the source of your information on Rabbi Yosef ? Did you glean what you say you know from strictly secondary sources, or did you — being a specialist in Jewish Studies — study the original sources ? Would you care to share these with us ?

      Now of course you know why I must ask such snarky questions. There is a long tradition in the anti-Semitic literature of blaming the alleged misdeeds of one particular Jew on the Jewish people as a whole. The early Nazi-organized pogroms were blamed on the alleged crimes of “the Jew Frankfurter.” No no no, I am not saying that you are a Nazi or anti-Semite, only that perhaps — prove me wrong ! — you have been influenced by this tradition.

  8. […] positive medium to long-term trend.  This is not to contradict concerns expressed on this blog by Ed Goldstein and myself earlier, that Netanyahu’s aggressive confrontations with Obama, and the organized […]

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