Commentary Magazine


She’s a Liberal Jew and She Can’t Manage to Defend Israel

I thought this piece might have been a clever parody of American Jewry. (Not as clever as this one, but it’s a hard standard to meet.) But it’s for real and appears in the lefty Tablet magazine, home to many a whimpering, indecisive, and guilt-ridden liberal Jew who can’t quite manage to defend the Jewish state. (I use that phrase intentionally since they no doubt bristle at it.)

One Marjorie Ingall writes:

I am deeply ambivalent about Israel. Modern-day Israel, as opposed to historical Israel, is a subject I avoid with my children. Yes, of course I believe the state should exist, but the word “Zionist” makes me skittish. (I understand that I may be the Jewish equivalent of all the twentysomething women I want to smack for saying, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights.”) I shy away from conversations about Israeli politics. I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert. Neither Abe Foxman nor AIPAC speaks for me. I am a liberal, and I am deeply troubled by the Matzav, Israeli shorthand for tension with the Palestinians, and I do not have answers, and I do not know what to do about it, and I do not know what to tell my children.

From her stack of books, her eight-year-old daughter chose one and came to her mother for advice:

I stumbled desperately through an explanation of why two peoples feel they have a legitimate claim to the same land.

“But having land is like having a seat on a bus,” Josie replied. “You can’t just push someone out of their seat, and you can’t just leave your seat and then come back to it after a long time and just expect the person who is sitting there now to give it to you.” [Smart child!]

My panicked reaction to her words surprised me. I found myself trying to convince her that Israel did have that right. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies. I was spinning in my own head like the desperate, overwhelmed woman in the Calgon commercial: J Street, take me away! . . .

Baby-boomer Jews seem wedded to a sepia-toned image of Jews as victims—in the shtetl, in the Holocaust, in Israel’s early wars. But in real life, victims can turn into bullies. Perhaps being the parent to girls, rather than boys, helps me see this—in Mean Girl dynamics, the power shifts back and forth almost every day. We want a bright clear line, but heroes and villains in the real world are much fuzzier.

You get the picture. (And you wonder why American Jewry is in trouble?) But there is good news: she confesses, “I’ve taught my children about Jewish identity through ancient history, through food, through songs and prayers, through the story of American immigration. I’ve left any Israel talk to their teachers.” Still, it gives her angst to know her child might be a — you know (and lower your voice) — Zionist!

But the better news comes in the comments, where a few less-confused Jews try to set her straight:

You’re just confused. You can’t imagine that anyone would want to spend the past 110 years wanting you and your people dead. Once you wrap your mind around that idea, you’ll stop being confused. As far as two people wanting the same piece of land, I suggest you go live on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma if you feel so strongly about the dispossessed.

Another advises: “Please don’t talk to your kids about Israel. Hopefully they will find out the truth from other more knowledgeable, less neurotic people or perhaps go to Israel on a Birthright trip and see it for themselves.” These and others restore some confidence that the wider Jewish community (even liberals reading that publication) is not completely out to lunch.

Well, Ingall is certainly ready for J Street membership — maybe a board post. And it is a reminder, as Bibi Netanyahu said in a recent AIPAC  speech, that the “future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.” He was referring to Churchill and FDR, but how much more true it is given the current White House occupant and the performance to date of mainstream Jewish organizations.

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