Who
Needs Nazis?

By

Leonard
Zwelling

         As an American Jew, I have slowly come
to appreciate that many of my fellow Jews don’t agree with me. Given that
having two Jews in a room usually indicates the presence of at least three
opinions, this may sound like a strange admission on my part. But, it really
isn’t. Jews of a certain age (mine), especially those brought up on the East
Coast (many), tend to think that all Jews have similar opinions, especially
when it comes to Israel. Fortunately, this is not true. Healthy debates between
Jews with different, even opposing, opinions about the Israeli actions in the
Middle East can take place and should. After 65 years, it is reasonable that
the American position with regard to Israel is that of mutual allies with
common enemies in Israel’s neighborhood and common interests in preserving the
major societal organs of democracy and capitalism.

         That does not mean that Israelis should
feel America right or wrong any more than Americans do and it certainly means
that Americans, even those of the Jewish persuasion, can disagree on the wisdom
of any Israeli government action. But, Americans and Israelis have a common
interest in promoting the strength and prosperity of each other’s people and
governments.

         Last week The Conference of Presidents
of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to reject membership to J Street,
an activist group of American Jews that formed in response to AIPAC, the
American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC, as many of you will know, is a
group of intense and unflinching supporters of Israel, right or wrong, whose
annual meeting in Washington is a must-stop for politicians of all stripes to
proclaim their solidarity with the state of Israel in a quest for Jewish money
and votes. J Street tends to have a more considered approach to Israel’s
actions in the Middle East actually believing that the Palestinians, on
occasion, may have a point. How novel!

         According to the article in the NY
Times:

(http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/01/us/jewish-coalition-rejects-lobbying-groups-bid-to-join.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry48%23%2FJ+street&_r=0)

the
Conservative and Reform Jewish movements including the Anti-Defamation League
backed J Street’s inclusion in the umbrella group but the votes of the Orthodox
opponents of J Street were sufficient to block their participation. So yes,
Jews were blackballing Jews from an organization that is not Sigma Chi or the
River Oaks Country Club. Jews were doing what the Nazis could not—pitting some
of us against the others to keep Jews out of a Jewish organization. What a
shameful day!

         I have had numerous discussions with
many Jews including rabbis of different persuasions about AIPAC and Israel. The
knee jerk support for Israel manifested by and demanded of all Jews by AIPAC
is, in my opinion, non-considered, non-thoughtful, paternalistic and almost
autocratic. It should come as no surprise that the neocons who led us into Iraq
and the Fox News watchers at the Houston JCC love AIPAC. However, in my
opinion, AIPAC, despite the lofty IQ of its members, is not a thinking person’s
organization when Israel is what is being thought about.

         I have no idea on any given issue
whether or not I will agree with the stance of AIPAC or J Street, if they
differ. I thought Israel’s boarding the boat running the blockade in the
Mediterranean was stupid as it was just asking for trouble.  I always hope Israel is way too smart to be
sucked into a quagmire like that, but after Lebanon, we know that is not always
the case. Israel can make foolish foreign policy errors just as the US did in
Vietnam or Iraq. My support for the Jewish state is predicated on Israel’s
maturation as a true democracy among the nations of the world, not that it make
no errors in judgment.

Israel has a series of very tough decisions to make for it
cannot continue as a democracy, a Jewish state and a nation encompassing a huge
number of non-Jews who feel disenfranchised not to mention furious about how
the Israelis took their land. (Please don’t give me the Biblical song and
dance. The reason Israel lives inside the post-1967 borders and continues to
extend them is because it fought for and won the land. God did not give them
the West Bank or the area of the settlements. They won it themselves by taking
it by force.)

It is likely that Israel at some point will have to decide
to be two of the three and I vote for Jewish state plus democracy. To get
there, the Israelis must give up some territory and admit that they took the
land on which they currently reside. The Palestinians, in turn, have to accede
to the existence of the Jewish state on a reduced footprint without Israelis having
to operate under the constant threat of war or terrorism if the Palestinians on
the West Bank or in Gaza want their people to flourish economically rather than
continue to have a very well educated group under-achieve in perpetuity, while
masses live in poverty. Bomb making is not an industry with long-term prospects
or likely to attract venture capital other than from equally misguided terror
groups. To paraphrase the great Abba Eban: the Palestinians have to stop never
“missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” And many of the parties in Israeli
domestic politics must find some common ground to allow the leadership to make
a deal without fear of being thrown out of the Knesset and into the River
Jordan.

         When we first visited Israel in 1998
and 1999, just before the first intifada, we were impressed that things were
moving in the right direction. There was active commerce across the borders.
Israeli and Palestinian soldiers showed mutual respect for one another as they
oversaw the checkpoints. We were able to easily enter and leave Bethlehem,
Nazareth and Jericho, all of which are in the West Bank.

I wonder how much we will be able to return to in the West
Bank when we visit in August this year?

         It is beyond sad for me as an American
Jew to see my fellow American Jews as knee jerk and rabid supporters of
another, foreign country just because Jews live there. Many Israeli Jews are far
less religious than their American counterparts. This is neither good nor bad.
It just is.  The beach in Tel Aviv is
alive and cooking on Saturday (the Sabbath) afternoon even if the streets of
Jerusalem are quiet. Like America, Israel is many countries and Jews there,
like Jews here, come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and beliefs.

If we Jews discriminate against other Jews as the members
of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations just did, we will
have been successful at an activity that Hitler, Stalin, and the Ku Klux Klan
all failed at doing—creating Jewish anti-Semites.

         Mazel Tov!

Leonard Zwelling