Saturday, June 22, 2013

Israelism Revisited

I have received a number of responses to yesterday's article in which I coined the term "Israelism" to describe the over zealousness on the part of many of my fellow Jews who are loving Israel to death.  Perhaps more damaging are their slanderous accusations of anti-Semitism against dozens of decent people and public figures--many of whom are Jewish themselves.

Some people have thanked me for "hitting the nail right on the head" and "saying what needed to be said."  But others, including many close friends, were annoyed and even angry over my use of the term "Israelism."

Here is part of what my good long-time and very intelligent friend Bruce had to say:

Your use of labels makes you, if not equal, then worse, then those you criticize. You are worse, because by criticizing those who falsely label others as anti-Semites, you admit that you know how wrong it is to label this way, yet you do it anyway.
You seek to support the branding of Israelism and Israelists to be a dirty word. Just what we need is a new title to label and brand another Jew. This is what Judaists think will return civil discourse?
Imagine if you were successful. We would all learn to hate Israelists. We would root out the ugly Israelists amongt us. Sort of like the new Amalekites. Supporting Israel must make you a dirty Israelist. And Israelism will eat your soul. Hell, if you were successful enough, your term would catch on and the mass media would begin to call any supporter of Israel an Israelist. Now, wouldn't that be wonderful?

First and foremost, I do not use "Israelist" to describe the vast majority of Jews who, like myself, feel a strong connection to the land and people of Israel and who take pride in the many accomplishments of the Jewish state.  It is only descriptive of the small but vocal and powerful group that claims to speak for the Jewish community (although it clearly doesn't) and violates most of the key Jewish prohibitions against using slander, distortions, and lies in an overt effort to destroy the reputations and careers of good people.

As always, I fell back on a sports analogy.  I can't help myself.  Before I was God's gift to money management and then the savior of the Jewish people I worked for ten years as a TV news reporter.

I am a big University of Arizona basketball fan. Like all successful programs they have a strong booster club (AIPAC?) which holds pep rallies where they sing the school song (Hatikvah?).and show highlight films which feature the great plays made by our team and the dirty plays made by the other team because the booster club is not there to educate or provide balance. Their goal is to get their fan base whipped up and make them even more devoted to the team. That is all a good thing.  I attend these pep rallies myself.
When I go to the games--which I love--the most vocal and rabid fans sit in a corner the student section--the Zona Zoo. In past years, a small but vocal group of self-described fans have shown their support for the team by spitting on and swearing at members of the other team.  Often these fans (which of course is short for the word "fanatic") did some research and found personal details about opposing players and used personal insults about their families as part of their desire to help the home team.  It got so bad that two opposing coaches said they wouldn't play at Arizona again unless their teams didn't have to walk through the tunnel that is always flanked by the abusive Wildcat fans.
 I don't think it is hateful for me as a fan to speak out against those who are giving the rest of us a bad name. Quite the opposite. I am proud that the University of Arizona revoked the season tickets of several of those fans, publicly apologized to their victims, and made it clear that this kind of "support" is in conflict with the schools values and ethics.  The players and coaches also made it clear that this kind of behavior actually hurts and embarrasses the team that these fans were trying to help. 

As an aside, a strong and healthy team also has radio talk show and blogs where fans like me who have opinions--sometimes positive and sometime critical-- can weigh in and be heard. That was the huge void in the pro-Israel infrastructure that was missing before J Street came along.

 My friend, we have studied Torah and Jewish wisdom together and you have worked with me for years on Federation and Israel Bonds campaigns and you know I was a past board member of AIPAC. I am a bigger fan of Israel than I am of either the Packers or the University of Arizona about which I am borderline fanatic.
The last thing in the world I would do is demonize or perjoratively label people who support the democratic Jewish State of Israel. But I think we need to rise up as a community and police our own ranks and make it clear that those who violate  principals of Jewish values and ethics by unfairly and publicly slandering public officials and fellow Jews and smear them as anti-Semites are crossing the biggest of red lines.

And when their behavior is as shameful and outrageous as those cited in my article from yesterday, they should be stripped of their tickets and asked to leave the stadium. Not because I disagree with their right to express their opinions and certainly not because they consider themselves staunch supporters of Israel but because those who engage obscenity and vulgarity and disregard for Jewish values should not be allowed to claim they speak for our Jewish community and reflect our values.

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