Covering everything from Middle Eastern media coverage of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate to Iraqi refugees, the Russian elections and Mitt Romney's bid to capture the Republican Presidential nomination, it should be an interesting conversation.
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When Benjamin Netanyahu served as Israel's Prime Minister during the late 1990s, I can distinctly recall the physical revulsion I would read into Israeli faces when they would hear of the ties that Bibi had been cultivating with Evangelist Pat Robertson. Told that American Christians were quickly becoming Israel's most devoted Diaspora supporters, I still remember how disappointed even my most politically conservative, Likud-voting friends were to hear about this. Of all people, why them?, everyone seemed to respond. It was as though, in our struggle for recognition and support, even conservatives bemoaned the fact that the only foreigners we could reach out to were people who sincerely hated us.
Granted, there are Israelis who value this 'affection', and see it as a sign of character. But, more often than not, one will find that Israelis of nearly every conceivable conviction, on one level or another, take issue with Americans. Some, for what is perceived to be a provincial approach to Middle Eastern politics, others because they suspect that Israel is a tool for American interests in the region. Though it's hard to imagine Israel's existence without the support of the US, it is equally difficult to stomach the idea that Israelis will learn to indefinitely live with this situation. If we have such ambivalent feelings about our closest ally, what will we think of ourselves if we continue to rely so heavily upon them?
The commercial success of Christopher Hitchens' most recent book, God is Not Great, is generating a lot of interest abroad. Many people are asking whether, in the wake of Bush, and his combination of military violence and Evangelical piety, a new secularism is now formally in the making.
From this vantage point, though I absolutely support such an endeavor, I am not so certain that this is indeed the case. A lot of extremely overdue noise about the political need for secularism, yes, but a broad-based social movement in the US, I remain skeptical. At the moment, its just a cultural exercise.
In this article in the July 27th weekend edition of Maariv, Israel's largest-circulation daily, I was one of several folks journalist Vered Kellner spoke to about the issue. Though not frequently available in English, if you read Hebrew, Vered's thoughtful work is always worth catching up with.
Israel has become 'normalized' within Diaspora identity, (as it is for Israelis) even though the country may no longer be considered central to what it means to be religiously Jewish. From this context stems the freedom to adopt the progressive positions espoused by peace and justice oriented Israel advocacy organizations such as Brit Tzedek v'Shalomand Jewish Voice for Peace.
Along with this normalization of pro-Israel identity for Diaspora Jews has come an increasing unwillingness to refrain from criticizing the Jewish state. Where Diaspora critics of Israeli policies were once silenced by accusations that they were self-hating Jews, they now fight back by referencing the lively debate on the same policies in Israel itself.
- Excerpted From "Everything Falls Apart", my contribution to the forthcoming anthology of new Jewish progressive writings, Righteous Indignation. (Jewish Lights, 2008.)