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

Jews Have Unbreakable Spiritual Link Despite Rifts

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By Leonard Fein

Published January 18, 2014.
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For America’s Jews, it is easier to live with the earlier myths, rich resources of vicarious pride. We prefer not to know the whole truth, and when the knowledge is unavoidable, we blame its messengers and do our best to dissemble, in no small measure because we fear the enemies of the Jews may otherwise overhear. Even in our internal conversations, we are less than candid.

The most grievous consequence is the discrepancy between the Israel we celebrate and the Israel our own children observe. Where now? We grow apart. Here, religion – Judaism – along with a vague sense of Jewish peoplehood make a mess of pottage. And there? There Judaism suffers from all the distortions to which an empowered state religion is vulnerable. In the end, our Judaism bears little resemblance to Israel’s.

During the brief time when peace seemed imminent, we wondered how we might adjust to life without crisis, to an Israel free from peril. Now that the prospect of peace seems at best uncertain, we wonder how to adjust to an Israel whose crisis is in significant measure of its own manufacture. [I have in mind especially the Occupation, but also the accelerating right-wing trajectory of the State.]

But peace or no peace, we shall have to enrich the sense of peoplehood, of a shared Jewish culture, if the connection is to endure. Failing that, there is little ground for intimacy. And that enrichment is a challenge both to us and to them. They are Israelis; we are Americans. And where and how being Jewish blends with those categories is, so far, a question that has only meager answers.

In the meantime, there remain politicians to persuade and enemies to rebut. As problematic as the relationship may be, the terrorist threats are real, as are the daily calumnies hurled at Israel, calumnies that lack all sense of proportion. Whatever our private agonies, our memories will not permit us to relax our vigilance.

While Netanyahu is plainly wrong when he claims it is today 1938 again – a trope he seems lately to have dropped – and not every crisis Israel confronts is an existential crisis, as too many of Israel’s leaders believe or find it useful to claim, while Israel is hardly a nation “abandoned, alone,” the ongoing assault on Israel’s very legitimacy is rankling and, at the margins, even dangerous.

Some day, we shall have to contemplate the ironies, the ambiguities, the contradictions; just now, the flames are still smoldering, and they override our confusions. Some day, we shall have to develop a new and more apposite theory of the Israel-Diaspora connection.

That day is coming, but our fears, both the real and the post-traumatic (and yes, also the manipulated) delay it.


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