Years have passed since Rabbi Kahane penned this essay, but it still rings sadly true today. Rabbi Kahane was known for saying uncomfortable things that comfortable Jews didn’t want to hear. In honor of his yahrtzeit, here’s another one of his brilliant and illuminating writings, which was published almost 25 years ago in The Jewish Press and was recently reprinted in the fabulous, opus, seven-volume collection of Rabbi Kahane’s short writings, “Beyond Words.”
The Jews of the United States
March 25, 1988
Jewish leaders in Israel and the world have long warned that the Jewish State risks standing bereft of “allies.” That should Israel take “extreme” and provocative action, i.e., be prepared to do the difficult and painful things that it must do in order to survive, it faces the hazard of standing alone against a hostile world. What is just as clear to perceptive Jews is that, should the State of Israel do what is necessary to survive, i.e., take steps that go against the basic grain of liberal, Western democratic views, it risks splitting a large part of the United States Jewish community. And, indeed, the signs of dissent and hostility are there for all to see. They raised their ominous heads during the war in Lebanon, and, emboldened, are louder and more vociferous, today.
Once, in the wake of both the Holocaust and the establishment of the Jewish State, it was simply impossible for any Jew who sought to be recognized as a member of the community, to condemn Israel. The terrible Holocaust and the terror it meant for Jews who lived through that period gave Israel— as the haven for Jews from such future terrors — an immunity from attacks by Jews. But as with all things that are based on emotion, rather than logic and ideology, as times changed and as a generation changed and moved on to make way for another, so did the attitude toward and the status of the Jewish State.
There was always a built-in contradiction within the Jewish Establishment leadership and certainly within the intellectual community. While they supported Israel, they were essentially products of non-Jewish, Western culture and values. They were first and foremost liberals, before they were Jews. Not for them was “my people and Israel, right or wrong.” They wanted “right,” and the standards by which they judged morality were liberal ones. Indeed, they had persuaded themselves that they were also “Jewish,” since peace of mind and conscience — as well as awesome ignorance — demanded the equating of Judaism and Jefferson, the “Hebrew prophets” (sic) and liberalism.
In the first 20 years of the Jewish State, there were few abrasive moments and few opportunities for the ridiculous equation to be tested. But following the Six-Day War, and as the euphoria wore off, as the Yom Kippur War badly tarnished the image of the Israeli Superman, and, most importantly, as the distance from Auschwitz grew longer and a generation grew up that knew not the horrors — things changed. Liberal Jews, with their psychological inability to be winners (losing is so much easier and losers so much more lovable), began to squirm over the “occupied territories,” the use of force by Jews against “civilians, women and children,” albeit to save Jewish lives. Talk began to be heard in certain Jewish circles about Israeli “intransigence” and unwillingness to compromise. The poor “Palestinian” refugees were, more and more, the subject of Jewish concern (though not, apparently, how they had become refugees). The terms “moderate Palestinians” (and even “moderate terrorists”) began to find their place in the lexicon of liberal Jews and certain Jewish Establishment groups.
And then, of course, came Lebanon and Sabra and Shatila, and all the submerged and sublimated liberal hostility to Israel emerged. And that is, of course, the proper term. “Hostility.” And it was hostility on the part of many Jews, especially Reform and Conservative rabbis, who always sensed the impossible contradiction between Zionism and a Jewish State, and the liberal, Westernized values they truly believed in. And so, pulpiteers ordered their congregants to rise at Yom Kippur services and beat their breasts for Israeli sins against helpless “Palestinians.” And more and more Op-Ed pieces by Jews and Jewish leaders began to appear, dissenting from Israel and criticizing her. Until, today, a real and major split is before us. And the question is: What to do about it?
The answer is, a split of some sort is inevitable, unless Israel chooses to commit suicide. A certain number of American Jews will condemn Israel for a sane policy of strength against the Arabs who seek to destroy it. A certain number of American Jews, Jewish leaders and intellectuals will criticize Israel no matter what it does, short of making mad concessions to the “Palestinians” and meeting with the PLO. These are people who already are affiliated with or support self-hating extremist groups such as Peace Now and New Jewish Agenda. No one need worry about losing these people, who represent so few people, and whose schizophrenia is so deep and incurable.
At the same time, let it be remembered that the term “American Jewish community” must itself be placed in proper context. There may be some six million American Jews (no one knows), but surely there are nowhere near six million Jews affiliated with any Jewish community! Half of American Jews have absolutely nothing to do with anything Jewish — not even giving to the bottom line of Jewry, the United Jewish Appeal. Of the other half, not more than a few hundred thousand are anything approximating “active” Jews. The overwhelming majority of members of Reform and Conservative temples are there for the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah of their children. The average giver to the UJA is a passive, total non-activist Jew. Their weight is negligible, for good or for bad.
More, the Establishment Jewish groups, the so-called “major” Jewish organizations, are paper groups, and nothing more. Their membership lists are fraudulent, most names being former members who have not paid their dues for years. A look at some of the Jewish organizations who are members of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations finds such creatures as the Jewish War Veterans, a group of dwindling, aged poker players; Herut, which does not have even one thousand active members; Mizrachi (a paper organization that can never die as long as its national office lives); the American Jewish Committee, whose wealth is infinitely greater than its tiny handful of members. The only real organizations on the American Jewish scene are the women’s groups, and their political acumen and power are somewhat less than 1 on the Richter scale.
It is the Jewish Federations that are the real power in the United States, the fund-raisers for Israel. They could constitute a problem for the Jewish state, and indeed, most of the power brokers in the Federations and welfare funds are either wealthy liberals or wealthy conservatives who are afraid of the anti-Semitism that Israel might bring down upon Jews. In addition, the professionals who run the Federations on a daily basis, the executive directors, are invariably liberals whose knowledge of Judaism and Zionism is awesomely lacking. Because of the access of the Federations to lists of Jews who are even remotely “active” and who give whatever they give to the UJA-Federations, they possess the potential power to reach and influence those Jews. Similarly, while the temples are nowhere as large and influential as the official membership figures, the rabbis, unfortunately, do carry a certain amount of weight. They do speak to a few hundred congregants each week, and can reach many more with literature.
With all this in mind, let it be clear, and let it be made clear to U.S. Jews, that the State of Israel cannot allow itself, even under the worst of possible threats, to be influenced by American Jews, when its security — not to mention survival — is at stake. That must be the first axiom. There is no amount of pressure and no amount of loss of money or support that can sway Israel in the slightest from carrying out policies that are necessary for survival, no matter how objectionable they are to certain American Jews.
The second axiom that must be made clear to U.S. Jews is that they need Israel far more than Israel needs them. The Jewish state will never go under for lack of UJA and Israel Bonds money (which today comprises a rather minor part of the total Israeli budget). Nor is Israel without the means to lobby and persuade the American government that Washington’s interest lies in supporting the Jewish state. At worst, Israel will tighten its belt, will implement austerity programs, but even the most horrendous loss of American Jewish support will, in no way, threaten Israel’s survival.
The same is hardly true for American Jews. The future of Jews in the Exile, in any Exile, is “iffy” at best. It is not Israel, the state that arose from the ashes of an Exile after 1,900 years, exactly as the Bible prophesied, that can be destroyed. It is rather the American Jewish community, sitting on a volcano of an American economic and social crisis that is moving to catastrophic explosion, that will see despair and extremism explode, fueled by bitter jealousy of the Jew. The result will be unparalleled Jew-hatred.
The Talmud clearly states that there can never be a third Exile (though terrible tragedy within the country can certainly take place). But there is precisely the opposite promise for the Exile. Any Exile.
It is remarkable how little Jews realize the extent of real and palpable hatred of them. The jealousy and the envy of the Jew in the United States is awesome. It can be heard on any talk show as listeners phone in. It can be heard in any bar. It is so real and so frightening that one is staggered by it. Let no American Jew threaten Israel. It is the Jew of the Exile who will always need the one haven for the Jew in the world. That message should be gotten through to all the Establishment figures who pressure the Jewish State to refrain from acting normally for survival.
The third axiom must be to divide the ordinary American Jew from those organizations, leaders and rabbis, who — in essence — are so different in their thinking from him. The ordinary Jew in the United States has a normal, gut reaction that Israel must be strong to survive and use any method to do so. He can easily be made to understand the Arab threat to Israel’s survival; the madness of the very concept of Arab “moderates”; the insanity of concessions. It is the fact that he is at the mercy of the general news media, as well as those of liberal temple rabbis and Federation leaders, that inhibits him and distorts him.
The State of Israel must send leaders to speak directly to the masses of American Jews. Not timid spokespersons, who equivocate and apologize and fear to call the Arab spade a spade. Rather, leaders who will present the Jewish view that Eretz Yisrael is ours; that the Arabs seek to wipe out any Jewish state of any kind; that Israel must do everything that is necessary to survive, without guilt or complexes. Give the average Jew a sense of pride and power, and he will support Israel fully. And remember — no American functionary can compete with an Israeli Prime Minister or General.
At the same time, let Israeli leaders not be afraid to criticize the American leaders and expose them for what they are and what they are not. Let the bankrupt history of Jewish organizations who did nothing during the Holocaust and who, for decades, did nothing for Soviet Jewry, be known. Let the record of Jewish organizations who encouraged assimilation and intermarriage through the “melting pot” be seen. And let the choice be given to the average Jew. He will choose wisely and correctly. Above all, let Israel not shirk a confrontation with the empty vessels of the Jewish Establishment. They represent few Jews and their basic instincts are un-Jewish. A Jewish State need not fear them. They are nothing without Israel; Israelis everything without them.Tzvi Fishman
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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