Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

The Insufferable Sanctimoniousness of Chaboniks

Chabon and Waldman, it is one thing to criticize Israel to Israelis and others. It is something else entirely to use your position as influential authors to wage a one-sided campaign to pressure Israel to make concessions that endanger the lives of its citizens—both Jewish and Arab.

Michael Chabon and his wife Ayelet Waldman are the darlings of left-minded western literati. Chabon is a well-known writer of Jewish-themed fiction and essays. His reputation was assured in 2001 when he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In 2007, he wrote The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. This novel, set in the present day, imagines an alternate history in which Israel is defeated in the 1948 War of Independence. As an alternative to Israel, the Jews establish themselves in a large Jewish city in Alaska.

Chabon’s Shtick against Israel

I have read only brief excerpts of Chabon’s work, so I have no opinion about the quality of his writing. But Chabon and Waldman have irked me for some time. The reason is that they have dedicated themselves for many years to “opposing the Israeli occupation” of Judea and Samaria, land Israel acquired in a defensive war in 1967 against five of Israel’s Arab neighbors. Chabon and Waldman have used their fame to present a one-sided narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They have helped anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic forces all over the world to demonize Israel and weaken it in the international community. But if you listen to this misguided couple you realize they think they are a Jewish cat’s meow.

The Jews have always had lots of enemies. Israel has lots of enemies dedicated to destroying it. Chabon and Waldman belong to a special set of human creatures who imagine themselves to be morally superior because they have the “courage” to speak out against their own. As Jews, they are powerful propaganda tools because the anti-Zionists can (and do) say: “You see, even Jewish people see how bad Israel is.”

Chabon and Waldman are not the only Jews who use their position in society to defame Israel with a one-sided narrative. In recognition of Chabon’s outsized role in demonizing Israel, I call Jews like him “Chaboniks.”

Chaboniks talk incessantly about Israel’s faults—-and they find many. They almost never cite the faults of Israel’s enemies. For example, they never talk or write about the history of Jewish persecution in Arab lands, or the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries after Israel’s founding. They never talk about the many Israeli peace offers the Arabs have refused, or the well-funded and organized anti-Jewish murder campaigns of Israel’s neighbors. They never talk about Arab intolerance and corruption that has made life miserable for Arabs, not just in the “occupied territories” but most everywhere in the Arab world.

I don’t deny that Israeli security restrictions on Arabs in Judea and Samaria are onerous. On the other hand, for some time now, 95% of Arabs in these areas have lived under Palestinian Authority, not Israeli, rule. Israel enters these PA-controlled areas only when security requires it—for example, to break up a terrorist ring or dismantle an arms factory.

I don’t deny that there are instances of Israeli human rights abuses.

It’s just that Chaboniks confine their presentations to Jew-blaming without any sense of proportion or acknowledgement of the corruption, intransigence, intolerance, and violence of Israel’s Arab enemies.

A Speech, a Book and an Interview

In May of 2018 Chabon gave a controversial speech to graduating students at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. As he has in the past, he hurled a one-sided invective against Israel for its “illegal occupation.” He peppered his speech with anti-Israel accusations and went so far as to belittle Israel’s security concerns. According to Chabon, “Security is an invention of humanity’s jailers….Anywhere you look, it is and has always been a hand of power drawing the boundaries, putting up the separation barriers and propagandizing hatred and fear of the people on the other side of the wall.” He seems to be unaware of the torrent of Arab violence and hate launched against Israel on a regular basis.

In 2017 Chabon and Waldman edited a book-length collection of essays, The Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (published May 30, 2017).1 The book marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Israeli “occupation.” It includes essays from a coterie of international writers as well as local Palestinian authors. The ostensible purpose of the book is to use story-telling to introduce the realities of the Israeli occupation to a wide audience. According to editor Waldman, “I want to get to people who would normally avoid at all costs thinking about this issue because it makes them uncomfortable.” In saying this, Waldman admits that the editors of the book hope to influence many people to believe, as they do, that the Israeli occupation is inhumane and unjustified.

I researched a few of these authors. All of them have well-established anti-Israel bona fides. They have written and given speeches about the injustices of the Israeli occupation. The narrative they present is always the same: All the bad things that have befallen the Palestinians are due to what they believe is an unnecessary occupation and the abusive way the Israelis administer it.

Author Geraldine Brooks is no doubt typical of the contributors to the book. In her essay, she presents a sympathetic portrayal of two Arab teenagers who carried out a stabbing attack against Jews.2

The writing drips with constant references to the cruelty of Israelis and the terrible suffering of the two terrorist boys. The implication throughout is that the boys’ knife attack was understandable in light of all they have witnessed: checkpoints, cruel Israeli settlers who are suspicious of Arabs, television images of bombed out neighborhoods in Gaza. Who could blame these kids for becoming murderers? Brooks even criticizes the Israeli authorities for setting conditions for return of the body of one of the boys who was killed carrying out his terrorist act (burial to take place at night, security check for the mourners).

As is typical of a Chabonik, she fails to tell the reader that these security measures are necessary to avoid Palestinian riots that often accompany funerals of slain terrorists and that can result in more deaths. She says nary a word about the daily diet of anti-Semitic incitement these boys are exposed to in the official Palestinian media, at school, in their sports teams and their clubs. Nor about the assurances provided by adults that killing a Jew will guarantee them an honored place in heaven—-not to mention a sizeable life-long allowance for themselves or for their family, if they are killed in the act of murder.

But of course, these omissions are standard practice for Chaboniks.

In June 2017, Michael Chabon and his accomplice wife Ayelet Waldman gave an interview to YNET News, a major Israeli newspaper.3 The interview is revealing.

The couple reviews their heartfelt efforts to reconnect to their Jewish roots. Initially they turned to religion, but after a while they rejected the religious aspect of Judaism because of its “chauvinism.” They are disturbed by the sexism and violence of the Jewish bible. In the end they reject it in favor of attaching themselves to secular Jewish culture.

They talk about the values that are important to them. They support all the right progressive values in favor of abortion rights, civil rights, equal rights, feminism. But they are deeply disturbed about what they call a “carve out” for Israel:

….there was this kind of like carveout for Israel. So they would have these progressive politics at home, they would march with Martin Luther King, but they had like a carveout for Israel, which was, you know, Israel can do what it wants because there’s that kind of anxiety, the Holocaust anxiety.

Chabon and Waldman make it clear that, unlike their less moral Jewish compatriots, they will not fall into the trap of excusing Israel for its terrible sins. They’re much too good for that.

Having rejected Jewish religious teachings and having adopted a critical stance toward Israel, it should not be surprising that their children are less than enthusiastic about both Judaism and Israel. The couple confesses to the interviewer that their children don’t care about Israel and don’t want to hear about it. “Their values as Democrats in America cannot be aligned with what’s happening in the occupied territories, and thus they disconnect”, Waldman explains.

“They wouldn’t bat an eyelash if Israel was just shut down and everybody deported to North Dakota. Each of them has said to me, ‘Hey, that would have been a better solution.’” It is hard to escape the impression that Chabon and Waldman agree. When offered a trip to Israel their two older kids refused. They would rather go anywhere else in the world.

Waldman appears to believe that Israel is an unnecessary conceit and an imposition on the world: “It [the Jewish state] should have been Berlin. Those are the people who murdered us. We are city people. Jews are urban in our souls. They should have just given us Berlin. Can you imagine? A wonderful Jewish city state.”

Waldman seems blissfully unaware that anti-Semitism has surged in today’s Germany and Europe. As noted by a Jewish commentator in a recent New York Times article, “….attacks on synagogues are an almost weekly occurrence, and openly anti-Semitic chants are commonplace on well-attended marches from London to Rome.”4 Chabon and Waldman are unfazed by the idea that Israel might be destroyed. Do they know that in the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces discovered Arab documents that set out plans for the massacre of Israel’s Jewish population? Are they oblivious to the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who have been massacred by other Arabs in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen? Do they think Israel’s Arab enemies will be less brutal with the Jewish minority that is widely despised across the Arab world?

Chabon and Waldman are caught in the old shtetl mentality in which Jews must look to someone else to “give” them a state. Self-respecting Jews understand that Jews don’t ask to be given anything. Rather, they insist on re-establishing their country on land to which they have had a claim for over 3,500 years—-a historical claim stronger than that of almost any other national group. They know that it was centuries of oppression in Europe and the Moslem world, and not the Holocaust, that motivated the creation of Israel. They are aware of the plight of Jews as second class denizens and targets of violence in the Arab countries. And they know that today half of Israel’s Jewish population has its origins in Arab countries, not in Europe.

Most importantly, self-respecting Jews know that their only guarantee of self-respect and survival lies in a strong Israel. For all their literary fame, how did this couple miss this most obvious of facts?

More Sanctimonious Posturing

Chabon and Waldman believe that their children, like other young Jewish Americans, have turned against Israel because of Israelis. But it is more likely to be because of their parents. They have poisoned their children’s’ minds with a biased and unbalanced narrative about Israel. With their new book and their anti-Israel advocacy they hope to do the same for the rest of the world. All in Israel’s interests, of course.

Waldman tells of a disturbing anti-Semitic tweet she received. She hasn’t a clue that her anti-Israel activities and those of her husband might have anything to do with the current uptick in anti-Semitism. Rather, according to this activist couple, the reinvigorated anti-Jewish feeling in this country is due to President Trump, who is anti-Semitic and has given permission for anti-Semitism to flourish.

Remarkably, she follows this up by calling the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “Trump’s pet Jew.” (As if that doesn’t encourage anti-Semitic discourse.) She then equates Kushner to “facilitators” in the German concentration camps and ghettos. My parents were survivors of Polish ghettos and concentration camps. I find it offensive that this Jewish woman, from her safe perch in America, makes this absurd comparison. If anyone is facilitating public sentiment and violence against Jews, it is this misguided couple. Kushner, as I understand, is working hard to find a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that will ensure Israel’s security. That is more than one can say for Chabon and Waldman.

According to Chabon, “To me they’re all the same. Islamic fundamentalists are the same as Jewish fundamentalists are the same as Christian fundamentalists. It’s just a matter of who hates who and who’s more efficient at killing people and oppressing women.” To a man who purports to care about values, this is odd. Chabon may not like the values of some Orthodox Jews, but he fails to acknowledge that Jewish and Christian fundamentalists do not strap explosives to their children and send them out to murder. To say there is moral equivalence is not just wrong, it is dangerous.

In another instance of moral confusion, Waldman tells the interviewer, “When David Be’eri runs over a child in the road, it’s exactly the same thing as an Islamic terrorist on a suicide bus. The only difference is he’s not killing himself, he’s only killing the children.” This comparison is as odd as it is morally reprehensible.

Be’eri is a Jewish Israeli who lives in a settlement in the West Bank. In the incident cited by Waldman, Be’eri was the victim of a terrorist attack. A crowd of young Arab men encircled the car, driven by Be’eri with his wife in the passenger’s seat. In the photos, the young men appeared to be at least in their late teens. They hurled a torrent of rocks at Be’eri’s car. Be’eri attempted to evade the attackers by placing his car in reverse, but was unable escape because a car driven by an Arab driver directly behind him blocked his escape. It is likely that the attack was planned this way. A similar attack occurred recently in which a Palestinian ambulance suddenly appeared behind a Jewish motorist, blocking his escape, as a crowd of young men hurled rocks at the motorist’s car.

Like all Israelis, Be’eri knew that Jewish Israelis have been killed and injured in these rock throwing ambushes, which are an established Palestinian tactic. Apparently Waldman expected Be’eri to stay in place as he and his wife were killed. Instead he fled, and in the process, he collided with two of his attackers. Waldman’s condemnation of Be’eri is a template for her position on Israel’s presence in the West Bank: When Israel tries to defend itself it is Israel we must blame.

My Message to the Moralizing Couple

Chabon and Waldman, put this in your book.

For years, a large majority of Jewish Israelis has favored ending the occupation. The Israeli government has uprooted thousands of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and all it has gotten in return are thousands of rocket attacks, terror tunnels and repeated wars from the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Israel has made several offers to withdraw from essentially all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and each time the Palestinians have rejected these offers. Israeli forces have for many years withdrawn from much of the West Bank so that today, almost all West Bank Arabs are under Palestinian Authority, not Israeli, control. Like Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has always refused to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state. Given this rejectionism, Palestinian support for terrorism, and the terrorist financing provided by countries like Turkey, Qatar and Iran, any Palestinian state would be a terrorist base, just as the Gaza Strip is today. Thus, further Israeli withdrawal will not bring peace. It will bring about war and death. That is, until the Arabs accept a Jewish state in their midst.

Chabon and Waldman, it is one thing to criticize Israel to Israelis and others. It is something else entirely to use your position as influential authors to wage a one-sided campaign to pressure Israel to make concessions that endanger the lives of its citizens—both Jewish and Arab.

You say you know better than Israelis what Israel should do. That is easy to do from your safe perch as American Jews. You may not be as smart or moral as you believe.

Think about whom you have sided with. You have empowered Israel’s enemies all over the world. You have joined in the fight to harm the only country that, when the chips are down, will protect your own people. And you are doing this at a time when Israel is fighting for its survival.

You say you are committed to women’s rights and personal freedoms. Yet you have sided with Israel’s Arab enemies who rarely practice these freedoms which you say you cherish. Chabon, your novels are full of gay characters and you have said you fell in love with two men. Have you ever thought to criticize Palestinian society for murdering its gay members? Why are your criticisms directed only at Israel, where the rights you demand are respected?

Far from being the morally superior people you claim to be, you are misguided and sanctimonious. You are insufferable.

Footnotes

  1. Chabon, M. & Waldman, A. (Eds.) The Kingdom of Olives and Ashes: Writers Confront the Occupation. 2017.
  1. Brooks, G. The Dovekeeper and the Children’s Intifada. Chapter in The Kingdom of Olives and Ashes. Excerpted in: The New Yorker Magazine, May 27, 2017. Retrieved June 19, 2017 from: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-dovekeeper-and-the-childrens-intifada
  2. Zeret, E. Kushner is Trump’s Pet Jew. YNET News, June 9, 2017. Retrieved June 19, 2017 from: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4973431,00.html
  3. Bittner, J. What’s Behind Germany’s New Anti-Semitism. New York Times, September 16, 2014. Retrieved June 20, 2017 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/opinion/jochen-bittner-whats-behind-germanys-new-anti-semitism.html
About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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