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.


  1. arabmuslim says

    This is the Zionist terrorism
    There is no state called Israel. State of thieves called Israel a basis of the displacement and killing of Innocent nation of thieves basis bloodshed and war And the arrest of people for tens of years to prevent him from claiming The right to life . basis steal the land of the Palestinian people And then steal the land of the Arab-Muslim the entire .State of the thieves do not know the law ….. Does not recognize the law of the United Nations, a state that considers itself above the law . the law is the siege of Gaza And the bloodshed and destruction of houses and killing innocent people and occupying the country This is a country named Israel thieves.This is the Zionist terrorism

  2. says

    “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Maybe, but usually in this world death by the sword will be even quicker and more certain if you don’t have and sometimes brandish a sword of your own. And aren’t ready to ‘piss off’ an ‘international community’ that itself largely operates by ‘might-makes-right’.

    That’s precisely what the Netanyahu government (like its predecessors in Israel) seems to recognize. Foolishly, the Obama government too often pretends that we already live in a lovey-dovey world (one complete with peace prizes – at least for Afghan warmakers) where we don’t have to recognize this.

    Maybe the Obama approach looks reasonable to a USA with thousands of miles of ocean buffer, and no remaining enemies on our continent. But after all it’s easy for us to preach ‘NO SWORDS’! to countries which are nowhere in that position. By comparison, Israel is about the size and shape of southwestern southern California (less a ‘San Diego strip’ for Gaza), and immediately across its frontiers lie regimes whose leaders, schools and media tolerate or actively preach anti-Jewish (as well as anti-Israel) hate incessantly.

    For a reasonable person, as versus propagandized fanatic, imperfection in a national regime’s policies is NOT warrant for umbrage, let along hatred, let alone violence, against innocents that cannot help being associated with that regime. That goes for whether the nation is the USA and the innocents are Americans working a WTC office tower, or the nation is Israel and the innocents are Jews around the world.

    Even less an excuse for umbrage or hatred is a nation’s imperfect policies which are forced on it in self-defense, especially if indeed that measure is a lesser-evil defensive measure which is actually saving civilian lives on both sides.

    Such imperfection, for instance, is Israel’s blockade against military-support goods to Gaza, as the alternative to what would otherwise be a destructive ongoing (not just temporary) military conflict in Gaza (including even Gaza City) with the Hamas regime there which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

    Another such imperfection is the so-called separation ‘wall’ – actually a fence for over 95% of its length, which has largely stopped both suicide bombings in Israel and resulting reprisals in Palestinian territories. Progressive Americans who are upset with this ‘wall’ fence should first demand the dismemberment of the USA-Mexico frontier fence and cessation of the actual USA-Mexico wall-building.

    As Rampell notes: of course in 1948 Israelis (as well as other Jews) ‘didn’t sign on to become oppressors and brutalizers 60 years later’. But that alleged role is yet forced on them by a Palestinian society and combination of dominant thuggeries that still can’t take Yes for an answer: still can’t and doesn’t say Yes to a Palestine that coexists with a viable Israel.

    Sure, actually having a messianic world now is what would be good for the Jews, indeed best for everyone. Short of that, actually building such a world will require starting from realism, not pretense.

    • Paul McDermott says

      As usual, Joe, you’ve missed the whole point of this article. You think that because Israel is such a small country (growing larger by the decade, by the way) that Israel has to brutalize and discriminate against its non-Jewish, native population and attack its neighbors. By transferring your logic you’ve made such a strong case for German aggression in the 1930s and 1940s!
      You’ve buried any rational sense in your verbose garbage. Israel doesn’t have to abide by international laws and standards because of its exceptional situation.
      You say that the “alleged” role of oppressor has been forced on Israel by a Palestinian society and “combination of dominant thuggeries” (?!). The Palestinians didn’t invite the Zionists to take over their country and dispossess them of their land. The British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the Holocaust in Europe were the “combination of dominant thuggeries” you are certainly referring to, which have led to Palestinian dispossession and instability in that region. A “combination of dominant thuggeries” conspire to involve the United States in these Zionist machinations.

  3. H. Scott Prosterman says

    Nice article Ed. I was blackballed from the Jewish Communities in Memphis and Ann Arbor for making the same arguments and honored with placement on the SHIT list. See “The Upside of Hell” in the LAP and see if you made the cut. HSP

  4. Lauren Steiner says

    Great article, Ed. I agree with you 100%. But unfortunately correlation does not prove causation. In other words, the increase in anti-Semitism in the US may also result from the fear generated by the worsening economic situation of most Americans. It certainly explains the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. Without polling the perpetrators, it would hard to know the actual cause. This comment is not meant to detract from your excellent point that blind support for Israel’s policies is not doing Israel or Jews worldwide any good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *