A Rotten Week for Israel

By most of the standards that I- and I dare say many others- would use to evaluate such things, the State of Israel has had an altogether rotten week. At times, in fact, I found myself wondering whether, in some secret government catacomb, there was a small group of people working on a strategic game to see how many of Israel’s American supporters the Israeli government could alienate in one week. They’ve obviously been hard at work…

In the Oxford English Dictionary, next to the colloquial phrase "bad timing," there will now be a picture of Israeli government officials announcing new housing starts in East Jerusalem just when the Vice-President of the United States was in Israel to jump-start peace talks with the Palestinians.

After the Vice-President stated loudly and clearly how vital Israel’s strategic relationship with America is, and worked hard to convince Israel not to unilaterally attack Iran, Israel did the unthinkable; it embarrassed, even humiliated him, one of its very best friends, just when it needs him the most. Good job. I’ll bet that dinner that the Bidens shared with the Netanyahus was one warm sing-a-long of Kumbaya.

And then, just in case there were a few Jews left in America who weren’t already horrified enough (not so much about Israel’s right to build in East Jerusalem, but its insanely undiplomatic timing), the Knesset began deliberation of a bill introduced by Yisrael Beiteinu that would severely jeopardize the status of all non-Orthodox converts to Judaism, and their ability to ever gain citizenship in Israel under the Law of Return.

Perfect. Maybe there’s another secret government group working on a different strategic game to see how very contemptuous of American Jews they can be and still convince them to give their hard-earned money to Israel. They, too, appear to have been very hard at work, and productively so…

At some point soon- I don’t know exactly when, but it’s coming- there will be some prominent American Jewish leader who will, like that raging news anchorperson in the movie Network, stick his head out the metaphoric window of the Jewish community’s house, shake his fist, and scream "I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!"

Israel has us where she wants us. We Jewish leaders, at least the vastly overwhelming majority of us, love Israel. We know its complex realities, we understand what it represents symbolically and the irreducibly important role it plays in world Jewry. We delight in its miracles, take pride in its growth, and vicariously savor its ability to show strength when it needs to.

But I can feel it in the air, and all of us who are charged with the responsibility to articulate Israel’s precarious position to American Jews, particularly younger American Jews, can feel it too. The automatic, reflexive support that American Jews used to have for Israel just isn’t there. Younger American Jews, even middle-aged ones, never knew a world without Israel, and much younger American Jews barely, if at all, remember the Yom Kippur War, not to mention the Six Day War. It’s a challenge to get them involved and supportive. Spitting in their faces is unlikely to get it done.

I don’t know what they’re thinking there, but like I said- they’re not thinking all that much. It’s been a perfectly awful week- and Israel can hardly afford it.

Ahmedinejad must be laughing.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.