.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The problem with American Jewish liberals, personified

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet magazine. In her latest column she admits:
I am deeply ambivalent about Israel. Modern-day Israel, as opposed to historical Israel, is a subject I avoid with my children. Yes, of course I believe the state should exist, but the word “Zionist” makes me skittish. I shy away from conversations about Israeli politics. I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert. Neither Abe Foxman nor AIPAC speaks for me. I am a liberal, and I am deeply troubled by the Matzav, Israeli shorthand for tension with the Palestinians, and I do not have answers, and I do not know what to do about it, and I do not know what to tell my children.
From reading her column, it is obvious that her knowledge of Israel is minimal - and extraordinarily colored by her exposure to the liberal media. A later section of her article painfully shows her extreme naiveté, as she explains Israel to her eight-year old daughter:
I stumbled desperately through an explanation of why two peoples feel they have a legitimate claim to the same land.

“But having land is like having a seat on a bus,” Josie replied. “You can’t just push someone out of their seat, and you can’t just leave your seat and then come back to it after a long time and just expect the person who is sitting there now to give it to you.”

My panicked reaction to her words surprised me. I found myself trying to convince her that Israel did have that right. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies. I was spinning in my own head like the desperate, overwhelmed woman in the Calgon commercial: J Street, take me away!

But Josie’s bus-bully analogy resonated. Baby-boomer Jews seem wedded to a sepia-toned image of Jews as victims—in the shtetl, in the Holocaust, in Israel’s early wars. But in real life, victims can turn into bullies.
An intelligent woman, who is clearly proud of her Jewishness, finds her pre-teen daughter's childish analogy of Israel's existence to a bully on a bus to be unassailable?

Here is the exact problem. Jews whose entire knowledge of Israel is based on BBC and Reuters headlines are transmitting that ambivalence and discomfort about Zionism to the next generation - and, of course, the next generation will convert that ambivalence into antipathy.

This is a profoundly saddening article. Ingalls was prompted to write it after reading Peter Beinart's controversial piece that I responded to last week, and it proves that my analysis was pretty accurate: Ingalls, along with way too many American Jews, simply do not understand what Zionism is. They do not understand that Jews are a people/nation (Hebrew "am", עם)  and that Zionism is their movement for self-determination, a right that liberals would fight for the death for in the case of Tibetans or Kurds or whatever the current oppressed-people-of-the-week are. And, given that Ingalls wrote an earlier column where she defended her choice to send her kids to public school rather than a Jewish school - because teaching diversity to her children is apparently more important to her than teaching her own heritage - it appears that Ingall's own attachment to Judaism does not extend much beyond coming up with props for seders.

She is like a "tinok shenishba", a term that I have no doubt that she has never heard of. It is no wonder that she is ambivalent about Israel - she doesn't have the basic knowledge about Israeli history, about Zionism, and about Judaism itself to mount a credible defense of Israel to anyone.

And she is raising a new generation of uninformed Jews.

Ingalls is very clear that she wants her children to learn all points of view. With all due respect for a person who makes a living on writing columns on Jewish parenting, this is good in theory and absolutely idiotic in practice. Children should be raised with a strong sense of identity, a sense of belonging to a people much bigger than themselves. They should be raised to have strong beliefs and have the tools to defend them. Children should  have joy and pride in their people, their neighborhood, their town, their nation, and their heritage. There is nothing wrong with bringing up children to have a strong set of values that reflects their heritage, and to teach them as it becomes appropriate how to defend those values. I am not saying to raise kids to be ignorant of other viewpoints, but it is far preferable for Jews to raise children to identify with their own people and history rather than to give Judaism and/or Zionism an equal timeslot with Buddhists, Mayans, Palestinian Arabs and Canadians. It is not evil nor is it bigoted to teach children that their own people come first. As they grow they have plenty of time to learn about everyone else and to formulate their own opinions, but a parent's job is not teach the kids how to surf the Internet and then let them learn everything themselves. It is to guide their learning to reflect the mores of the parents, their ancestors, their nation and their people. To ignore one's heritage is a disservice to the children.

Even worse - actually, almost unforgivable -  is to dismiss one's own people, who need to make agonizing life and death decisions every day, as mere bullies.

Marjorie, you have taken an important step in acknowledging your ambivalence. The question is, do you have the bravery to actually research the possibilities that Israel and Zionism are right? Are you going to rely on J-Street to teach you about Israel or are you going to actually take your children to Israel this summer? (Are you even aware that even liberal Israelis regard J-Street's politics as reprehensible?)  Are you going to trust a summer camp to teach your children a couple of Israeli songs and dances or are you going to spend the time to learn about your people's struggles first-hand - so you can be the one to teach them?

Believe it or not, Marjorie, there are many knowledgeable Jews who are proud Zionists and who can explain Israel better than NPR. The question is whether you will spend the time necessary to learn the truth about Israel, or if you will continue to lazily call Zionist Jews "bullies."

I can guarantee one thing, though: if you spend the time to learn the truth about Zionism, and if you learn how to be proud of your own people, your children - and grandchildren - will be the biggest beneficiaries.