Israel’s American Allies
“By punishing an Israeli soldier for finishing off a wounded terrorist, you’re trying to please the wrong gentiles.”
“What are you talking about? We’re living up to Jewish values. Don’t tell us how to be Jewish.”
“No. You’re trying to please the wrong gentiles.”
This imaginary exchange articulates an unstated tension between Jews, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, and Israel’s gentile supporters in the United States. What drives these Americans? Their motives are not well understood. Now that a military court in Tel Aviv has convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of manslaughter for killing a “neutralized” terrorist who stabbed his comrade, it’s a good time to shed light on this variance.
The hazards of misjudging one’s enemies are obvious, but misunderstanding one’s friends brings dangers both shrouded and delayed.
I take it upon myself to speak for many Americans who support Israel, even though this demographic is not monolithic and no one has appointed me its representative. Nevertheless, reasonably accurate generalizations are possible. My observations are informed by my background as a cultural anthropologist, a student of history, a journalist and a veteran who has been both trial counsel (prosecutor) and defense counsel at courts martial.
Bottom line up front: We are not Europeans, and we don’t care about your “purity of arms.” Our eyes glaze over when you talk about the IDF being the most “moral” and “humane” army in the world. We are people with the Bible in our bones, and our emotional connection with Israel emanates from our perception of modern Zionists as reawakened Bronze Age warriors.
Almost from the moment Azaria shot the man who stabbed his comrade in Hebron, Judea, on March 24, 2016, Israel’s leadership began a campaign of virtue signaling to the Europeans that prejudiced the young sergeant’s chance of ever getting a fair trial. In what would have been considered unlawful command influence in the United States sufficient for any competent defense counsel to have the charges dismissed, the prime minister, the then-defense minister and the army chief of staff rushed to condemn the medic for killing a “neutralized” attacker.
Are you kidding us? Our connection with the Jewish people began with the story of David killing the “neutralized” Goliath, with Yael killing the “neutralized” Sisera and with Judith killing the “neutralized” Holofernes. These grisly homicides are memorialized in countless representations in Western art, and nowhere is there any suggestion that they were unjustified.
In his defense, Sgt. Azeria asserted that he suspected the terrorist of trying to detonate a bomb under his coat. But, perhaps in an unguarded moment, the soldier added: “It’s logical that a terrorist who comes to murder must die.”
Are such beliefs un-Jewish? Or, at least, are they incompatible with modern rabbinical Judaism? Many would say so, including some prominent rabbis. Others see things differently.
Following a meeting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2016, leading rabbis issued a statement that supports Sgt. Azaria’s position. As reported that day in Israel National News: “Every Arab terrorist who goes out from his home with an intention to harm Jews loses the right to exist, and they should be shot without any superfluous considerations,” declared the rabbis.
Condemning the generals and politicians who attempted to prejudice the legal proceedings against the young soldier, the rabbis quoted Deuteronomy 20:8, saying, “Those who don’t want to act in this way should not take on a role of responsibility for the security of Israel — ‘the man who is fearful and fainthearted, let him go and return unto his house.'” Most American gentiles who support Israel agree with these rabbis. What about American Jews?
Observers on the Left and Right have noted that young American Jews are becoming increasingly indifferent, or even alienated, from Israel and the Zionist enterprise. Thought follows feeling. Humans filter information and generate rationalizations to support their preferred emotional state. And the emotional state preferred by most young American Jews is contrary to that of the stalwart Zionist pioneer who fights off attackers, who lives in a barracks state, and who performs reserve duty until middle age.
Historian Daniel Pipes believes that “Jewish support for Israel has weakened primarily because Jews are solidly on the liberal-left of the political spectrum . . . the side most critical of Israel” (Israel Hayom, April 18, 2016). At one time being on the liberal-left of the political spectrum and being an ardent supporter of Israel were not mutually exclusive, but those days are gone. And who embodies the preoccupations of the Jewish liberal-left? “Social justice” jihadists and climate-change hysterics.
Pipes writes that, from Israel’s point of view, the fact that American Jews – who make up 1.8 percent of the US population — are losing their ardor for Israel is made up for by the support of American conservatives, who make up 38 percent of the population. Of course, very few of these conservatives are Jewish. “The focus on Jewish opinion, therefore, has less salience than it once did. Conservatives, now the Zionist bulwark, deserve that attention and solicitude.”
And what drives this “Zionist bulwark” in America? What is the source of their admiration for Israel? It is the belief that Israelis know how to “take care of business” in the manner of their biblical forebears.
Jews both here and in Israel might recoil, saying: “If that’s what motivates you, we don’t want your support.” Fair enough. But if that’s the case, do us – the “Zionist bulwark” – the courtesy of no longer naming your children David, or Yael or Judith.