Long ago, while still in graduate school, I published my first op-ed in, of all places, the New York Times. That experience taught me three valuable lessons.
The world doesn’t change just because you say it should.
Most of the responses you receive will be personally abusive.
Nobody’s forcing you to write, so accept it and don’t waste your time getting into silly sneer-fests.
Most often, I don’t. Most often, I content myself with that old lawyer’s adage:
If your case is strong, argue your case.
If your case is weak, attack your opponent.
But where Israel is concerned, this is no time for weak cases. The situation is serious and getting worse, and far too many people confuse defending Israel with words and behaviors that might reasonably be labeled sociopathic.
This is no time for that sort of self-indulgence. For whatever the transcendent issues, this is still about people talking to each other. Don’t let the style overpower or corrupt the message.
This, in essence, is my message.
There are no “iron laws of history.” But there are patterns. And now, across all the centuries, a pattern is repeating:
The Jewish experience with political sovereignty and self-government has been uniformly brief and disastrous.
The United Monarchy collapsed because the South couldn’t stop treating the North like occupied territories, and seems to have delighted in doing so.
Both the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern (Judaea) fell, not simply because — as they taught us in cheder — we poor Jews were at the “crossroads of empire,” constantly getting conquered by whoever felt like it. The kingdoms fell because of some piss-poor diplomacy, coupled with an absolute genius for defiance at the wrong moments.
Israel and Judaea would have been minor provinces of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires in any case. Their ineptitude brought destruction down upon themselves.
And how quickly the Maccabees morphed into the Hasmoneans: more Greek than the Greeks and plenty nasty.
Twice, the Jews of Judaea gave the Romans no choice but to make examples. Such is the logic of empire, once a certain point is crossed. Rome was a hideous despot, but far from intolerant regarding local religious practices and politics (Pontius Pilate a notable exception here).
Why was it that the Jews of the Diaspora did not support the Roman War? And why were the three Jewish rebellions (two in Palestine, one in the Diaspora), apparently, the only serious revolts undertaken by the provinces and subject territories of the Mediterranean littoral?
The Talmud states that the Temple and the Commonwealth fell because of Sinat Hinam, the “baseless hatred” of Jews for each other. The fratricidal hatred.
Or maybe not so baseless. The Zealots and rigorists against the rest of us, with the Zealots and the rigorists bringing down disaster on all our heads, then blaming us.
And now it’s happening again. All of it.
A couple decades after my first, and so far only, New York Times bloviation in 2002, I became one of America’s first visible conservatives to speak out against the upcoming Iraq war and the Bush/neocon delusion. Back then, just about the only rational opposition was coming from grouchy former Marines like me, notably Tony Zinni and (you got it) Jim Webb.
My public stance cost me whatever career I still had left as a conservative, and made absolutely no difference in the outcome. I never expected it to. But at least I was maybe giving words and reasons to people who knew that this was disaster coming at them flank-speed, but weren’t quite sure why.
After I left conservatism, I was deluged with two kinds of abuse.
From the Left: “Now that you’ve finally gotten some intelligence, get with the rest of our program.”
And from the Right:
“You sound like them.”
My answer to the Left was simple. “I didn’t check out of one nuthouse just to check into another.”
My answer to the Right took the form of a story:
“Imagine you live in a small town and the town drunk keeps running around shouting, ‘The bridge is going to collapse! The bridge is going to collapse!’ You probably wouldn’t pay him much heed.
“If a structural engineer came to town, took a look, and said, ‘This bridge is going to collapse,’ you would probably listen a bit more attentively.
“But what would you think of an engineer who came to town, did his assessment, then said, ‘My professional conclusion is that this bridge is going to collapse. But because I don’t want to sound like I’m agreeing with the town drunk, I’m not going to say anything.’”
Moral of the story: When you’re in trouble, and it’s getting worse, honesty is everything. Starting with the honesty to understand how you got into this mess. American Jews, especially those of us who live in Israel by choice, hold a special responsibility in this regard.
Let’s not witness, nor be complicit in, the destruction of the nation once again, just because we didn’t like what we were hearing when some Jews tell others, if not Repent, at least — Understand.
Next: Why Mr. Obama and his Iran follies portend far worse.