My sister is your average Florida-residing, shul-going, Israel-loving, Trump-supporting Jewish American. She was telling me the other day about her visit with some close friends in New England who are Jews of a very different sort. They were unrestrained in their criticisms of Israel policies and would not brook any suggestion that perhaps Israel wasn’t solely to blame for the situation in which Palestinians find themselves. And just in case my sister had any doubt about the perspectives of her friends, she learned that their daughter is now a senior executive at J-Street and her parents couldn’t be prouder. Needless to say, despite the decades of friendship, my sister and her husband worked very hard to avoid the topic of the Middle East for the balance of their visit.
This encounter was a perfect microcosm of the great divide in the Jewish Diaspora. On one side are the Jews who consider Israel to be vitally important to assure a secure Jewish future, who delight in Israel’s emergence as a world technological and entrepreneurial power, who welcome Donald Trump’s unequivocal support, who believe that Israel’s existence is every bit as legitimate as any other country and who consider Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to be morally and historically commendable. Then, there’s the other side: Jews who self-identify as Democrats/Progressives, who consider Israel to be an oppressive occupying power, who believe that peace in the area can only be achieved if Israel capitulates to Palestinian territorial demands, who deny or rationalize Palestinian terrorism and refusal to engage in meaningful peace negotiations and who continue to support a Democratic Party that has no problem abiding anti-Semitism in its ranks.
How to explain why Jews who are exposed to the same events and experiences can have such divergent views? Yes, it is human nature to have differing opinions but why is it that Jews cannot find common ground on even the most basic questions concerning Israel?
My dear, departed Aunt Malka Gantz had the answer to this conundrum. In her home, she had a picture of a half-filled glass of wine (a picture that now graces the homes of all her children and nephews and nieces) to remind herself and her children that one’s happiness is mostly dependent on one’s own perspective. If you appreciate the blessings and joy in your life (despite the occasional missteps and mishaps), if you try to always find the good in other people, if you see opportunities where others see obstacles, if you’re grateful for whatever material comforts you enjoy, if you believe that you’re meant to help those less fortunate than yourself, then you’re a person who sees the cup as half-full.
The Jews who fall on this side of the divide do not ignore or deny that there are problems and contentious issues, but they believe in recognizing and emphasizing the positives; they understand the crucial role Israel plays in assuring the continuation of the Jewish people and culture; they appreciate the multitude of beneficial contributions Israel has provided to the world, they realize Israel is committed to building a just and equitable society in a part of the world that does not share those values and with a long history of Jew-hatred.
In the eyes of the half-empty-cup Jews, all they see are Israeli misdeeds, errors and omissions, historical injustices, and yet-to-be solved problems rather than acknowledge the sincere efforts made to address those problems. They are also (like most far-left liberals) angry and unhappy as a matter of course.
Where we half-full types rejoice in the near-miraculous rebirth of the Jewish homeland, the half-empty folks see an interloper who stole the land from its rightful owners (never mind that Jews have lived in Israel for millennia and that the original partition plan would have simply created a country out of enclaves whose inhabitants were predominantly Jewish). Where we understand that Israel acquired additional territory as a direct result of their Arab neighbours’ efforts to destroy the Jewish state, the other guys only see occupation and subjugation. Where we smiley-types are cognizant of (and bewildered by) the Palestinians’ turning their backs on numerous peace proposals that would have granted them statehood, the frowny-faces complain that Israel’s offers are insincere or insufficient.
Where we positive-minded Jews are heartened by President Trump recognizing Israel’s sovereignty by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the sourpusses complain about potential damage to a non-existent peace process. And where many, if not most, Jews accept the necessity of the measures Israel is forced to undertake due to never-ending Palestinian terrorism, other Jews only see an unjust security wall, preferring to infantilize Palestinians by refusing to hold them accountable for their inexcusable acts of violence.
I am, obviously, one of those Jews who feels immense pride in what the people of Israel have managed to build in less than a century. I know that Israelis are people of goodwill who would welcome peaceful coexistence with their Arab neighbours. I understand that Israel is sometimes forced to act assertively and militarily in response to attacks by its enemies while exercising to a level of compassion and restraint unmatched in the annals of international conflicts. I know that Israel’s policies and actions are generally reactive and defensive and it is not Israel that is the obstacle to peace.
I also understand that Diaspora Jews on the liberal side of the political spectrum feel a natural impulse to support the underdog (as long as that underdog’s skin complexion is darker than their alleged oppressor), but their sympathies are greatly misplaced when they side with a group whose lifelong ambition has been the extermination of the Jewish people. I know the half-empty-glass types are never satisfied with Israel’s efforts to bring about a just resolution to the Palestinian issue, but how entangled in moral equivalency do you have to be when you decide to throw in your lot with a group of people who enthusiastically sided with the Nazis in World War Two, who have spent 75 years denying the legitimacy of the Jewish state and who, rather than engage in state-building, have devoted their energies to bashing in the heads of two year old children and then afterwards celebrating their heroism?
As I tip my glass of wine in memory of my Aunt Malka, I will pray that those Jews whose cannot bring themselves to appreciate the miracle that is modern Israel will one day realize that the cup is indeed half-full and joyfully link arms with their fellow Jews in the cause of protecting and nurturing our Jewish identity and homeland.