Thursday, January 26, 2012

Questioning the Idea of Israel (in the 22nd century?) -- the Misbegotten Diaspora (the true "lost tribe"?)

In a hundred years, when all the world uses one currency, speaks the same language and eats in the same restaurants (or whatever takes the place of restaurants) – what will be the importance of “returning” to (not that you or yours ever personally left) any historic native land? 

I’m glad there is an Ireland somewhere but “returning” never crosses my mind. Nor does "returning" to Israel seriously cross the mind of most Brooklyn Jews – who would not move to New Jersey. If there were 120 million Jews in the world today instead of 12 million, how many could “return”?


So, who “returns” to Israel?

Until the 1990s, when 1,000,000 Russians arrived (and commenced making babies), 70% of Israel’s Jewish population was so-called Oriental Jews, immigrated from Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kurdish areas, the eastern Caucasus, Northern and Eastern Sudan, Ethiopia and India. Most of Israel’s now 50% European Jews descended from Eastern Europe and Russia.

All of 1 1/2% of Israeli Jews have “returned” from the United States (not counting babies).

The “moral hazard” in this demographic is that most Jews arriving in Israel had little experience with or deep instruction in Western democratic ideals -- but with huge, if deserved, persecution complexes (Holocaust or no Holocaust) and more than anxious to stake their claims to the “land in the sand” with however desperate measures. Menachem Begin (early arriving Russian) began his career blowing up a hotel, killing 98 British soldiers, becoming inventor of the car bomb (as prime minister sent arms to Argentina to defend the Falklands).

When I was growing up in the Bronx we Irish got along so well with the Jews we likened ourselves to “the lost tribe of Israel" (in a neighborhood like the movie "The Chosen" except the Jewish boys were bigger than we were; nor did I know one bespectacled scholar :-]). In terms of liberal democratic dispositions, the majority of Israel’s "returning" Jews could have been styled the real “lost tribe” – separated by centuries of persecution and despotic rulers from the movements that democratized the West – they behaved the way human nature too often does in stark circumstances, especially when released from all checks and balances …

… they having received gifts of $200 billion dollars worth of the most potent Western conventional arms – and having armed themselves with nuclear armed ICBMs, second-strike subs, even artillery shells as well as gravity bombs.


Got to see these guys for what they do, not for what ethnic group they (mis)represent. In Israel “lunatic” is no longer a fringe.

Vanishingly few American or Western European Jews, even the most staunch supporters of Israel, would (could) personally order anything as terrifying as Israel’s, 26 day, bombing campaign on next door Lebanon, killing as many as 1000 men and women and 400 boys and girls, over three, on duty, uniformed soldiers KIA and two POW (Israel's cruel attack on Gaza over one POW suggests a single POW taken might have been enough to unleash all hell on Lebanon.) Why should progressive Jews in the West feel automatically obligated to support such defenselessly brutal regimes?

If immigrated American and European Jews happened to dominate today’s Israeli polity, would they personally be fool or just plain crass enough to attempt to crowd out an equal number of Palestinians from the remaining 22% of their unqualified personal homeland (pre-1948 Palestine)? From distant US shores, Americans in general have been known to equate the current, 1000 persons per square mile, industrial West Bank populace with 1850s, 1 per square mile, semi-nomadic American plains Indians. (I believe I read this blind, deaf and dumb take in Newsweek by Rabbi Marc Gellman of the "God Squad" of all people). Do the eighth-grade math, please, general Americans.


Now, the Western ways challenged Diaspora (all Western European figure heads but all warlike constituencies) ponders taking on a lately modernizing, oil producing nation of 43,000,000 with an out of the blue bombing attack – a nation tough enough to have fought off Saddam for eight years; a nation not passive enough to accept naked aggression supinely (imagine Syria blowing up Israeli diplomats, tit for tat?); a nation already threatening military retaliation over economic sanctions and making noises of hitting the homeland of their would-be assaulter’s chief armorer and enabler -- not that the trouble makers trouble themselves at all about the fate their chief dupe.

Neither do they fret much over inciting the Islamic streets, which could force their polities to mix in the fight. Think Pakistan, which has a population the sized of the US’s when I was in high school, 177,000,000, and possesses a panoply of nuclear munitions and modern delivery systems – plus a Jihad tilting cohort squeezing in on core government decision making (e.g., concealing Osama?).

Pakistan’s population has as much latent talent as the US’s. Israel’s population, 6,000,000 first-class citizens, has as much latent talent as New Jersey’s – and seems to use steadily less of it – as long as its luck holds and Uncle Dupe keeps holding its hand.


Israel’s two most intelligent home critics – ardent supporters of (their idea of) Israel – historian-journalist Gershom Gorenberg (“The Unmaking of Israel”) and writer-activist Uri Anvery, (see weekly column) report the toxic political climate there going from bad to worse to more anti-democratic and more conflict prone. (For more bad news see Israeli mag “+972” and American blog “Mondo Weiss”.)

Israel does not have to end this way. Israeli immigrants could have put early depredations against the native populace behind them and worked out some kind of sensible social contract. Uri's favorite critic, the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, predicted that permanently occupying the territories taken in 1968 would turn Israel into a fascist state ("a nation of work gang supervisors and secret service agents" -- see Anvery's "Reluctant Prophet" column). In the early 1960s the French evacuated 1,400,000 "settlers" (and 500,000 soldiers) from Algeria to get peace. Today, 400,000 Israeli "expatriates" (and accompanying military) can practicably make aliyah again -- a shorter trip than the first time (shorter than the returning French too) -- anytime "Zionist 1984" wants to go "Israeli Spring" – if God wills. :-)

Israel’s train wreck bound tribe look too much like mostly European us, mostly talk the same English talk, walk the same middle class walk and for a long time have hung out cheek by jowl with us. Such wall-to-wall parallels clue Jihad prone fans of the besieged Palestinians – and next, of besieged the Iranians? -- to vent their rage against us by measures (e.g., trading skyscrapers for settlements) however desperate.

If Israeli cannot find in itself the sense or the courage to take up mainstream, Western ways, then, America in the interest of its national security -- and its public safety – will need to distance itself far enough from Israel for it to look a lot less like a 51st state – and our political leaders will need to face down Israel's, hopefully, not forever blinkered domestic partisans -- we are the 98%.

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