I Feel Like Less of an American

When I returned home from services upon the conclusion of Shabbat, this past Saturday night, we lit Chanukah candles.  After ushering in the holiday, our first Chanukah in our new home in Rehovot, I was confronted by the news of President Obama’s betrayal of Israel at the United Nations Security Council.  Shocking, disappointing and infuriating though his act of calumny is, it’s not really surprising.  Many of us long sensed these past eight years, that despite his doing many things in support of Israel, he really doesn’t like us all that much, that he’s itching to put the uppity and stiff necked Jewish state in its place.  And now, in his lame duck days, he seized the opportunity to do just that.  He chose his legacy defining moment vis-à-vis the Jewish people.  He’ll live with how he goes down in history as a result of that choice.  I’m confident that Israel will continue to flower and succeed as she always has since May, 1948.

Much ink has been spilled and more yet will be used up in analyzing the meaning of this dramatic change in American policy, what it means for U.S.-Israel relations, how Israel might compensate for the loss of American dependability and loyalty at the U.N.  Others will analyze whether Israel should continue at the U.N. at all.  Still others will try to figure out ways to reverse the UNSC Resolution 2334, or ways to ameliorate its effect.  True friends of Israel will explore how to reverse American policy and insure that such an event not occur again.  My concerns though are far more parochial.

I and my family made Aliyah four months ago.  I’m in nationalist limbo, neither completely American anymore nor yet fully Israeli.  When our family prepared to make Aliyah, I gave considerable thought to my nationalist identity.  I never intended to abandon America and her values. Rather I hoped, and maybe still do hope to meld those values and cultural norms of my American life into a new Israeli identity.  The strong and seemingly unbreakable bonds between my birth nation and my adopted historic homeland appeared to make doing that so much easier.  I never thought I’d have to ponder to which nation do I owe a higher level of loyalty, which one more reflects my values, because they were, in terms of shared values and empathy, one and the same.  I hoped to be an American-Israeli in the fullest sense of the words.

I don’t mean to suggest that there were no disagreements between the two countries.  Of course there were. America never adopted or accepted Israel’s settlement policy.  President Reagan was livid over the bombing of the Iraqi reactor at Ossirak.  Jimmy Carter’s antipathy for Menachem Begin was palpable.  The State Department was never comfortable with Israel’s very existence.  America never made good on its commitment to move the embassy to Jerusalem.  Israel constantly pushed the envelope on settlements, testing America’s limits.  But even when those quarrels grew loud and spilled into the public view, even when America chided its client state, Israel, there was always the knowledge that when the chips were really down, America had Israel’s back, the way a big brother protects his younger brother from any bully who dares start up with him.  That confidence in American’s loyalty to not only Israel, but to shared understandings of grund-norm values of decency and justice and honesty made me proud to be American.  They enabled me to be a Zionist.

President Obama’s decision to abstain from voting on UNSC 2344 changed all that.  In a clear display of his frustration with Israel’s unwillingness to halt settlement construction, and in a demonstration of petty personal vindictiveness against Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama signaled that America is prepared to hand a diplomatic win to Israel’s enemies.  But let’s remember who are those enemies- terrorists.  Mahmoud Abbas has blood on his hands.  He continues to financially reward terrorists and their families.  He was unwilling to disavow the holocaust denial which was the thesis of his doctoral thesis in Moscow until placed under pressure to do so.  Palestinian incitement of violence against Israel is well documented.

America’s president, altered the nation’s values; compromised them.  He rewarded terrorists in pursuit of his foreign policy agenda and to satisfy a personal vendetta.  And as an American, as a once proud American, I can’t accept that.  I’m ashamed of him and the nation that elected him.  President Obama may have set in motion a process that ends with an America I can no longer embrace. The moral relativism of his abstention results in adopting the depths of immorality.  Terrorists are either evil and can never be allowed to prosper, or the distinction between good and evil vanishes.

So much of my Zionism and the self- confidence I had in making Aliyah was connected to the apparent shared values of what I hoped would be my two countries. The question is, does America still have those values?  Does she still have Israel’s back?  Even if the incoming administration reverses course entirely vis-à-vis the Peace Process in Israel’s favor, how can I trust America to not elect another Judas who will throw Israel under the bus because her Prime Minister didn’t do as told?  Having once betrayed her core ethos in this regard, who’s to say America won’t do so again?  I don’t see how I can ever be as confident in and as proud of American loyalty to her staunchest ally in the region as I once was.  And the deterioration of that confidence and pride diminishes my American identity.  I can’t fully love and embrace a nation that doesn’t fully and unconditionally embrace my homeland.  President Obama has made me feel like less of an American.

At the same time, I’ve not lived in Israel long enough to fully identify as an Israeli.  Perhaps I will in the future. I love this country; even the things about it I don’t much like.  I chose to live here, to uproot myself in mid-life and my family because I sensed that in the long term our lives and those of our progeny would be better here than in America.  With each passing day I grow stronger in the belief.  But I’m not yet an Israeli.  Right now, I’m an American who’s moved here and finding his way.  And I can’t reconcile the rupture that has occurred between my two nationalist identities.  They say Jacob Schiff experienced similar angst during World War One when his daughter admonished him to not speak German in public as America was at war with Germany.  Schiff, by that time, was an old man, having lived in America for upwards of five decades.  I’ve not lived here for even half a year.  I recognize that the current imbroglio between America and Israel is of smaller impact than war.  But it still represents a breach between the values that undergird each nation; a breach that can grow with time.  I fear that I and countless other American ex-pats here in Israel may, and sooner than we might imagine, come to the day where we will have to confront an ugly reality that America is no longer the nation we left but continued to revere.

I don’t know how Schiff and his crowd resolved their crisis of identity.  I do know that he never travelled to Germany after the Great War, and that many of America’s German Jewish elite similarly refrained.  I don’t know how I might resolve such a crisis were it to come to pass.  I have no answer to the questions raised by the President’s calumny.  All I can say is that I believe in Israel.  I believe she will flourish and advance.  I desperately want to believe in America

About the Author
Daniel Schwarz, an attorney in Jerusalem, made Aliyah from Rockland County, New York in 2016. He's also an avocational chazzan.
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