Vic Rosenthal's weekly column:
Rabbi Eric Yoffie is offended by Michael Oren, on behalf of (non-Orthodox) American Jews. These Jews, like America’s “first Jewish president,” turn out to be very easy to offend, if you think Israelis are best qualified to run the country they live in.
Oren’s new book has offended both Yoffie and the Obama Administration, which has launched an all-out media blitz against him (as far as I know, Obama spokespeople haven’t called him a ‘chickenshit’ yet, but give them time).
Obama is angry because Oren has exposed the fact (which Obama believes he had managed to hide) that despite his words to the contrary, he could not care less about Israel’s security; the empowerment of Iran and the partition of Israel to create a ‘Palestinian’ state take priority over our survival. And I might add that it doesn’t help Obama’s case when Oren describes the way he and his surrogates have treated our country and our Prime Minister with contempt since day one back in 2009.
But what about the liberal Jews that Yoffie represents? He explains:
What actually happened, according to the book, is that Michael Oren came to see American Jews as unreliable in their support of Israel, quick to criticize the Jewish state, and unable to appreciate Israel’s vulnerabilities. In his eyes, they were unsure of their own position in America. This made them incurable do-gooders, forever babbling about Tikkun Olam, and more inclined to help others than their own. To Oren’s dismay, the harder he worked, the more critical of Israel the community became. …“I could not help questioning whether American Jews really felt as secure as they claimed [Oren writes]. Perhaps persistent fears of anti-Semitism impelled them to distance themselves from Israel and its often controversial policies. Maybe that was why so many of them supported Obama, with his preference for soft power, his universalist White House seders, and aversion to tribes.”This, then, is Michael Oren’s message: American Jews flee from commitment to Israel and the controversies that Israel provokes. They prefer weakness to strength, the universal to the particular, and the weak-willed Democrats to the stand-tall Republicans. And the reason for all of this is not conviction but fear — fear for their well-being in America and fear of the anti-Semitism that lurks beneath the surface.
Oren’s words here say nothing about the pride, power, and toughness of the American Jewish community. They say nothing about how indispensable American Jews remain to Israel’s standing in America. They say nothing about the relative cohesion of American Jews at times of war and crisis in Israel. And they say nothing about the obvious fact that disagreements between American Jews and Israel are natural and flow mostly from the same questions of politics and values that divide Israelis from one another. … [H]e gave us a book dripping with contempt.
I must say that I can feel for Michael Oren, because I was in almost the same position in my last few years in the US. No, I wasn’t the ambassador, but I was deeply involved in pro-Israel activism and the Jewish community. I was the treasurer of our local Jewish Federation, and my wife was the president of the Hadassah chapter (more than once). We stood on street corners in small groups facing huge anti-Israel demonstrations every time Israel was forced to defend herself. We went to meetings, lectures and films put on by the well-organized anti-Israel groups and distributed our material. We obtained speakers, showed films, and held panel discussions. We thought it was important for American Jews to support Israel, because if we didn’t, who would?
We tried to bring the local Jewish community – the organizations, the synagogues and individual Jews – along with us. With a few exceptions, mostly people like us who had lived in Israel or had relatives there, we had to drag them kicking and screaming. Most of our pro-Israel events drew the same few supporters.
The local Reform temple was probably the most frustrating. A film critical of J Street, followed by a discussion? Absolutely not, it would be ‘divisive’! The Jewish Federation and Hadassah were better, but it was always easier to organize an event about Jewish culture than Israel.
Is Oren right that American Jews are more interested in helping others than their own? Certainly they were far more upset about terrorism in Charleston than Jerusalem, and far more ready to criticize our Prime Minister than their own administration. The Reform rabbi threw himself into activities to help the poor and homeless. He is seen on TV on panels with the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center. He is an outspoken advocate of liberal causes, but he did not give a sermon in favor of PM Netanyahu’s speech about Iran before the Congress.
Is it because of fear of anti-Semitism? I can’t say, and Oren exposes himself to quibbles when he speculates about motives. But the sheer obtuseness of Jews who insist on calling for an utterly impossible “two-state solution” despite the other side’s willingness to kill and die to prevent our keeping a state within any borders, and the ones that supported and still continue to support the administration’s Iran policy (which even Yoffie calls “profoundly mistaken and dangerous”) despite overwhelming evidence against it make me wonder. What drives their irrational attitudes?
Why was it that even after we showed them that J Street was funded by the anti-Zionist George Soros and received contributions from people associated with Saudi Arabia and Iran, they continued to support J Street? Why was it that they continued to contribute to the New Israel Fund after we showed them that some of its grantees advocated BDS and some called for the “de-Zionisation” of Israel?
Oren admits that he despaired of trying to win over US Jews. Just this week I heard a veteran American pro-Israel activist say that she was going to concentrate on building non-Jewish support, because working with people who can’t be persuaded by facts is a waste of time.
Yoffie is wrong about the “cohesion of American Jews at times of war and crisis in Israel.” They didn’t cohere when we needed them for counter-demonstrations during Cast Lead, and they haven’t cohered against Obama’s plan to empower Iran with nuclear weapons. If not now, when?
And he is wrong when he says that the disagreements about Israel in the US are similar to those among Israelis: in Israel, the great majority of Israelis agree that negotiations with the PLO are fruitless, that Gaza must continue to be blockaded, and that the US-Iran deal is a disaster. Yes, there are sharp political disagreements, but except for the extremists (the small academic/media/artistic Left) the disagreements are about personalities, style and domestic economic issues.
In a recent interview, Oren repeated the joke about two Jews who are about to be murdered by the SS. When one of them refuses to be blindfolded, the other tells him “don’t make trouble.”
American Jews don’t want to make trouble. They want to be like their non-Jewish liberal friends, with whom they complain about those troublesome settlements and that stubborn, ungrateful Netanyahu. They get a warm feeling from saying that they support “their” president. It makes them feel good about themselves to say that “Palestinians have rights, too.”
And if the war that results from Obama's destabilizing policy ends up killing a lot of us, they will be sorry it happened, but they will read with approval in the NY Times that it was our fault for not “making peace” when we had the chance.