Israel, are you listening: “The times they are a-changin’.” So sang Bob Dylan in the 60s, and here we are some 60 years later and the song keeps playing in my head. Because when it comes to Israel, attitudes and feelings are changing among American Jews. Which reminds me, also, of an article I published here five years ago (generating many shares and a barrage of comments), titled “Halle Berry & the Jewish Problem.” In it, I coined the phrase ‘The Halle Berry Syndrome,’ result of a radio interview the actress had given on the NPR program ‘All Things Considered,’ in which (among other things) she’d said that: “… being a mother myself, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter, whether it be legal or illegal.” And: “I can tell you, as sure as I’m sitting in this chair, if she killed somebody, I would help her bury the body.”
Hearing that, aghast, I immediately made the analogy to many American Jews I knew back then, especially in religious congregations, who would behave—and were behaving—in a similar fashion regarding Israel. They were afflicted, I’d made the point, with the same symptoms and attitude. No matter whether they were Democrats or Republicans; Reforms or Conservatives; Liberals or Illiberals; Religious or Secular; there was no distinction when it came to Israel. No matter the crime, they would all help bury the body.
Israel, you see, could do no wrong. Could be guilty of no crime. Could be accused of no misdeed. It was the AIPAC’s policy: defend Israel at all costs; defend Netanyahu at all costs (even while attacking and working against a sitting American president); defend the occupation and settlements at all costs. If you think otherwise, keep it to yourself. But we, individuals and groups, refused to stay quiet. We continued to talk and raise our voices in opposition to the doctrine of ‘Israel could do no wrong,’ which was declared often from the pulpit by the rabbis.
But now, at long last, the chickens have come home to roost, and the full scope of years of ignorance and blindness–manifested particularly in regard to changing views of Netanyahu—is in clear view while a major shift in public opinion among American Jews, even among conservatives, is in full swing. So much so that the ‘sacred cow’ of ‘Israel can do no wrong’ is being questioned frequently, and being challenged in the open on social media in all its platforms. Bibi is no longer king, and like so many in Israel, they’re dying to see him go away for good. The occupation stinks, and the settlements—build in the West bank with their hard-earned dollars—are beginning to be viewed as problematic, and as taking the wrong path.
Because the Jews who escaped Europe and survived the Holocaust, who fought so hard against the South African Apartheid and American racism, they—or mostly their children—now see Israel headed in the same direction. The direction of endless conflict with the Palestinians (which even the UAE-Bahrein ‘peace ploy,’ by Trump-Netanyahu-Kushner had failed to much impress). And if not Apartheid, they are worried about a binational, one-state solution de facto with both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, sharing the land. Which soon won’t be a Jewish state anymore. Of course, some Jews are still afflicted with the ‘Halle Berry Syndrome,’ but many others see the light and react with a cry of subdued ‘mea culpa:’ What happened to our beloved country? Are we at fault, too?
Others, though, are shying away from it all. We have enough problems, they say, here in America. Existential problems. Let us deal with them first. We have our own dictator-in-the-making to fight against. You there fight your own fight. Eat what you’ve been cooking all these years since the Six-day war. We now have the coronavirus pandemic to deal with. Which, make no mistake about it, would influence American Jewry relations with Israel too. It’s a matter of personal survival, nowadays, of our own and our families’ health and economic survival. Religious congregations are shut, (going virtual on ZOOM and YouTube). Jews who all their lives went to shul every week at least once, on Shabbat, are no longer doing so. High Holidays were conducted via virtual reality.
How would they collect the Jewish High Holiday tithe going to support Israel? Who would they listen to, now that the rabbis would no longer be hammering into them how to think, how to support, how to talk about Israel every Shabbat from the Bimah? Tell you how: they now learn for themselves everything online. Gone are the days when they only received their info about Israeli politics from the overly supportive TV Networks and the ‘Jewish Forward.’ They read Haaretz and The Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post online. Some other outlets too. And while this terrible pandemic is unexpected (some experts would argue otherwise), this turn of how Jewish American view Israel is not. It’s been long in the making.
Which brings me to Israel. Don’t count on American Jews to save you: This time, it’s your rotten apple to eat, as here in America we’re left eating our own rotten apple of growing anti-Semitism and the threat of Fascism. And not only because of the megalomaniac who currently resides in the White House, but because of the corona pandemic too. It brings out the best and the worst in people. Among them, in certain quarters, are those who now loudly call: ’Blame the Jews!’ Last year I went down to the American River, as I do every weekend, and on the paved path leading to it, there was a swastika painted in black. In 30-some years here I never encountered such a thing before (I called the Park Rangers and they cleaned it up).
So be aware of this too: The revolution has started. Not only among blacks and browns, the poor and the desolate, but among American Jews too. Just as it has started in Israel by Israelis, young and old, who are fighting for their lives and livelihood, and are fed up with the old guard. But be sure of this, too: American Jews still love Israel dearly. It’s in their DNA, after all. Alas, they are in the process of liberating themselves from the shackles of slavery to a country that’s no longer representing the ideal of its Declaration of Independence.