Thirty 33 years ago, I was sent by the Jewish Agency to go to the US in a program called Scholar in Residence and was assigned to spend two weeks in the Bay Area, explaining the Lebanon war of 1982. The Bay Area meant also The Socialist Republic of Berkeley, a.k.a University of California, Berkeley…
Little did I know at that time what I was in for, but I found out very quickly. I physically survived the ordeal , but I learnt a lot. For example, something which has stayed with me ever since. It was Mr. Katz [or Cohen, or Friedman], who told me the following;”I support Israel, in fact, I trust that if the majority of your people decide on something, then they know what they do, BUT I DO NOT LIKE WHEN MR. JONES TELLS ME ANGRILY, WHAT ARE YOUR BOYS DOING OVER THERE, BECAUSE THEN I FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE AND I WISH ISRAEL DID NOT DO IT”[MY EMPHASIS-J.O].
It was then, when I realized , that many American Jews look at Israel and its problems , as well as its victories and achievements, from a purely domestic American perspective. What does it do to US, American Jews?. A generalization?, possibly, and for my defense, I can say, that I do not know how to quantify those who think so , are they a majority , or just a sizable minority?, nor do I necessarily classify American Jews for being ”good” or ”bad” by this or that position with regard to Israel. The only exception I make, is to expect all those who have strong opinions on Israel, either Aipac or J street crowds , to be honest enough and say, whether they formulate their opinions on the basis of the Israeli interest, or the American one, simply as a matter of clarity and transparency. And I do expect most American Jews to select the latter as their point of decision, and not because J street are so convincing. They are not.
These are the days when I come back to this encounter in Berkeley and try to understand the lines of propaganda about the pros and cons of the Iran deal, and Jewish reactions to it. Propaganda is used here for a reason, as the truth is usually the first victim of an emotional and strongly-felt debate. Both sides do not tell only the truth, both sides tell what they think that their respective constituency wants and needs to hear, and judging by polls, as well as other indicators,
President Obama is doing a better job among Jews than P.M Netanyahu. The President hits hard on the weakest point of possible Jewish resistance to his arguments. He hints, sometime more clearly, sometimes less so, that the Jews should not be the ones blamed for the ”inevitable” war to ensue with Iran, if the agreement will not be approved by Congress. He connects it to the Iraq war, specifying the numbers of dead Americans and the enormous financial losses, and by so doing, creates the impression , that the same people always drag America to wars it should not be involved in , in the first place, and NO, he does not say that the Jews and their supporters are those people, but there are SO many Americans out there, and SO many American Jews who understand it exactly to be the case, and it works effectively on many American Jews. As if to remove any doubt about the bottom line of the arguments used by him, the President does not forget to emphasize that Israel is the” ONLY” COUNTRY WHICH OPPOSES THE AGREEMENT,that so much money is thrown to the battle against the deal and the unprecedented volume of foreign interference. All are points which the pro-Israel community, especially the Jews are most vulnerable to. Put in sum, the President does a very good job, and shortly back to propaganda. Israel is NOT the only country opposing the deal, Israel and its supporters did NOT push America to the Iraq war, and
a lot more of what is said, which is NOT true.
Surely enough, sociological developments within the American Jewish community have a lot to do with formulation of political positions , and the correlation between specific age group and their political positions with regard to Israel. There is a lesson here to be understood and properly analyzed, not only in view of the immediate debate about Iran. It is, that on an issue concerning Israel, which is defined as existential by many, the American Jewish community is split down the middle. The Jewish advisors of President Obama seem to do a better job than that of Netanyahu. If it was only a personal contest between the two, well, meile…[so be it…], but the stakes here are much higher.