The Mindset of Progressive Jews and the ‘Israeli Problem’
JNS.org – In the sweltering heat of a Chicago summer, my friend marched outside the South African consulate, protesting apartheid. Years earlier, she had protested Jim Crow in front of a Woolworths store in Chicago, failing to comprehend that her beloved big government—not Woolworths—prevented blacks from sitting at lunch counters on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.
In the midst of the 1980 presidential election, as the nation convulsed in economic turmoil, she brought an otherwise pleasant dinner party to an end when she said the most important thing in America was fighting racial injustice.
She would ambush nearly everyone with some leftist talking point and assume a level of moral superiority when they could not respond because it hadn’t been their foremost concern.
When Israel went into Gaza to stop the random death raining from the skies on its southern cities, she awoke me from a deep sleep one night to start sobbing into the phone about the children dying in Gaza.
I reminded her that in all the exchanges between Israel and Gaza, never once did she ever express any sympathy for Israeli children, and that Gaza was ruled by a bunch of murderous thugs. She merely continued to sob, fixated on horrific pictures of dead children in Gaza, obliviously insisting that the Israeli incursion should stop immediately.
My acquaintance is the epitome of the progressive-minded Jew. With all the rallies she attended, she never once marched for Israel or even for the release of Soviet Jewry. Today, her mantra is the “occupation”—“the root cause of worldwide hostility toward Israel.” The rabbi of her north suburban congregation preaches that Israel must take risks for peace, but after the winter break from her rabbinical studies in Israel, she, unlike the rest of her class, postponed returning to Israel until Saddam’s scuds were no longer a threat—a behavior she repeatedly denies. And the congregation, like many American liberal Jews ensconced in the safety of suburbia, would never allow their children to take public transportation downtown after dark. But Israelis, they reason, should take risks for peace.
You can remind my friend that even before there was a state of Israel, there were Arab pogroms. Israel risked for peace by leaving Gaza. Diaspora Jews even put up money to buy the flourishing, lucrative greenhouses of the Israeli “occupants,” so the people of Gaza would have a thriving industry. They fell upon the greenhouses like barbarians entering Rome, mindless of their value, and vandalized them for their parts and scrap.
In Gaza, Israel unilaterally yielded land for peace, along with a housewarming present, and got Iranian Grad missiles and Qassam rocket fire in return. Not quite the bargain the liberal Jews predicted.
But liberals never give up. You can show them pictures of East Germany, the old Soviet Union, and Venezuela today and tell them communist economies do not work. And they will tell you, it just hasn’t been done right. So, forget Gaza, it just wasn’t done right. Let Israel repeat the same insanity in Judea and Samaria. Israel should leave the disputed territories, and there will be peace. As Arabs tell me, if they control the Judean hills, no plane will ever be assured of landing safely at Ben Gurion Airport. Gaza in comparison will look like a fireworks show.
At interfaith meetings, the good liberal Protestant clergy tell us that it’s all up to Israel, for Israel is the more powerful entity. And ultra-liberal Jews, like my friend, mouth this banality as if one can negotiate with oneself. I always wonder why the Presbyterians are so convinced they have the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict but have been incapable of finding a real solution in Northern Ireland, where the peace is still periodically shattered by a petrol bomb. And the Lutherans might reflect on how much their church has accomplished with ethnic minorities in Europe.
The internal communal dialogue with progressive Jews is a waste of time. They voted twice for President Barack Obama and will support his Iran nuclear deal to the last Israeli. I suspect my friend cannot name one human rights advocate who disappeared in Zimbabwe’s prisons, but rest assured that if there is a demonstration in front of the Zimbabwe consulate in Chicago for Cecil the Lion, she will be there.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought (@salomoncenter on Twitter).