In the twenty and more years we have been friends, we have sometimes disagreed about how vocal Jewish Americans should be about politics and policy in Israel. But througout that time, there has been little doubt of the fundamental support for Israel on the part of the American Jewish community. That may now be changing.
If you are as open-minded as I think you are, you'll read this carefully: “Think Again: Ships Passing in the Night,” by Jonathan Rosenblum in the Jerusalem Post.
If this analysis is right, we are heading for another period in Jewish American history like the 19th and early 20th centuies, when large parts of our community (the Reform movement, the American Jewish Committee, etc) were anti-Zionist. If that happens, I will stand with Israel and against American Jews.
I will fight for Israel's right to decide for itself, free of pressure from a community a large minority of whom say they would not consider Israel's destruction a personal tragedy. To me this is far, far more important than anything doddering old Jimmy Carter says or does–although I do see American Jews playing right into Carter's sullied hands.
Israelis call George W. Bush their best friend ever, and they are now poised to elect Bibi Netanyahu again. Not only have your friend Yossi Beilin and others like him completely failed to win over a significant part of the Israeli electorate, in fact Labor itself is poised for a massive defeat, dwindling to single digits for the first time in history.
To me that is very sad, but my opinion matters very little. My conclusion is not to say that Israelis are wrong and you or I am right, but the opposite. When a large majority of Israelis arrive at a decision about what they must do to survive, I support that decision. Period.
This is not a close call. Yossi Beilin has become a political nonentity in Israel, and there are reasons. He pushed the Oslo process, now deemed by most Israelis to have been an abject failure. He has worked all his life to persuade Israelis and Palestinians that they can come to a political agreement and make real peace, and he has failed.
Events have proved his convictions naïve and premature. Fifteen hundred terrorist murders of innocent Israelis, including Muslims and Christians, discredited Oslo. And the hated “apartheid” wall has save countless Israeli lives since it was built in the face of international condemnation. Most Israelis know this. Even with the support of a substantial Arab minority in the electorate and the Knesset, Beilin cannot make his opinions credible with any significant number of Israelis.
Seasoned and brilliant leaders from Shimon Peres on the left to Natan Sharansky on the right—not to mention Tony Blair and “the Quartet”—have concluded that Israel needs a bottom-up process that strengthens the Palestinian economy to the point where people on their side have much more to gain from compromise than from stubbornness.
Do I think that peace must come eventually?—in years, not decades?—absolutely. Do I think that the settlers and their supporters are part of the problem, not the solution? Certainly. But do I think that the small minority in Israel who support the conventional peace movement have the key to accelerating the process? No. And even if I did, it would not be my business.
I frankly am baffled by the conviction of so many Jewish Americans that they know more about what is best for Israel than Israelis do. In this Jewish-American liberals are in the same category with the Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and Los Angeles who “knew” that the withdrawal from Gaza was a tragedy and that the two-state solution—in my view inevitable and just—is treason against the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
If someone put a gun to my head and said, “You must choose one or the other,” I would probably choose you and Beilin over them. But no one is, and that is the point. No one is putting a gun to my head, or yours, or the heads of the rabbis in Brooklyn.
They are putting the gun to the heads of the people with the courage to live surrounded by guns pointed at them. It is they who have given two or three years of their lives to army service, often in harm’s way. It is they who send their sons and daughters to fight and die in the first Jewish army for two millennia. It is they who sit in cafés and buses and pizza parlors that are blown up by terrorists.
It is not me, it is not you, and it is not the Brooklyn rabbis. It is the citizens and permanent residents of Israel.
That is why they have a vote, and we do not. And that is why I will never tell the Israeli electorate that I know more than they do about what they must do to survive in the hostile environment you and I don’t live in. I am amazed and dismayed that any Jewish American, comfortably eating bagels and attending testimonial dinners in a safe country with an all-volunteer army, could possibly think that he or she has a right to tell Israelis what to do—whether on the right or the left, it is to me an immoral stance.
And of course it is not a very courageous one. It is no mystery how to earn the right to vote in Israel and to get up on a soapbox and tell Israelis what to do. All we have to do is become one of them. They’ve invited us. They want us. They are waiting for us.
But of course that isn’t easy, is it? If it were, we would already have done it. We wouldn’t just be talking about our love for Israel, we would be there living the dream and the nightmare every day. That is called earning the right to an opinion. But I am not there and neither are you.
If I can put on my biological anthropology hat for a moment, I am considered an expert on human nature and mind. I can tell you that to make wise decisions you must experience the feedback of your body and your emotions. The idea that you can make good decisions in the abstract has been proven false. What is true is the folk wisdom that you have to make certain decisions with your gut.
I believe in the gut decisions of those in the line of fire, not in mine, not in yours.
So I have decided to fight against any Jewish Americans who try to throw their weight around to pressure Israel from the safe side of the ocean. I voted for Obama, but if liberal American Jews tell him it’s okay to pressure Israel into a peace process for which it is not ready, I will stand against them.
This is where my energy will go in the years to come; if a fight is needed to prevent the American Jewish community and the Obama administration from bringing undue pressure to bear on the Jewish state, I’ll be there. And I will use all my skills, however modest, to publicly oppose all who think they know better than our friends who live every day in the line of fire and in the cauldron of terror that is the Middle East—so different from Atlanta or Brooklyn that it might as well be on another planet.
You want to tell Israel what to do? Make aliyah, join the IDF, earn your vote—and I will be the first to say you are doing the right thing. In fact, I will take your opinion very seriously, just as I do those who have already made those choices. Vote with your feet and your body, and I will give full weight to any vote you cast with your mind.
From your friend as always, Shalom,
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