In fact, the ranks of self-professed Jews who declared themselves anti-Zionists (and thus recognizable liberals) grew into a movement. Alvin Rosenfeld of the University of Indiana noted that prominent Jewish leftists on campus and in the media have singled out Israel “as a political entity unworthy of secure and sovereign existence…. part of a standard discourse among ‘progressive’ American Jews, who seem to take for granted that the historical record shows that Israel to be an aggressor state guilty of sins comparable to Hendrik Verwoerd’s South Africa and Hitler’s Germany.”
Secondly, as long as Jews saw themselves as besieged and vulnerable, they forged alliances with welfare-state expansionists and secularists, failing to realize that Jewish twenty-first-century political strategies (such as closer ties with Christian evangelicals or supporting faith-based government programs) need not imitate what was taken as fashionable two hundred years earlier.
Regrettably, most Jews still have not caught up with the need for creative political thinking despite the downside of the old utopianism. In Israel, the fantasy persists that the surrender of territory will pacify aggressors committed to Israel’s destruction. In the United States, Jews gave scant recognition to George W. Bush, the most pro-Israel U.S. president in history. He transformed the nature of Middle East political discourse by abandoning the moral equivalence of past administrations. He specifically blamed Palestinian leadership for the terror that undermined peace and refused to even take a phone call from Yasir Arafat.
Yet Jews still gave some three-quarters of their votes in 2004 to Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry. Similarly, polls showed that Jews, more than other Americans, favored an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq. As such, they failed to see that the ensuing power void and spurring of terrorism that would follow such a retreat would not only signal disaster for American interests but also for the security of Israel.
Differing from most of their co-religionists, those Jews whose identity was more shaped by religion and historical memory showed greater awareness that in the quest for Jewish security there were no permanent allegiances, no permanent opponents, and no sacred political isms. For them, recognizing these realities across the sweep of history meant that in modern times ingenuity and inventiveness represented too weak a survival strategy for the remnant of the seed of Abraham. Political finessing would not succeed against enemies actively planning Jewish destruction. The strategy must be simple and sovereign, pointing to security through strength.
* * * * *
Political scientists evaluating current American electoral politics cite the “permanent political campaign,” in contrast to political campaigns of yesteryear, which were confined to a limited few months before the set voting date. Now, politicians continuously put forward their telegenic selves and hunt for campaign cash.
Likewise, the campaign for Jewish survival must be seen as always under way. Jewish survival requires an understanding of political institutions and the dynamics of political policy. Failing to understand how these forces are driven will prevent Jews from making smart decisions. For instance, it is not unusual for voters to feel that they are stuck between choosing two unappetizing candidates. Yet by having the right political analytic tools, hidden agendas, corrupt deals, and ideological shallowness can be appraised. By contrast, indifference and naivete cause the community to lose out in optimally defending itself.
Both Jewish self-denigration and Jewish utopianism represent the same bottom line – a Jewish powerlessness that ignores the lessons of history. Wishful thinking and shutting one’s collective eyes will not ameliorate the survival prospects of one of history’s most consistent victims.
While Jewish political self-preservation must remain the chief goal, this is not to minimize the importance of pursuing social justice and involvement in building a better country and world.
This goal of good citizenship is traceable to the Bible. One such example is the account of Jacob sending Joseph to Nablus to inquire as to the welfare of his brothers (Genesis 37:14). Jacob does not confine his request only to human beings, adding, “and the welfare of the flock…”
Why a special request about the status of the sheep? Jewish biblical commentators interpret Jacob’s inquiry into the well being of the animals not as a business request but as a social request. From here is derived the teaching that a Jew must enhance the welfare of any source, human or animal, from which he gains benefit.
About the Author: Ron Rubin is a senior political scientist at CUNY and author most recently of “A Jewish Professor's Political Punditry” (Syracuse University Press, 2013).
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