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From the left: How best to support Israel?

I’ll be personal, answering this question. Two stories come to mind. The first happened almost twenty years ago, not long after I arrived in this country. I was residing in Burbank at the time, and I remember clearly the day I heard the news on NPR that president George H. W. Bush (i.e. the father—the prudent one), had decided not to approve Israel’s request for a loan—disguised as a request to help absorb new Russian immigrants—unless Israel would stop the building of all new settlements in the occupied territories; which, the president read correctly, was the true reason for the loan request.

My immediate reaction was a mixture of elation and hope. Elation, because I felt that for the first time that I can remember, an American President dared to defy the all-powerful Jewish lobby (i.e. AIPAC), and was not afraid to do what he believed was in the best interests of Israel in particular, and the Middle East as a whole. Hope I felt, because of my long held belief that at the core of our troubles—then and now—lied the insane policy of ever-expending settlements in lands not ours (which, being personal, I admit to taking part in capturing). The result, I hoped, would be a change not only in policy but in direction as well, which in turn will make it more plausible for Israel to achieve—sooner rather than later—peace with its Arab neighbors; especially with a viable Palestine state.

Think for a moment how better the situation might have been today had American Jewry supported president Bush’s decision, and not mobilized all its resources to fight it. Yitzhak Rabin might not have been assassinated; two Intifadas might not have occurred; thousands of innocent lives might not have been lost; a respected, tentative peace between two separate, neighboring states might have been existed by now. Think what you think of exiting PM Ehud Olmert, but even he admits now how folly he was to believe for 35 years in the settlements police; in the Greater Israel fantasy; and in Jerusalem belongs only to the Jews. ”For a large portion of these years,” he said, “I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

The second personal story happened maybe ten years back. After an exhausting tennis much in the blazing Sacramento valley sun my partner—a friend and an American Jew, a lover and supporter of all things Israel, who walked the talk—and myself began talking some politics, as we often did. Sharon was about to become the next prime minister just then, or already was the PM and was facing stiff opposition, which threatened his fragile coalition (often the case in Israel). I asked my friend this: Should Sharon seize, or hold on to power as a dictator (supposedly under emergency measures—a scenario we Israelis speculated about not once), would he still support Israel unconditionally? Would he still make his donations to Israel as before?

He thought quietly momentarily, before answering positively. Yes, he would continue his unconditional support of Israel and its government. After all, who was he to tell the Israelis how to conduct their affairs. I’m not a citizen of Israel, he said, I live here. I remained in quite disbelief for a while. How can an educated, enlightened man in all other aspects—human rights, gay rights, fight oppression and genocide in Africa, you name it—can so easily, all heartily, support a dictator? Even if he is an Israeli?

How indeed, ask yourself. Because as important as Israel is to American Jews, it is equally true that there is no future for the state of Israel—never was—without the support of American Jews. It is therefore behooves on us all, before we rush to act as one, to consider carefully—and independently—the consequences of our actions. Mostly: what kind of a state we want Israel to be, and how best to support it.


8 Responses

  1. hilel,
    thank you for your reply. i am looking forward to the next posting. and i thank you for your concern, but i have no soul.

  2. You’re getting way ahead of yourself, kalevra, though I admit you’re making a valid point. First, be sure that your comments are an integral element of our still developing blog, since really what we hope to create is an on going dialogue discussing all these important issues. Our wish is to have more readers and participants such as yourself. Second, there’s a reason why we post only a monthly article and not a weekly or even daily; so far this blog has failed to relieve us from our daily need to earn a living, and from all the other obligations we each have. The flow of life is such that admittedly, we sometimes won’t visit the site unless there‘s a comment. We hope to change that in the future, but that the way things are at the moment. Third, I believe Yona was engaged in quite a dialogue with you so far; certainly as far as the last topic. (We are working on the next one currently). Lastly, as for myself, indeed Yona had asked me to respond to your last comment. I told him the problem was, you articulated the subject very well, and for the most part, in line with the way I see things. There was nothing much I could add or rebuke.
    Now, leave the neo-nazi sites to stew in their own filth. It will be bad for your soul, I believe.
    Spread the word about our blog, and maybe more people like you will join the debate.
    Cheers indeed,

  3. ok, seems like no one feels like responding. what’s the point of this? i seem to be talling to myself… think i will head off to some neo-nazi sites, and see if i can bend a few noses there out of shape. admittedly the company is less genteel, the language less lofty, and the brain cells few and far between but they sure react fast when their tails get twisted. who knew skinhead-baiting could be such fun?

  4. yona,
    indeed, my question about the sudden decision of 5 million us jews to immigrate to israel is purely hypothetical. no one in his right mind would imagine such a scenario, barring hitler’s resurrection or an alien invasion here in the usa. the whole purpose of the question is the demonstrate a state of affairs which the official ideology likes to pretend doesn’t exist — namely, the ability of israel to absorb immigration and still be livable is very limited, and israel is dependent, in its current mode of operation at least, on massive support from the very people it officially wants to immigrate as soon as possible. nothing unusual here, as we all — individuals and countries — live in a state of inner contradiction — the need for renewal and the need for continuity, or ideals and reality. the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…
    seeing immigration to israel as a good in itself belongs to the ideology of previous generations, and i think it is high time this was re-examined. israel’s national anthem is a good illustration, as no sane israeli over the age of 50 can possibly identify with the lyrics. the jews HAVE a state already, for goodness sake, so perhaps the ideal for the new generations should have been not to throw garbage in the streets, of take care of the environment, or each other — anything is better than the same outdated slogans they were force- fed in school. the veneration of the founding fathers and their goals does diddly-squat for the young. this has been going on for a while, and perhaps can explain the corruption — if the ideals i am being fed by my country are meaningless to me, i am bound to look for something more tangible.
    as to the the leverage us exerts on israel — please. generations of usa presidents have been pressuring israel to stop expanding the settlements, with well-known results. and why is this leverage better than gold? it is unclear to me what advantage, if any, the usa derives from its close association with israel. you could say “leverage” of course, but this will amount to circular logic.
    however, the point is not what the usa government would do in the event of a, ahem, highly hypothetical request by israel to please stop sending money. the point is the resentment of many americans, who see no advantage to themselves in such unconditional support, who disagree with many aspects of israeli foreign policy, and who know that voicing it will not be to their advantage.

  5. I would like to weigh on the exchange. On the issue of aliya, I generally agree with Hillel, beside the inability of of Israel to practically absorb 5 million Jews, Israel would be hard pressed without the support from the outside. That being said, small incremental aliya no-doubt benefits Israel currently and would keep doing so in the foreseeable future. Kalevra, your question is really highly hypothetical. Do you really think that 5 million Jews can all agree (oxymoron right there) to move within a narrow time frame? Now, if the question was, would it be good for the Jews and Israel if the majority of the Jews did aliya, say over the next 50 years? My answer would be, It may beneficial based on circumstances. The thought needs further exploration…

    For a moment, let’s put aside economic support, and other practical reasons for Israel’s inability to absorb 5 million Jews. Under the current situation, the only benefit (at least at 2am) that I can see of having all 5 million Jews moving to Israel in a short time frame would be to curb the Arab dream or taking over Israel demographically. As arafat poetically said: “The womb of the Arab woman promises ultimate victory over the Jews”
    …end of quote. I rest my case.

    No need to ban the term yored, it became anachronistic….on its own.

    On the last point: of non-Jews being resentful of the unconditional support. Strangely enough, in my opinion, even if Israel begs the US to stop, for example the financial support, the US would balk at the idea. The incredible leverage the US can exert on Israel because of that dependency is better than gold….


  6. a refreshingly honest reply. there are two further points: first, many non-jewish americans are quite resentful of the unconditional support usa provides to israel, as they seem to feel that the benefits reaped by them from all of this are nebulous at best, and a criticism of such support by an american politician amounts to a political suicide. second: perhaps it is time that the very term “yored” was banished from the lexicon as self-righteous and dishonest, as obvously israel needs its support base overseas.

  7. It would be a disaster! While generally Aliya is always encouraged, and every Israeli PM must pay lip-service to that notion, Israel would not be in existence without the support—money and morally, as explained above—of American Jews; and through them, that of the USA.

  8. for years, the prevailing ideology of israel demanded aliya. a president of israel (the name escapes me) has made quite a stir on a visit to the usa in the 80’s when he called the yearly “next year in jerusalem” utterance by usa jews a lip service, and urged them to get a move on. so, would it be “good for jews” if all 5 million usa jews decided to immigrate to israel? just a thought.

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