When’s the Break-Up?

One of today’s knottiest puzzles is why a majority of Jews continue to support a Democrat party that’s accommodating anti-Israel activists. Displays of naked antipathy towards Israel and — make no mistake — towards Jews in general by those on the activist left are plain. To read leftist literature is to quickly realize that anti-Israel-ism occurs, then re-occurs, then re-occurs again in their narrative. In America. the activist left forms an increasingly influential part of the Democrat party base.

Democrat leaders in this administration leak Israeli defense secrets. This Democrat administration feels free to dismiss American-Israeli letters of understanding written by former presidents. This administration slows down the delivery of vital military parts during a defensive war. Senior members of this administration tag the Israeli Prime Minister with a barnyard epithet. Activist left Democrats organize to publicly snub the Israeli prime minister. With intelligence reports confirming Netanyahu’s assessments of the Iranian nuclear program in hand, this administration publicly mocked and belittled the PMs warnings.

Administration spokespeople appear on talk shows crowing that “Seventy percent of Jews are with us.” And they’re right.

The question is why are seventy percent of American Jews still backing a party that harbors significant anti-Israel element?

This deep seated support is perhaps more cultural than religious. In Europe, liberalism was the seed bed of Jewish emancipation. Social justice, equal opportunity, and a benign government were liberal goals irresistible to Jews. As far as Jews were concerned, individuals on the right in Europe stood for the continued injustice, inequality, and societal barriers of the old regimes. It’s not hard to understand why most Jews came to these shores leaning liberal.

In America, Jews immediately gravitated to liberal causes. Liberals were concerned with social justice. Liberals cultivated a thoughtful, informed and rational image. Those people on the other side were the morally flawed or the uneducated, the very people who had long demonized Jews.

During the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of Jews stood proudly in the liberal camp through the New Deal, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights era. During these decades, Judaism and liberalism became, for many, inseparable. Many felt as long as one worked for the liberal goals, one could be a good Jew regardless of the level of one’s traditional Jewish observance.

Gradually, many nominal Jews became disassociated with traditional Jewish learning and observance. They nevertheless remained enchanted with liberalism. They might be lapsed Jews but they were practicing liberals, in many cases ultra-orthodox liberals.

But today’s liberalism is not your grandfather’s liberalism. Things started to change when the left, having established the Worker’s Paradise in Eastern Europe, decided the next slice of humanity needing liberation were indigenous peoples. In their view, Jews were not native to Judea. The historical evidence of Jewish habitation in the land was overlooked, and they concluded Jews, alone among nations of the world, had no national home. The left invented the notion that Jewish European imperialists had set up colonies where Jews had never lived before. The corollary to this was the fiction that interloping Jews were dispossessing the true natives.

Like an algae bloom, this fabrication spread quickly following Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six Day War.

This narrative painted Israelis as mirror images of racist Afrikaners or cold blooded Nazis. Heinous violence by Palestinians was understood, glossed over and forgiven. For the last 50 years, the activist left has peddled this narrative. It is axiomatic that the point of view of the liberal activist base is necessarily anti-Israel.

For Jewish liberals, this is a dilemma. Despite the hostility of the activists to Israel, Jewish liberals remain committed to the left’s advertised agenda of truth and justice. At the same time, even Jewish liberal activists don’t want to reject Israel entirely. From them, one commonly hears such statements as “I support Israel, but I don’t support this Israeli government.” It seems like a thoughtful, rational position until one remembers that Israel has had governments left, right and center and the non-Jewish activist base has opposed them all. Consistently.

Now, judging from recent events, the non-Jewish activist left not only opposes Israel, but they’ve slid one step further, turning on Jews, in general. Witness how effortlessly the European demonstrations against last summer’s Gaza war shifted from protesting against Israeli policy to assaulting the local Jewish civilians. Demonstrations were not held in front Israeli embassies, but in front of synagogues. Jewish children were shot in front of a Jewish school. Jewish tourists were shot at a Jewish museum. Jews were shot at a grocery. In progressive Europe, one is ill advised to wear any identifiably Jewish item in public. Fearing identification, Jews even remove the mezuot from their doorposts. At a liberal American university, fitness to serve on the student council can be called into question if one is Jewish.

These attacks and others, are not on individuals responsible for Israeli government policies. For this liberal Democrat administration, these episodes are non-stories.

When facts bump up against the accepted narrative this activist administration flatly refuses to identify the people and forces involved. They purposely employ vague and opaque language. Islamic terrorism morphs into workplace violence. Jews being killed in a kosher market shift into random folks being shot in a deli.

However, if a situation might further the narrative of their base, the president, the attorney general, fifty FBI agents, and media personalities become personally involved. The president will reference the activist view of the situation in speeches before world bodies. We learn the full identity and background of everyone. It gets personalized to the point where “he could have been my son.”

This spotlighting of narratives that further the leftist activist agenda while dismissing those that go against it, leads to a palpable double standard in matters concerning Israel.

Jewish liberals should ask themselves if liberalism is the unfettered search truth and justice, how is ignoring facts that don’t fit the preconceived narrative intellectually honest? How is demonizing one party for existing, then championing the party that pledges to annihilate the first a sound moral position?

So what are Jewish liberals to do? To paraphrase an old quote, the Jew didn’t leave the Democrat party, the Democrat party has left the Jews. For those who made liberalism the sine non qua of their Judaism, the problem is acute. If they weren’t liberal, what would they be? If they’re no longer liberal, would they still be Jewish? The right seems a scary place for Jews, while the left is comfortable and familiar. Does one have to own a gun to vote Republican?

This reminds me of the midrash about the Children of Israel standing huddled on the Egyptian side of the Red Sea. They had been slaves to the Egyptians for years. They had to have faith the sea would open and there would be something better on the other side. But the sea wasn’t splitting. And the first one to step into the water was up to his knees. Then up to his waist, then the water was swirling around his chest. Finally, when the water got up to his nose, the sea split and the people crossed over.

There’s the lesson. Jewish liberals should have faith, hold their nose and go over to the other side.

About the Author
Art is a composer and playwright whose works promote positive images of Jewish culture and history. He currently lives in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and is a member of the Association for Jewish Theatre.
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