Saturday, July 24, 2010

Imaginary proxies

Ethan Bronner, I'm confused: "Many American Jews consider the Netanyahu government to be too hawkish, and the conversion controversy is seen by some analysts here and in the United States as a proxy for a broader set of disagreements, including settlement building and the Gaza blockade." Such as: "'There is increasing discomfort among American Jews with Israel,' commented Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, which is devoted to exploring Jewish issues. 'This issue is a place where they can express the displeasure that they might not be willing to state on the flotilla and other political matters.'"


I'm not convinced. Do American Jews who wish to distance themselves from Israel really need to mask their real reasons for doing so? Haven't we established that for liberal American Jews it's if anything more socially-acceptable to be critical of Israel than not? I don't buy the idea that there's this closet filled with pro-Palestinian American Jews afraid to come out. They're out and proud, to the point that liberal American Jews who do identify as Zionists feel uncomfortable.

But more to the point: One can be an unabashed Zionist and for this reason think that Israel's shooting itself in the foot by pushing away those who identify as Jews and want in on the Jewish state. Israel's success as a Jewish state depends on Jews actually living in Israel. What I'm getting at is that a desire to see Israel break free of the super-strict conversion, marriage, and day-to-day religious restrictions is not a roundabout way of expressing one's discomfort with the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, but is in fact just the opposite. Someone who thought the Netanyahu government wasn't hawkish enough (and Petey if you still read this, before you get worked-up, I'm not identifying with that camp) would do well to hold this view. 

Meanwhile, if your number-one concern is the plight of the Palestinians, and you believe Israel is primarily responsible for that plight, you're not advocating for Israel to be more inclusive in its definition of Judaism, because this is something that would strengthen Israel as a Jewish state and make the one-state-solution, Palestinian-right-of-return scenario that much less likely.

What I get from the article, then, is that its author and/or and least one "analyst" would like it if deep down inside, American Jews who question Israeli domestic policy were in fact trying to express an entirely different and arguably contradictory set of criticisms. Which is a different issue entirely.

4 comments:

Petey said...

"I don't buy the idea that there's this closet filled with pro-Palestinian American Jews afraid to come out. They're out and proud, to the point that liberal American Jews who do identify as Zionists feel uncomfortable."

I'm an American Jew who identifies as a Zionist, and I don't feel uncomfortable identifying that way.

Of course, perhaps that is because, unlike you, I'm opposed to the Occupation.

Does that make me "pro-Palestinian" or just "anti-apartheid"?

You are quite comfortable with Israel maintaining sovereignty by means of military force over several million people without giving them the right to vote. I'm not.

Or put in analogous terms, when NATO bombed Serbia, I was very happy about the operation. Was it because I was "pro-Kosovar" or because I was "anti-genocide"?

Espousing the POV you hold on the Occupation should make you feel uncomfortable. It's a morally bankrupt position that is well outside civilized discourse.

"What I get from the article, then, is that its author and/or and least one "analyst" would like it if deep down inside, American Jews who question Israeli domestic policy were in fact trying to express an entirely different and arguably contradictory set of criticisms."

Well, here is my personal anecdotal datum:

Ever since Taba failed, I've been advocating for a cutoff of all US aid to Israel, a deadline to Israel of one year to either pull its military back to the '67 lines or give the people in the territories controlled by Israel a vote for the Knesset, and if Israel did not comply, then a NATO bombing of Israel along the lines of the Serbian operation. (First destroy Israeli military structures, and if that doesn't change Israeli policy, then knock out the electrical grid in Israeli cities.)

If I'm in a gathering of American Jews and the conversation turns to politics, I will almost always bring up my support for the idea of a Serbian solution.

Ten years ago, I found essentially zero sympathy for the idea, and often found myself being screamed at.

In the past couple of years, I've found quite a bit of sympathy for the idea, and zero screaming.

-----

Of course, Rabbi Donniel Hartman is exactly correct. You and Sheldon Adelson are simply losing the argument among American Jews. Something like J-Street wouldn't have been viable ten years ago.

But most American Jews are still not yet ready to openly criticize Israel on the Occupation, given that they are repeatedly told the occupation is a "security concern", rather than the "lebensraum in the East" policy it's actually always been. So the discontent they feel about Israel bubbles up in other ways.

And so it will continue for a while, until something finally crystalizes the vague discontent most American Jews feel about Israeli military policy.

Jacob T. Levy said...

and, to look at the disjuncture from another angle, diaspora Jews who are really just diasporic and don't much care about Israel one way or the other also wouldn't care much about how Israel viewed the diasporic non-Orthodox religious movements. The very fact of getting worked up about what the Israeli rabbinate says as though they were some sort of Jewish Vatican itself demonstrates a pretty strong kind of Zionism.

Phoebe said...

Petey,

"You are quite comfortable with Israel maintaining sovereignty by means of military force over several million people without giving them the right to vote. I'm not."

Respond to the content of my post, and don't put words into my mouth. If you can manage those two feats, comment away, but if not, just start your own I-P blog if you haven't already.

Phoebe said...

Jacob T. Levy,

Good point. All the fuss among American Jews about Israeli theocracy feels less like apathy or angling for a split and more like continued personal interest in the region.