G. Gorenberg on American-Jewish myopia

G. Gorenberg on American-Jewish myopia

It’s worth looking at snippets from Gershom Gorenberg’s newest column at the American Prospect website,  Why Are They So Angry?“(“An Israeli dove visiting Jewish North America can feel he’s stumbled into a constricted, out-of-joint alternate universe”). It’s based on his experience speaking at a modern Orthodox synagogue (he, himself, is religious): 

….. The moderate Israeli left’s argument that West Bank settlements undermine democracy and peace efforts is sometimes greeted in the U.S. as treasonous, sometimes as daringly unconventional. …

… Jewish politics reflect general American politics, where conservatives hurl forged-in-Fox, counterfactual cannonballs rather than discuss ideas. And the minority of American Jews who are devoted to the single issue of defending Israeli policy, and who can dominate discussion within the Jewish community, inhabit an echo chamber that may be even better sealed than the conservative separate universe in domestic politics. [For example,] Golda Meir—remembered in Israel as the prime minister who failed to see signs of oncoming war in 1973—is still regarded as a hero in America. …

Of course, there are many American Jews whose liberal views on domestic issues are matched by their support of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. [But] Some feel constrained in speaking as clearly as they’d like about Israel for fear of being identified with another rigidly ideological contingent: Diaspora Palestinians with their own overdone nationalism, and a small coterie of Jews who express their disappointment with Zionism through mirror-image anti-Zionism—as if denying Jewish rights to national self-determination were somehow more progressive than denying Palestinian rights. …

And [there’s] the place that Israel often fills in Jewish identity in America. An incident my son recounted after a visit to the United States as a teen alluded to the issue: He’d come to take part in an international interfaith camp, and one day the campers were brought to a nearby city to visit a church, synagogue, and mosque. At the synagogue, he was surprised to see an Israeli and an American flag in the sanctuary. He couldn’t recall seeing an Israeli flag in an Israeli synagogue, and asked the executive director of the congregation why it was there. “The Holocaust is very present in our hearts,” came the response.

At first glance, that’s a non sequitur. Unpacked, the comment means that victimhood is part of the story that Jews tell about their past. In that story, a besieged, endangered Israel is the sequel to the Holocaust. Like most narratives, this one contains pieces of truth alongside distortions and anachronisms. The victimhood was very real. But for most Jews living today in America, … out of sync with their current condition. And seeing Israel as the symbol of victimhood is discordant: Zionism was a rebellion against Jewish powerlessness, and present-day Israel testifies to the rebellion’s success. …

The above resonates with me in several ways.  As a young pro-Israel Jew in the early 1970s, who followed the news passionately as Israel stumbled into the Yom Kippur War, it occurred to me that Golda Meir made a huge error in ignoring peace overtures from Anwar Sadat that, if taken seriously, would likely have brought peace rather than war in 1973.  If at the same time she had successfully negotiated a peace agreement with King Hussein of Jordan (who had become Israel’s secret ally after the IDF saved his throne from the PLO in 1970 and had offered a treaty with Israel in exchange for a return of the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the occupation would have ended and the Palestinian problem might have been resolved then and there.

I believe that minor border adjustments in Israel’s favor with Jordan (e.g., within East Jerusalem) could have been arranged, especially by offering the Gaza Strip to Jordan in exchange.  A three-way peace treaty involving Egypt (which did not want the Gaza Strip back anyway), would have done the trick. Then perhaps, King Hussein might have offered a federation or confederation status within his kingdom for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. 

But I am also glad that Gorenberg mentioned “Diaspora Palestinians with their own overdone nationalism, and a small coterie of Jews who express their disappointment with Zionism through mirror-image anti-Zionism….”  I often feel that Israeli peaceniks do not appreciate enough the ferocity of anti-Israel forces within the U.S. and elsewhere in the Diaspora.  I generally find myself fighting a two-front war for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

And while he’s generally correct that “seeing Israel as the symbol of victimhood is discordant [with the facts on the ground],” it is also very understandable.  Israel is still vulnerable as a very small country in a hostile neighborhood, which faces a fanatical hatred that both reflects its historic and current misdeeds, and grossly exaggerates them.  

By | 2011-11-28T15:25:00-05:00 November 28th, 2011|Blog|0 Comments

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