Should American Jewry Save Israel?

In other words: Is it time – high time, in fact – for the Jewish people of America to take a more active, decisive role in Israel’s policies, decisions and the directions, and save it from itself? And please, save me the usual preaching about Israel being a democratic, sovereign country, capable of defending itself and doing the right thing. I know all that very well: I was born there, fought some of its wars, and still am a citizen of the country. But really, hasn’t Israel reached the point of no return, whereby it endangers, with its actions and inactions, as evident lately by the collapse of the latest round of peace negotiations with the Palestinians on the one hand, and by the rise of unlawful, vigilante settlers’ “price tags” attacks on the other, not only its own survival as a Jewish and democratic state, but the future of the Jewish people the world over?

In trying to answer this question, let’s tackle first another question: Does the survival of Israel, the most powerful country – certainly militarily, and politically too – in the Middle East really is in doubt? My initial reaction, and answer to this question has been negative for quite sometimes now. We are here to stay, we’ve proved it once and again. But there are dangerous undercurrents, which are hard to ignore, and shifting, shaking ground that threatens the stability and survival of the state. And lest you think I’m exaggerating, and overblowing the dangers to Israel’s existence out of all proportions, here’s what Yossi Sarid had to say about it, writing in Haaretz on May 9th, reflecting on Israel’s Independence Day’s celebrations, and referring to the 40th-year memorial service for Phantom pilot Capt. Yigal Stavy, at which his sister asked his friends: “I want to know, did Yigal die in vain? And a bereaved father answers, like the son in the Passover Haggadah who does not know how to ask a question: ‘For as long as we have a state, we can remember and pass on the heritage.’ He was not alone, and don’t play dumb: Who among you has not heard in recent years the most terrible of questions — ‘What do you think, will Israel survive?’”

Even if the answer to that question is emphatically yes, there still remains the second question that needs to be answered: Will Israel survive as a Jewish and democratic state? Because, with the absence of peace with the Palestinians, and with the continuation of the insane government settlement policy and activity in the West Bank – which according to most observers and participants in the long peace process, including the Americans, had brought about the collapse of the latest peace negations – what kind of a country would it be? Take the A-Bomb question, for instance; i.e. the apartheid predicament. For “nearly 50 years an apartheid regime has ruled its occupied territories,” wrote an editorial in Haaretz on May 1, referring to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. And if so, would it be confined to the occupied territories, or would spread like cancer to other parts of the country? And would the camp of settlers zealots, those of the “price tags” despicable activities, such as the burning of Palestinian olive trees, torching innocent inhabitants cars, and desecrating mosques – “Hebrew neo-Nazi groups,” is how Amos Oz, Israel’s greatest of writers had called them – will they spread their poisonous venom to other parts of the country? Or wait a minute, they already did that, didn’t they?

How would Israelis and Jewish Americans, in light of these policies and activities, and also due to Israel’s further global isolation, defend Israel and its actions? And does Israel still possess the capability, the will and political know-how of redirecting its ship, and rescuing itself from the dangerous, storming sea she finds itself sailing in, without the help of America in general, and American Jewry in particular? It is doubtful Israel would exist today, the way we know it to exist, without America and Jewish Americans help and support – militarily, financially, politically, and morally – going all the way to the November 1947 U.N. partition resolution which gave the international stamp of approval to the birth of Israel. So why not doing it now, supporting Israel, even if it means opposing the direction the country is heading in?

Currently, the Jewish-Israeli conundrum points in two different directions. The forces of progress, peace, reconciliation, compromise and tolerance are clearly growing, and winning the day among American Jews. At the same time, the forces of regression, extremism, war and intolerance are clearly winning the battle among the majority of Israelis. There is a need, therefore, for the Jewish American side to at least try and convince Israel to take a good look in the old Jewish mirror. See itself from the outside, in a different light, historically and culturally, even if just in order to try and understand things better.

After all, the existence of Israel, and its survival as a Jewish and democratic state is not only a matter for the Israelis alone to contemplate and deal with. It is a matter of survival for us all.

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.