Blame it on Congressman Steve King (Rep.-Iowa). I had no plans to write about the election in Israel, or about Israel at all. Then, I saw Rep. King Doubles Down on Asking How Jews Can Be Democrats by Daniel Strauss for Talking Points Memo. In particular I focused on the exchange between Congressman King and Congressman Steve Israel (Dem.-N.Y.). It started with this comment from King:
Well, there were some 50 or so Democrats that, that decided they would boycott the president’s speech. Here’s what I don’t understand, I don’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their President.
Israel tweeted: I don’t need Congressman King questioning my religion or my politics. I demand an apology from him & repudiation from GOP.
King responded: Real men make such requests face 2 face & man 2 man. I defend Israelis from Leftists & misogynists.
Let’s start off easy. Congressman King, the man you call “president” is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He leads a coalition government, and is not Israel’s elected president. And the man you refer to as “their President” is the duly elected—by a majority, 2X—President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. Your president too!
Now, on to what matters. I’m Jewish, American, and I support Israel! Prime Minister Netanyahu does not speak for me, though. The people who assert forcefully that the only way forward is the status quo ante don’t speak for me either. Yes, I know Israel faces danger every day. No, I can’t imagine what that must be like. And no, I haven’t been to Israel 32x, 21x, or even 1x. Truth be told, I’m 57 and I finally got a passport a month or so ago. I don’t get out much!
I can’t speak for Congressman Israel, but I think I know what got him agitated. Don’t support the Likud position on the Palestinian situation? Jewish? Your point of view is dismissed out of hand and you’re a self-hating Jew. The view gets expressed at its most extreme by Rabbi Smuley Boteach in No Holds Barred: Anti-Israel Speakers and Jewish Self-Hatred from The Jerusalem Post on March 3, 2014. Plenty of others offer similar views.
I call bullsh*t! The Judaism I know depends totally on a search for right answers, and never on words handed down from this one or that one, especially some guy who has the nerve to call himself America’s Rabbi.
None of what goes on in the Middle East is simple. The Middle East faces millennia of hatred and bad feelings. That said, somehow peace was achieved with Egypt and Jordan, and an accommodation with Syria. These resolutions were not easy; Egypt had started wars with Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. And while Jordan was less hostile, there was a state of war between the countries until 1994.
I appreciate the fact that Israel dealt with countries when it made peace in the past. Now it faces terrorist groups. Much more difficult! I also know Yasser Arafat never missed a chance to say yes … except for that time when he did in 1994 in Oslo, which led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Orthodox Jew. And then there are the settlements. If you think a sharp stick in your opponent’s eye is a good negotiating strategy, well, maybe the settlements make sense. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how or why they make any sense at all. (No one should ignore just how important it is that Israel has peaceful relations with some of its neighbors. And it should not escape notice that President Anwar Sadat was assassinated only a couple of years after making peace with Israel, killed by an extremist Muslim.)
One other thought before I close. There are real risks every day in Israel. And if you’re someone who engages on the issue, the hardest line will never leave you exposed to a charge that you didn’t see the risk. The same thinking got the United States of America into Iraq, and it’s the argument offered by many for making no deal with Iran. I get the argument. I also think it’s an extraordinarily pessimistic point of view!
In closing, comments like those offered by the likes of Congressman Steve King and the rabbi fellow only matter because they alienate people like me. Not good! Really! What really does matter is policy. Israeli policy is bad, not because it’d be better to ignore security for the Israeli people, but because current policies offer no positive future. Repeating past practices will lead to no better future!
P.S. I don’t think Congressman King knows the meaning of misogynists. Just sayin’!