But Is It Good for the Jews?

granda and granddaughterJews ask, “Is it good for Israel?”

During the 1980s a longtime family friend, who was part of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party machine and appointed to serve on the bench, shocked us by voting for Ronald Reagan, instead of the Democratic presidential candidate. His explanation to my parents – who like many American Jews were liberal Democrats – was: “Reagan would be better for Israel.” Many Jewish voters have factored the following into their political equations: “But is it good for Israel?” And/or, “But is it good for the Jews?”

World Jewry needs to critically, analytically re-ask that question in the wake of the Anti-Defamation League’s disturbing new report on anti-Semitism in the U.S. ADL’s audit found: “The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States remained at a ‘sustained and troubling’ level in 2009… [with] 1,211 incidents of vandalism, harassment and physical assaults against Jewish individuals, property, and community institutions.” An L.A. Times article about ADL’s audit noted “a sharp uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in California last year,” which “rose 20% for the second straight year.” ADL’s National Director Abraham Foxman lamented: “The fact that Jews continue to be singled out for acts of hate on an average of three times per day in this country is a disturbing reality that we have to confront.”

According to ADL’s press release these thrice daily hate acts vary in virulence, from June 2009’s “shooting attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. by an avowed Holocaust denier” to “a thwarted plot by four Muslim converts to bomb synagogues in Riverdale, New York” to “Kick a Jew Day” at Florida and Virginia schools, to “severe intensification of anti-Semitic expression in cyberspace.”

What explains these contemporary outbursts? Of course, there’s the age-old prejudice and bigotry of hate mongers like the clearly disturbed Mel Gibson, whose sadomasochistic Passion picture reminded the world of the hook-nosed “Hebe” stereotype of Jews as “Christ killers.”

But ADL cited another reason for current “anti-Semitic expressions” that, as Foxman urged, we must confront: “response to Israel’s actions in Gaza in January 2009.” Indeed, before and after its overkill invasion of Gaza, Israel has outraged the world’s conscience and provoked public opinion with controversial actions, such as:

  • building the separation wall — often on Palestinian land while slicing and dicing the West Bank; 2006’s massive bombardment and invasion of Lebanon
  • extrajudicial kidnappings and killings;
  • apparently forging passports of allies; snubbing American peace efforts by announcing new East Jerusalem settlements during Vice President Joe Biden’s March 2010 visit to Israel;
  • the draconian blockade of Gaza; attacking a ship in international waters carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, resulting in the deaths of around nine activists and many injuries.

At a demonstration protesting the raid on the Gaza flotilla, Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old Jewish American, Israeli citizen and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, was hit in the eye by a teargas canister fired by Israelis. The aspiring artist lost her eye – and the Israeli government has refused to pay her hospital bill. And so on.

The Israeli government’s U.S.-subsidized policies, which favor militarism over negotiation and compromise, serve to isolate and alienate it from most of the world. The ancient animus against Jews alone does not explain why only Washington and its puppet regimes in Micronesia vote for Israel in the U.N. Whether under Labor, Likud, Kadima or coalition rule, the Israeli government’s predilection to opt for the iron heel, instead of the olive branch, generates massive international opposition to and anger against the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors.

However, thousands of miles from Israel, opponents in America, Europe and elsewhere often can’t directly confront the source of their ire. In addition, many may not be politically sophisticated, and don’t distinguish between the Jewish homeland and Jews. So some lash out against Jewish targets near at hand, erroneously perceiving them as culpable for Palestinian suffering.

To be sure, the wellspring of virulent anti-Semitism may inflame some protesters. But the inconvenient truth is that rightwing ultra-militaristic Israeli governments flouting international law and committing war crimes hold Jews around the world hostage. Unable to strike at Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, anti-Israeli militants in Washington, California, Paris, etc., take it out on the rest of us – who don’t have the IDF to defend us against this rage.

Endless settlements, razing olive groves, aerial bombardments with children and other unarmed civilians as “collateral damage,” expelling Noam Chomsky, bulldozing villages and Rachel Corrie, etc., increase the vulnerability of Jews everywhere, such as those worshippers leaving a New Jersey synagogue in June 2009 taunted by a drive-by screamer shouting “Six million more! Six million more!”

It’s easy to change the subject from Israeli policies by calling critics “anti-Semites” or “self-hating Jews” — distractions meant to avoid honestly discussing substance. Criticizing conservative Israeli administrations doesn’t mean most Jews don’t support Israel’s right to exist; we do. And we know violence is a two-way street in the Holy Land, and that attacking unarmed civilians is despicable, no matter by whom. Jews have as much right to a homeland as any people (including Palestinians).

But when the State of Israel was created shortly after the Holocaust, we hoped for a democratic society to protect our oppressed brethren. We didn’t sign on to become oppressors and brutalizers 60 years later. Along with Blacks, Jews are America’s most liberal voting bloc; why should we support reactionary Israeli regimes? Human rights know no nationality or religion, and we must not become what we hated. That way lies losing our souls, our humanity, ourselves – especially for Jews, with our cherished progressive tradition.

The Netanyahu government’s “might makes right” stance not only jeopardizes international Jewry, but above all endangers Israel. Unnecessarily pissing off most of the international community may not be a good survival strategy, but it is a tried and true formula for hate crimes perpetrated against those perceived as belonging to the offenders. Since when does inciting and being inflammatory make one safer? World Jewry must repudiate diplomacy at the point of a gun or nuke, return to its humanist roots and support a peace process based on the spirit of negotiation and compromise.

American Jews should stop donating to AIPAC and politicians held captive by violent policies that put all Jews at risk of reprisal. We should only support lobbyists, candidates, etc., who endorse a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we should pressure Washington to cut off economic aid to Israel that in effect subsidizes its muscle flexing.

A famous Jew once said, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Rule by the hobnailed boot in the face makes all Jews, in and outside of Israel, less safe. Lest we forget, it is written in the Old Testament: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Now, that’s what’s good for the Jews – and Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and others.

Ed Rampell

Bar Mitzvah boy Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based freelance writer and author of Progressive Hollywood.

Published by the LA Progressive on August 7, 2010
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About Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. Rampell is a L.A.-based film critic/historian and author. Michael Moore is on the cover of Rampell’s book Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.