Before writing this, I think it is important to talk a little about who I am.
For the last 25 years, my involvement in the Jewish community and Israel have shaped my life. I have chaired campaigns, led missions, and served on the boards of Israel Bonds, Federation, United Jewish Appeal, CLAL, AIPAC, and two Jewish day schools. I have made 20 trips to Israel and studied Jewish texts religiously (I couldn't resist the pun). I still work hard, serve on and chair boards of, and have great affection for those organizations and take my Judaism very seriously. Jewish wisdom is the filter through which I try to run the major decisions in my life.
That's why I am so shocked and dismayed over the debilitating pathology that has gripped much of the organized Jewish community today--particularly those of my friends who proudly call themselves "pro-Israel."
What was once a proud, smart, intelligent, nuanced, and diverse movement has devolved into a combination cult-booster club championed by a handful of amazing people who lead a throng of angry, paranoid, one-issue folks with tunnel vision who often blur the difference between being a player and a fan.
Many of these people are my good friends--folks I really like, hang out with, and respect for most of what they do. That's what makes this so sad.
The deterioration of logic and perspective has been building for a while but it kicked into high gear over the last year when my Jewish friends discovered the power of blast emails. Suddenly ominous screeds decrying acts of anti-semitism and Israel hatred (most of them full of lies and distortions) started flying around the internet like shrapnel.
The senders seemed far more interested in being the first to share the latest tale of outrage than they were in determining the truth of what they were forwarding. I commented on this phenomenon last year (There's Never Enough Anti-Semitism to Make Some Jews Happy) and again when the hatred and paranoia hit new levels with the demonization of Obama during the presidential campaign.
While all this was going on, these same people were sending me more and more blasts making sure that I never forgot that 6 million of our people were killed by "them" during the Holocaust along with constant reminders that Obama was a secret Muslim, a friend of terrorists, not really an American, and wanted to destroy Israel. On a more pleasant note, there were constant triumphalist reminders of how fabulous and accomplished the Jewish people are and testimonials from real or fabricated Israelis telling us how wonderful things are in our homeland but that they need our hopes and prayers.
Discussion--a hallmark of Jewish interaction--was not encouraged. We were often instructed to forward the email to hundreds of our friends if we agreed--whatever that means--but we were told to simply delete it if we took issue with anything.
This was the biggest red flag of all. Judaism has survived and grown against all odds over the years due to its focus on dialogue and discussion. We are instructed by the Talmud to learn from all people. We are the people of "reply to all," not of "delete." We have always been the people of factcheck--not those who blindly race to forward provocative lies in order to be first in line.
This pathology seemed to peak last week after President Obama delivered his amazing speech in Cairo.
As most Americans, Israelis, and the rest of the world expressed their hope and admiration, my Jewish pro-Israel friends were going crazy with fear and anger. My strong suspicion is that few, if any, of them actually listened to Obama's speech. They were simply forwarding emails they received from self-proclaimed pro-Israel writers who knew before Obama opened his mouth that they would hate what he said.
Some have characterized me as an Obama apologist who will defend him no matter what he does. I admit that I am thrilled that Obama is our president but he doesn't need me to defend him. Many of his critics seem to have forgotten that the election is over and we have Obama as our president for the next 43 months regardless. We can't get upset over a speech and vote him out of office tomorrow. It doesn't work that way.
My agenda is not to defend Obama. It's to keep our conversation focused and balanced and to weed out the lies, distortions, anger, paranoia and triumphalism that have fouled our collective garden in recent years.
As bad as these qualities are, they are not the biggest loss we have suffered from this phenomenon.
That loss is the lack of focus on many of the challenges and issues that we need to confront as a people that get completely lost in the din created by the pro-Israel cult.
For example, with all the legitimate concern expressed over Iran and the Palestinian terrorists who want Israel, Jews, and America destroyed (all valid concerns), there is no discussion at all of the fact that Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a religious Jewish terrorist named Yigal Amir who to this day is regarded as a hero by most religious Israelis. Although he remains proud of his murderous act, the pardon of Amir is supported by a shocking 30 percent of all Israelis. Worth a discussion?
There has been much emailing accurately documenting the continuous bombing of Sderot and other locations near Gaza which prompted the Israeli incursion and bombing of that area months ago. I haven't heard a word, however, about the press accounts documenting that prominent Israeli rabbis were encouraging soldiers to behave cruelly and "show no mercy" to the Gaza civilians they encountered. Worth a discussion?
Ultimately, the "other"--in this case the Palestinian leaders and Muslims in general--are portrayed as being completely unwilling and/or disinterested in engaging in productive peace negotiations. Many of them deserve that criticism. But the implication is that their Jewish and Israeli counterparts are far more open-minded, and eager for peace.
My friend Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic--a Jewish American who lived and served as a West Bank prison guard in the Israeli army--shared this disquieting piece in his blog. This is a must-see for my many triumphalist Jewish friends. if you don't open any other links in this post, please watch this one. Worth a discussion? Have you received a copy of this from your Jewish pro-Israel friends?
What does it mean for an American Jew to be pro-Israel anyway? We are lucky enough to live at a time when any of us could literally move there tomorrow if we really wanted to or cared that much. We could vote in their elections and have our kids serve in the Israeli army and be full participants in the future of the Jewish homeland. Short of that, we could learn to communicate in Hebrew and own second or third or fourth homes there. That's what my Israeli friends have told me they would like us to do.
But none of my most strident pro-Israel American friends have done any of those things. They just pontificate, forward emails, get more and more afraid and angry, and try to convince others to do the same. Call me a self-hating Jew, but I don't think this is a good thing.
Now a growing number of those friends tell me they have never been more fearful than they are right now and I am right there with them. It's just that we are afraid for different reasons. They are worried that Obama has a secret agenda to "slit Israel's throat" and deliver the Jewish state into the hands of its enemies. I can't find a single reason to share that concern. Everything Obama has said and done and the team he has chosen to help him deal with the Middle East gives me reason for great hope.
My fear is that the principles of fairness, honesty, and intellectual rigor and the values that have made and kept Judaism great and vibrant over the centuries are being cast aside by a group of people who call themselves leaders and mean well but who now define being Jewish and pro-Israel as a spectator sport.
They sit in the stands screaming at the refs and complaining about the dirty play of the other team--often justifiably. But they no longer look in the mirror and focus on the one thing that we can actually do something about--how we can do better and take our own game to a higher level.
Unless and until we define being pro-Israel and seriously Jewish as involving BOTH of those behaviors then we will truly have reason to be very afraid.