A Short Autobiography of a Pro-Israel Blogger

As a new blogger here at the Times of Israel, but someone who has been blogging at other venues since 2002, I thought I would introduce myself and give readers a bit of background into my interests.

I grew up in a somewhat observant Conservative Jewish Home in Queens, New York. I attended a variety of Orthodox and Conservative Jewish Day Schools, ultimately graduating from Yeshiva of Flatbush High School (which I hated, but that’s another story).

All the schools I went to were very Zionist, generally leaning toward right-wing Zionism. My family was also very Zionist, though we never visited Israel when I was a kid, mostly because my mom refused to fly.

I attended Brandeis University, where, in addition to my classes and socializing, I spent a lot time in the library reading things that interested me. One year, I was on a history of Zionism and Israel kick. In the course of my reading, I began to sympathize more with the left-leaning side of Israeli politics. In particular, I was influenced by Amnon Rubinstein’s 1987 book, The Zionist Dream Revisited.

Meanwhile, I soon went through something of a radical libertarian phase, in which all nationalist movements repelled me. Between that and the Shamir government, I was kind of down on Israel.

I perked up when Oslo was signed. I thought we were at the end of history, that with the Soviet Union gone as a sponsor of PLO rejectionism, and Israel willing to compromise, the Palestinians would recognize their own interest and come to a negotiated solution. I dismissed the objections of Oslo critics like the writers at Commentary, and I thought not just anti-Israeli sentiment but anti-Semitism was on its way out, a throwback to an uglier time.

I then had a blissful period where I barely followed the news. I didn’t have cable t.v., and I couldn’t read newspapers thanks to a (literal) allergy to newsprint. Unfortunately, unlimited internet broke that spell!

Anyway, we all know what happened next: Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians just about everything that the international community was demanding of Israel, and Arafat not only rejected it, but responded with the Second Intifada.

Surely, I thought, with Israel having withdrawn from Lebanon, and having offered a two-state solution well within the parameters expected by the international community, and backed by tens of billions of dollars in Western aid, only to be met with horrific violence, the world, or at least the so-called civilized part of it, would take Israel’s side.

Instead, I was astounded by the reaction: not only did vehement anti-Israel sentiment increase dramatically, so did blatant expressions of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. This caused and still causes a lot of introspection and revisiting of beliefs. I had previously become convinced that anti-Semitism wasn’t any sort of special, seemingly immutable phenomenon; that the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict was territorial, and could be solved by territorial compromise; and that Palestinians were “just like us,” wanting peace and prosperity. The latter view was especially challenged by Palestinians joyously handing out candy after murderous terrorist attacks on Jewish civilians, and the brutal mob-murder of two Israel soldiers who accidentally wandered into a Palestinian town.

Blogs were taking off at this time, and, in addition to my day job as a law professor, I started blogging,  first on my own and then for the group law professor blog, the Volokh Conspiracy. I had several reasons for starting to blog, but a major one was to defend Israel and the Jewish people from the onslaught of worldwide hate that the Second Intifada unleashed. I knew, and know, that single-handedly I couldn’t and can’t do all that much, but I was haunted by thought of my grandchildren asking me, years after disaster befell Israel and the Jews, “why were you silent when this was starting?”

My felt need to blog on Israel was both strengthened and informed by my marriage to an Israeli in 2004, resulting in my traveling to Israel around thirty times since we started dating, and giving me a first-hand source of insight into the Israeli mind.

I am also interesting in the sociology of the American Jewish community. As someone who comes from a politically conservative/libertarian family, and whose owns view still lie on the more libertarian side of that spectrum, I find the continued attachment of American Jews to the left and the Democratic Party especially interesting. Meanwhile, as the non-Orthodox father of three wonderful kids, I find the decline of Conservative and Reform Judaism (I belong to a Conservative synagogue) troubling, and I worry over the future of American Judaism for those of us who cannot adopt Orthodox belief and lifestyle.

As a student of American Jewish sociology, I also find that the common narrative that young American Jews are increasingly rejecting Israel to a product of some very loud voices on the far left, but contrary to the existing data. This narrative also tends to entirely ignore Orthodox Jews, who are becoming an increasingly, indeed, historically unprecedented, large segment of the younger American Jewish cohort.

I blog about Israel and Jewish issues at Volokh and now also at Instapundit.com, but those are general-interest blogs, and I see the Times of Israel as a venue where I can explore my interests in Israel, anti-Semitism, and the American Jewish community to an audience specifically interested in such matters. Thanks for reading.

About the Author
David E. Bernstein is a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, where he teaches constitutional law and evidence. He is married to an Israeli and travels to Israel regularly.
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