Saturday, June 12, 2010

Obama, Israel & American Jews: The Challenge

At Commentary:

We asked 31 prominent American Jews to respond to this statement:

The open conflict between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has created tensions between the United States and Israel of a kind not seen since the days of the administration of the first President Bush. And those tensions are placing unique pressure on American Jews, who voted for Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 4-to-1 in 2008 after being assured by Obama himself and by his supporters in the Jewish community that he was a friend and an ally of the State of Israel despite his long association with, among others, the unabashedly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

We argue that American Jews are facing an unprecedented political challenge, and at a crucial moment, with the need to address the existential threat to Israel—and by extension to the future of the Jewish people as a whole—from a potentially nuclear Iran. How will American Jews handle this challenge? Can Obama’s Jewish supporters act in a way that will change the unmistakable direction of current American policy emanating from the White House? Will American Jews accept Barack Obama’s view that the state of Israel bears some responsibility for the loss of American “blood and treasure” in the Middle East? Will they continue to extend their support to the Obama administration and to Barack Obama’s political party?
And the 31 respondents:

Elliott Abrams, Morris J. Amitay, Peter Berkowitz, Kenneth J. Bialkin, Matthew Brooks, Mona Charen, Alan M. Dershowitz, Nathan J. Diamentis, Ira Forman, Abraham H. Foxman, Jonathan Gurwitz, Jeff Jacoby, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Jonathan Kellerman, Ed Koch, Martin Kramer, William Kristol, Michael Medved, Aaron David Miller, Tova Mirvis, Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Dennis Prager, Gary Rosenblatt, Jonathan D. Sarna, Robert Satloff, Dan Senor, Tevi Troy, Ruth R. Wisse, David Wolpe, and Eric H. Yoffie.
I poured over the essays for a couple of days. It's hard to pull out a favorite. I'll leave Jonathan Kellerman, but the whole thing's worth your time:
The only surprise about the tension between the Obama administration and Israel is that anyone is surprised.

While President Barack Obama was less than frank about his intentions to govern from the center, he never projected himself as a supporter of Israel beyond a few bland campaign clich├ęs. There were certainly clear indicators of what to expect: he palled around with Palestinian scholar and Israel-basher Rashid Khalidi and sipped Chardonnay with “reformed” domestic terrorists who’d been overtly hostile to Israel for decades. He admired Edward Said. He sat in a church pew for years and blithely ingested anti-Israel and frankly anti-Semitic rhetoric without a word of protest.

The greater issue isn’t that Obama is no great friend of Israel and never will be. The fascinatingly perverse tendency of Jews to vote against their self-interest is. Even with my psychological training, I don’t understand it. However, it is nothing new. Our history is rife with fractiousness and the tendency to over-intellectualize and to complicate simple issues of self-preservation. To some extent, our ability to promote an infinite array of opinions has contributed to the richness of our culture. Often, however, it has lead to tragedy. Let’s not forget that it was a certain group of Jews that invited the Romans into Jerusalem.

My personal opinion—and I’ve written about this before—is that the bifurcation of Israel and Judaism is structurally fallacious. The Land of Israel is an essential ingredient of Judaism practiced fully. Thus, it is impossible to be anti-Israel and not be anti-Jewish. And in fact, the war being waged against Israel by the Muslim world is, at the core, a religious dispute. Radical Islamists no longer talk about Zionists; they come right out and broadcast their goal of eradicating worldwide Jewry. The same squarely theological cast informs Islam’s struggle against “Western values,” which is really a buzzword for Christianity. Failure to recognize any link between Israeli and Jewish survival is the same old pathological denial that has informed the most tragic chapters of Jewish history.

No doubt there are many people who will disagree, ranging from the pseudo-Zionists of J Street to the Satmar Hasidim. Hostility toward Israel engenders fascinating levels of Jewish “pluralism.”

Obama will come and go. Jewish antipathy toward Israel and Judaism itself will endure. And that is the challenge