James R. Russell
James R. Russell

Israel’s ‘White Paper’? Really?

I’ve never responded to another op-ed in the Times of Israel before, but if there has to be a first time, this is it.

On May 28th, the paper published “Israel’s White Paper? US Jews find locked doors,” by Steve Rodan. The author’s bio says he worked for Middle East Newsline for 18 years. His LinkedIn profile repeats that information. But I can’t find “Middle East Newsline” on Google. That doesn’t mean it never existed, but as far as reporting goes, it seems to have been a sort of Mom and Pop candy store operation at best. The bio also mentions his first book, available on Amazon: “Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963.” Okay, I went on Amazon. You can get the book on Kindle or in paperback. It’s a vanity press production, done on Amazon: there is no publisher’s imprint.

When an author writes a book, he usually submits the manuscript to a publisher, who in turn sends it around to experts in the field to determine whether it’s fit to print or not. If approved, it then goes to editors who do things like check the facts and go over the manuscript for style, working with the author(s) through the process. That is, when the book is put on sale, the reputation of the press vouches for its professionalism and veracity. Self-publishing, as in this case, circumvents all that. The book has no more bona fides than “Middle East Newsline” does.

Amazon often allows the reader to read inside the book, and I did. It’s a sanguinary screed that presents the Zionist movement and the governmental and military apparatus of the State of Israel as anti-Semites at best and at worst as collaborators with the Nazis in the Holocaust. Mr. Rodan execrates Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. So do I and so did many Israelis at the time: 20-20 hindsight today makes the error even clearer. But Sharon was also a brilliant strategist, a hero who saved Israel from possible defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Rodan paints him as an out-and-out enemy of the Jewish people.

The same embittered, crazy hatred warps his view of Bibi Netanyahu as well. Damn, I believe in my bones that when Hamas starts a war WITH us, that war should be finished BY us. The ceasefire was a capitulation for which we may have to pay dearly. At best it was kicking the can down the road. But look, the Netanyahu family, whatever their collective and individual shortcomings, have devoted their whole lives to the service of Israel and the Jewish people in a perilous world that has made plain its inexorable hatred of both. To Rodan, though, Bibi’s just a criminal with nefarious intentions.

The book in general is a warmed-over version of the canard that the ha’avara capital transfer agreement between the Yishuv and Germany constituted collaboration. Of course it was nothing of the kind. Zionists wanted to get Jews out of Hitler’s grasp and were willing to pay a ransom to save lives. I’ve heard that the Zionists preferred to save young men fit for Hagana service rather than aged rabbis. Is it true? All I know is that when the State of Israel was established, Ben Gurion wanted Torah students to be exempt from military service, to keep alive the spiritual and scholarly core of our nation that the fascist beasts had nearly killed.

Which brings me to Rodan’s alarming and insidious op-ed. He says Israel is colluding with the FBI and other American authorities who hate the Jews, to keep us from making aliya. For instance, officials may stop a passenger boarding an international flight and check whether he’s carrying more cash than US law permits. These are random searches: I’ve had at least one myself, and the flight wasn’t bound for Tel Aviv. Maybe profiling happens. If it does, then it’s a violation of US law, though it’s legal in Israel– and, one might add, for very good security reasons. Anecdotal stuff, but he uses it in aid of a more general assault on the State of Israel, to wit, that it has abrogated the Law of Return. He says many American Jewish applicants for aliya have been waiting a long time for their cases to be processed this year. Now, might the Covid pandemic just conceivably have something to do with that? I think so: lots of Israeli citizens were stranded abroad for a long time, too.

Rodan says applicants for aliya are being asked for documents sixty years old that have nothing to do with the State of Israel. The way he presents that it sounds shocking, doesn’t it? But it’s really not. The Law of Return applies only to Jews. Who’s a Jew? Somebody with a Jewish mother, or somebody who underwent a halachic conversion. (I’ll come back to this in a moment.) So if I want to prove my bona fides, I might have to produce my parents’ ketubba, their rabbinic marriage contract. My folks were married in Brooklyn, New York, in December 1947 just before a historic snowstorm. Doing the math, the document is well over sixty years old (as are yours truly and his kid brother), and it has nothing to do with the State of Israel. It couldn’t possibly, except by some Divine feat of intervention with the space-time continuum, since said State did not come into existence until May 1948.

Let me put in a good word for halacha. I live in retirement in Fresno, California, and taught a few courses in Biblical Hebrew and Jewish studies part time at the local branch of the state university. There are basically no Jewish students there; the constituency is largely Latino. I’m half-Sephardic and quite like the Hispanic atmosphere, actually. However the co-ordinator of Jewish studies has to struggle to get any funding at all. It is a labor of love: she herself wrote a PhD thesis on women’s lingerie, has never set foot in Israel, and does not know Hebrew. Another woman, a young recent hire, teaches what she calls a “foodie” approach to Judaism. Yet another woman, also young, also recently hired full time, wrote her thesis about how the nascent Israeli health services discriminated against “Palestinians”. An older woman who teaches anthropology asked me to lecture on Jewish magic and mysticism in the context of… wait for it… her “Pagan Seminar”. Well, it’s California: I remember once being in Berkeley on Yom Kippur and attending something called the Aquarian Minyan. I walked out after they started invoking the goddess Astarte (Hebrew Ashtoret). Hey, pass me that joint.

It will not come as news to you, gentle reader, that much of American Judaism is, shall we say, somewhat idiosyncratic. I believe the Jewish experience in America is coming to an end. It remains to be seen whether the craven creatures who teach Jewish studies and sign anti-Israel petitions will be able to save their own skins. Mea maxima culpas and chants of Raus mit uns didn’t help much in the past. I am an old man now and don’t know if I’ll make it to the Promised Land. Moshe rabbenu didn’t. But if I were in charge of immigration and absorption, damned if I’d let in a convert to Judaism whose only credentials were from a ragtag, tie-dyed crew of Ashtoret-worshippers from the pagan seminars and tophets of the Golden State. The Prophets knew from such people.

Bottom line, I don’t think Israel is keeping American Jews out. I think the arms of our country are open to us. I do think Steve Rodan, whoever he is, is an embittered and hostile witness with a bone to pick. Maybe somebody hurt him once. It happens. I feel for him. I really do. But do you remember being a kid and crying and taking it out on your parents and telling them they didn’t love you, just to dig the hurt you were feeling in deeper, flailing your little arms against their patient chests? Israel does love us. It’s our country. These are our people. They are family. Look at their faces and you will see your own! Israel loves you, Steve. It loves me, too, all these thousands of miles away. Bureaucracies everywhere suck, and our red tape combines the best features of Soviet Socialist officialdom and elegant Middle Eastern lassitude. You’re not alone in your frustration. And yet, and still, damn it, in this nightmare world we have to support and defend Israel to our last breath, to the last drop of our blood, and to love Hashem and Torah and Yiddishkeit, and, most of all, each other. Ahavat Yisrael.

About the Author
James R. Russell is Emeritus Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, and has served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Associate Professor of Ancient Iranian at Columbia, and part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno. He is at present Adjunct Professor of Iranian Religions at the Daneshgah-e Adyan va Mazaheb, Qom. He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Judaica Petropolitana, St. Petersburg State University, and a founding member of the International Association for Jewish Studies, chartered in the Russian Federation. His PhD is in Zoroastrian Studies, from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London. His recent books include "Poets, Heroes, and Their Dragons", 2 vols., UC Irvine Iranian Series, 2020, and "The Complete Poems of Misak Medzarents", CSU Fresno Armenian Series, 2021.
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