Code-of-Silence: Jewish Style

“Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” a woman friend had told me at a Super Bowl party last month. (Both of us, if I remember correctly, were holding open beer bottles in our hands.) We were discussing a recent event here in the Sacramento Jewish community, centered on “Civil Discourse” in regard to talking about Israel, which both of us helped organize. While generally the event was considered a success, and was well-attended, I was voicing the opinion that it was not so. That it was more like preaching to the choir; that it was mostly attended by liberal-minded, left-leaning people, who were not afraid of openly discussing – and yes, criticizing too, if necessary – Israel’s political situation and policies. She made her remark, therefore, in response to my claim that there is still a “Code-of-Silence,” sort of, among a large section of the Jewish community.

This attitude was not new to me, of course, even though I kind of deluded myself that it was a thing of the past (what with “J Street,” for instance, coming to relative prominence in the last few years). Very early on in my life in America, first in Los Angeles and then in Sacramento, it was made clear to me by my Jewish American friends – and Israelis, too, to a degree – that one is forbidden from speaking ill of Israel. Keep your opinion to yourself, in other words. It was also made clear to me that only because I was an Israeli, an ex-officer in an elite paratroops unit who was wounded in battle (words get around, you see), that I was “allowed” to speak my unorthodox, “lefty” opinions, in private and in public. So generally, at least out of politeness (one hopes out of some respect, too), people had listened to my views without excommunicating me.

Not that it helped much, you see. I always compered it, within myself, to what I call the “(Jewish) Mother Syndrome.” In other words, whether your son is a drug dealer, a cheat and a thief and, worst of all, a murderer; you defend him to your last drop of blood. It reminds me of an interview on the radio I heard some time ago with the actress Halle Berry, who just had a baby daughter not so long prior. And in response to the interviewer question, demonstrating how much she loves her daughter and would do anything to defend and protect her, she plainly remarked that if her daughter were to kill/murder somebody, she would “help” her bury the victim. So there you have it, my friends, in a nutshell: the whole theory of the “Mother Syndrome.”

And yet to my mind it’s not only wrong but, let’s face it, almost criminal. After all, a murderer is a murderer, whether he is your daughter or your son (think of Oscar Pistorius and his parents, why don’t you?). The same goes for Israel as well, and its policies in the occupied territories, which includes the steady march towards a state of apartheid – if not by design than by de facto – in the West Bank. The result of which might be a “drunk drive” (power can corrupt and intoxicate, no doubt) towards the cliff of destruction; both of the Zionist dream, and of what had been achieved until 1967 by way of establishing a democratic, pluralistic Jewish State. Just imagine how better things night/could have been by now, in these regards, had the Jewish people of America, with their political clout and financial strength, had spoken firmly against the occupation and settlements – when there was still time to reverse course – and had forced the various American administrations to act more responsibly and firmly against Israel’s bad tendencies, and its wrongheaded use of the many millions of dollars given to it yearly by America. Just imagine.

There was not much to imagine this past weekend while watching “The Gatekeepers,” the Oscar-nominated documentary by Dror Moreh. It was all there in the open, up on the screen, for all to see and hear, being said by – no, not by Jewish and Israeli-haters from the left – but by the last six heads of the Shin Bate, the Israeli Security Service. They spoke so frankly and decidedly in the film – including comparing Israel’s tactics and actions against the Arab population in the occupied territories to those of Nazi Germany in Europe – that, even though they hadn’t said anything I didn’t already know, it was still so very hard, painful even, to hear; since it was coming from the mouths of the people who enabled all these policies. Where were they, one achingly wants to ask, when they had the power to change things? Why did they choose to keep so quiet and mum about it all? I know, I know, it was not their job to do so. Yet their obligation as citizens, colleagues and friends, was to warn their leaders of the approaching, disastrous consequences. Because that what friends – whether in Israel or in America – do: they don’t let their friends drive drunk!

About the Author
Hillel Damron was born in Kibbutz Hephzibah to parents who survived the Holocaust; he was an officer of elite paratroop unit who was wounded in battle; studied film and became a director of TV documentaries, video shorts and a feature film. Damron is the author of three novels, short stories and a political blog; winner of Moment Magazine’s 2011 Memoir Contest and is the past executive director of the Hillel House, at University of Davis, California.