Right’s Wrong On Being Left

By Leonard Fein

Published June 25, 2004, issue of June 25, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

All right, let’s say that I am wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. Let’s say that in the November elections, America’s Jews will indeed abandon their traditional loyalty and vote for the Republican nominee for president. As I’ve written fairly often in recent months, I see no reason to think that will be so — that in defiance of precedent and common sense, this will be the election where the quadrennial prediction that the (Democratic) party’s over will finally prove out. Such public opinion surveys as I have seen all suggest that we’ll end up pretty much where we’ve mostly been: some 20-25% of us voting for George W. Bush, the vast majority voting for John Kerry.

But then why is there such a buzz about the prospect of a much larger Jewish vote for Bush? Is there really a semi-hidden groundswell? Are we in fact lurching, or ambling, or sidling, or skidding, rightward?

Apparently, there are some analysts and some Republican loyalists who think that’s so — or, at least, whose wishful thinking issues in wishful predicting. They don’t have data, whether hard or mushy, to verify their prognosis; instead, they rely on what they see as the logic of the case. What logic? Why, the issue that matters most to us, they assert, is Israel, and surely no president has been a better friend to Israel than George W. Bush has been.

That’s what the buzz boils down to, and the proposition therefore warrants examination. After all, the fact that Bush and Prime Minister Sharon have been so cozy does not in and of itself warrant placing the incumbent ahead of his presidential predecessors. What about Jimmy Carter, who, in his one term in office, did, after all, broker a peace between Egypt and Israel? Or Bill Clinton, who devoted more time to a resolution of the conflict than any other president? Or, for that matter, Harry Truman, who did, over State Department objections, recognize Israel? In any event, such efforts at ranking are rather silly. Israel does not need “the best,” whatever “best” means; it needs good.

Bush’s alleged goodness rests on several elements. He has given Sharon a very long leash; he has frozen out Yasser Arafat; he has viewed Israel as a real partner in the war against terrorism; most notably, he has vowed to defeat terrorism, and his Iraq initiative is evidence that he means to keep that vow.

It is this last element, the Iraq adventure, that puzzles me: Iraq as a reason to support the president? Can those who take that position be serious?

Back when the nation was debating whether or not to go to war in order to “liberate” Iraq — as we now know, the administration had made up its mind many months earlier — my friends in Israel were urging us to get on with the job. Iraq, after all, posed a serious threat to Israel, a threat considerably more lethal than that posed by Israel’s more proximate neighbors. The prospect that the full might of America would be brought to bear on Saddam Hussein’s regime was nearly intoxicating. Even if one did not share the president’s stated hope that a free and democratic Iraq would lead to a massive reformation of the entire Middle East, surely a success in Iraq would be a gain for freedom and, for Israel, a giant step forward toward real security.

But we were required then, as now, to ask the obvious question: What of a failure in Iraq? How certain could we be that the adventure would go smoothly? Remember “shock and awe”? Even then, we knew that planning for the morning after had been entirely inadequate. And now we know as well that of 50 “precision-guided” rocket attacks against specific Iraqi leaders, attacks based on specific intelligence information, we missed 50 times. And we know many other things, from the ongoing killing to Abu Ghraib, from the looting then to the sabotage now — from the absence of weapons of mass destruction to the absence of meaningful links between Al Qaeda and Saddam — that are, to put it ever so mildly, disconcerting. Iraq is not the slam-dunk that was foretold; it is not even clear that we will win a squeaky victory. Knowing what we now know, the whole enterprise seems an awful misadventure, costly in lives, in treasure and in America’s stature in the world.

Very nearly all that we know now was knowable then, had anyone in the Bush administration been sober enough to contemplate the downside possibilities. Giddy friends of Israel, flushed with the anticipated American success, now must be feeling renewed anxiety: An American loss in Iraq, defined as a failure to hand sovereignty over to a plausibly democratic regime, an Iraq marked by continuing significant violence, will substantially weaken the value of America’s support of Israel. Nor can we safely ignore the postwar bitterness against those in the administration who have been seen as wanting this war on the basis of its presumed benefits to Israel — against them, and against the cause that energizes them.

Accordingly, Bush and his people — who should have thought this through ever so much more thoroughly — hardly can be praised for their boldness or their resolve. With our hindsight, that much is plain. Of any administration, we are entitled to expect not only hindsight but also foresight.

Yet in the case of Iraq, we are in the hands of stumble-bums. And now the Jews will abandon their history, will turn from all the domestic failures, and reward the bumbling and the lies? Not bloody likely.

Leonard Fein’s most recent book is “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).

Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • 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.