Monday, March 1, 2010

Feeding the Golem--My Fellow Jews Are Addicted to Anger and Fear Too

In a recent article, I wondered out loud why most of people say they want to be happy and yet spend an ever-increasing amount of time and energy reading, watching, and listening to people who promise to make us angry and afraid. Our need for anger and fear has become so insatiable that it borders on the pathological. We are not just addicted—we spend much of our time seeking out the very stuff that we claim to find repulsive and should want to avoid.

If that doesn’t make you feel bad enough, it is even worse among my fellow Jews—particularly for those of us who consider ourselves to be “pro-Israel” and purport to care a great deal about the well-being of our Jewish homeland.

I have dealt with this theme in separate articles about anti-Semitism and the schizophrenic relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel. But the facts on the ground seem to be getting so much better and yet the problem seems to be getting so much worse that it seemed important to bring it up again.

Just last week, the Gallup Poll revealed that Israel is now viewed  more positively by Americans than at any time in history. A full 63 percent of us favor the approach the Israelis are taking in their disputes with the Palestinains while only 15 percent of Americans say they think the Palestinians are behaving better.
That comes on top of a Gallup Poll taken last year which shows that Jews are more widely respected that any other religious group in America.

That comes on top a a poll taken a few years ago that showed that more than 80 percent of non-Jewish parents would be moderately to extremely pleased if their child married a Jew. When a similar poll was taken of the same group 50 years ago, the results were a mirror image—more than 80 percent of the non-Jewish parents said they would be moderately to extremely upset.

That comes on top of the fact that discrimination against Jews in the workplace, neighborhoods, private clubs, and universities that was once so common has virtually disappeared.

There are certainly still bigots out there who say and do horrible things. But when they do, they are vilified and marginalized by broader society. There is still Jew-hatred out there, but there is no government or societal anti-Semitism. There is no place in our country where that type of racist and bigoted behavior is considered acceptable.

As I write this article, I am in Beunos Aires where, like dozens of other places in the world, true anti-Semitism exists.  If a Jew suffers from discrimination or an act of Jew-hatred, the broader society is indifferent at best and is often tacitly approving of the act.  That used to be the case in much of the U.S. but, thankfully that is no longer the case.  It is important to use vocabulary that acknowledges the difference.

We also now have an American president who surrounded himself with Jewish advisers and who has made it clear that he regards Israel as a unique and trusted ally in the Middle East and has repeatedly stated that American support of Israel will never waver.

With all of these amazing and wonderful developments, it seems as though the American Jewish community should be in a state of euphoria and constant celebration. Just about everything we worked and prayed for over the last 40 years has seemingly come to pass.

As we all know, we are seeing the exact opposite.

Every email I receive from a fellow Jew has the same theme as those I get from my friends on the Right wing.

Be very angry and very, very afraid.

My friends who claim to be pro-Israel (none of whom has a first, second, or third home there) are constantly pointing out the horrible behavior of Arabs in general, Palestinians in particular, and those who believe that Israel is to blame for the problems in the Middle East.

They also make sure we are aware of how unfairly Israel is treated by the U. N. and that the Jewish state is held to a punitive double standard by the international community in general.

We are constantly warned of the risks created by a nuclear Iran and reminded that the only realistic course of action is a pre-emptive attack by Israel, the U.S. or some combination of our allies.
We are also told of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents on college campuses such as the recent heckling and demonstrations against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren when he spoke at UC-Irvine.

I want to be very clear. Every single one of these complaints and observations has a factual basis. Every one raises valid concerns. We Jews who care about Israel should be aware of the issues and not be naïve or stick our heads in the sand.

But where is the balance? Where is the acknowledgement and exultation over the list of wonderful facts I cited earlier? Would anyone who did nothing but read emails and posts from their pro-Israel friends ever have even a hint of all the positive developments that have occurred in recent years?

An old joke that you don’t see much anymore gave the definition of a Jewish telegram.

“Start worrying. Details to follow.”

That joke was the product of an era where most of the details were not good. There was very little good news that followed for most Jews for many centuries.

But now that so many of the details are so positive, isn’t it about time that we sent a new telegram.

“Stop worrying all the time. Some of the details are actually pretty good.”