How Israel Went From Beacon of Hope to 'Normal' Outpost of Reaction

Jews Have Unbreakable Spiritual Link Despite Rifts

getty images

By Leonard Fein

Published January 18, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The literature on Jewish self-hate is vast; not so the literature on Jewish self-love.

Max Weber once proposed that oppressed peoples develop a “theodicy of disprivilege,” a way of explaining to themselves (and compensating for) their persecution, and that the most common such theodicies rely on the assertion by the oppressed of their superior moral virtue. After all, the others hate unreasonably, while we, the innocent, harm no one.

The sense of moral advantage was and remains to this day a prominent aspect of Jewish self-understanding, but it peaked back in 1967, when, on the eve of the Six Day War, all the world saw embattled Israel as Good and bellicose Egypt and Syria as Evil. Since then, we’ve learned – reluctantly – that the fact of Jewishness does not provide immunity against either folly or felony. We’ve learned, reluctantly, that power does indeed tend to corrupt, a lesson our earlier impotence had blocked us from knowing up close.

What has Israel meant to America’s Jews? It has revolutionized our sense of Jewish possibility. We can, after all, be soldiers and farmers, we can be hustlers and hard-hats, we can, for better and for worse, be “normal.” Once, we yearned for the day when there would be in (then) Palestine a Jewish jail, with a Jewish guard on the outside and a Jewish prisoner on the inside. At the same time, however, we yearned for a Zion that would be a light unto the nations.

We wanted normalcy, and we also wanted exceptionalism.

For a while, exceptionalism seemed victorious: The immigrants were absorbed, and the deserts did bloom, and the citizen-soldiers acted with noteworthy restraint.

Now, normalcy is in the ascendant. Consumerism is in the center ring, bracketed on the one side by messianic fundamentalism (religious and national) and on the other, nearly in the shadows, by a secular messianism that seems increasingly a charming anachronism.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.