Israel, US Jews, and the Left-Right Rift
JNS.org – In an op-ed this week on the rift between American Jews and Israel, Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev compares the “troubled marriage” to a romantic union gone sour. He does this through metaphor — a literary device that he clearly prides himself on employing to provide a snide description of the touted “match made in Jewish heaven” that is now, in his view, completely “on the rocks.”
“For many years it seemed like a love story from a fairy tale,” Shalev writes, apologizing in good liberal fashion for his use of “gender assignments” to the protagonists. “He [Israel] was brave, brash and handsome, like Paul Newman. She was rich and smart, a Jewish American princess, and what she lacked in beauty she made up for in unbridled worship for the very ground he marched on. It took them awhile to warm to each other — they kept at arm’s length for their first 19 years — but after June 1967 [the Six Day War] they fell into each other’s arms like long lost lovers.”
The “world’s foremost power couple,” according to Shalev, proceeded to engage in a kind of mutual opportunism, with Israel serving as American Jewry’s arm candy in exchange for the coveted advantage of “cruising on the fast lane to unparalleled power, money and influence” in Washington.
This metaphorical “dynamic duo” lived in harmony for several years, until the husband’s “attractive self-confidence morphed into obnoxious arrogance.” Sadly, writes Shalev, “70 years of overall success went to his head.” As a result, “He turned holier than thou, rebuffed reproof, wallowed in victimhood, labeled his critics anti-Semites and was mortified when [his wife], of all people, seemed to echo some of their sentiments. He wanted her to remain dutifully compliant, to do exactly as she’s told and to keep the checks coming, as always.”
In an act of defiance, however, she — American Jewry — “demanded equality and recognition.” Although initially he humored her by acquiescing, he ultimately reneged, preferring to keep things just as they were.
But her liberal friends were horrified by his “crude behavior.” Rather than changing his ways, he told his wife that he doesn’t need her anymore. To “add Chutzpah to the insult,” not only did he flagrantly seek out new buddies, chief among them US President Donald Trump (whom his wife considers a “bully, a racist and a closet anti-Semite”), but he began having an affair with her nemesis, evangelical Christians, whom he’d been “courting on the sly.”
The upshot, says Shalev, is that the couple’s only hope, if any remains, is for the abusive husband (Israel) to reform, and for the abused wife (American Jewry) to “finally devote her time and efforts to herself.” After all, “Years of unselfish dedication to his needs made her neglect herself and her own core values.”
What she should do now, Shalev recommends, is stop “catering to his whims” and start “nurture[ing] her ties with those, including his own tenants [members of the Israeli public], who share her views.”
Yes, Shalev concludes, Israeli and American Jews are on the fast track to a divorce, with the latter still hanging on for dear life to stand by her man.
Shalev’s metaphor, which he so deftly steers towards a tragic end, is laughable. The marriage between left-wing American Jews and left-wing Israeli Jews remains as strong as ever. Both communities loathe Trump and oppose Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Each believes that Israel is to blame for a lack of Palestinian statehood. Both espouse the “core values” of tikkun olam — the Jewish concept of making the world a better place, which they misrepresent as a mandate to worship at the altar of multiculturalism, globalism, environmentalism, feminism, and socialism.
Which brings us to the real reason for the broken bond that Shalev pretends to be bemoaning. As long as the Jewish state met two conditions — that she be a supplicant, politically correct wife (not a husband, as in Shalev’s metaphor), and unable to defend herself against annihilation without the protection and patronage of her wealthy and powerful husband abroad — she was worthy of liberal American-Jewish affection. But when Israel matured and got wise to the ills of socialism and the danger of Palestinian lies, she became an embarrassment.
While once admired by liberal US Jews for being a tiny David confronted by an antisemitic Goliath — a little lady in need of her big man for survival — Israel was slowly transforming into an uppity force to be reckoned with. Champions of genuine societal, economic, and individual freedom are natural fans of this kind of force. Yet such people tend to be conservatives, which most American Jews are not.
Furthermore, unlike Shalev’s characterization, the evangelicals are not Israel’s “mistress.” They simply believe what the Bible says: that God gave Israel to the Jewish people.
Shalev is correct that there is a rift; he’s simply wrong about the bedfellows. It is the left and right on both sides of the Atlantic whose differences are irreconcilable.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the “Arab Spring”.