“Here is an angry and cogent Israeli response to incessant provocation and violence, and one of the factors that triggered the Gaza campaign,” wrote a reader. In his missive, the reader had attached an article for my edification. Chief among the problems with the article is that its author, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, is not an Israeli. Rabbi Boteach is an American. Online, he describes himself as “‘America’s Rabbi,’ whom the Washington Post calls ‘the most famous rabbi in America.”
Rabbi Boteach’s Huffington Post defense of Israel titled “Fed Up With Dead Jews” is thus not an “Israeli” response to the latest flare-up between Hamas and Israel, but a Jewish-American one.
Mistaking a Jewish-American defense of Israel for an “Israeli” one is understandable. When it comes to things Israel, very many American Jews sound like Israelis. While one would expect an Israeli to vigorously defend his homeland, in theory and in practice, one does not expect an American – Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Baha’i – to defend the interests of a foreign country with the intensity ordinarily reserved for one’s own.
In “Fed Up,” Rabbi Boteach inveighs: “We have every right to be fed up. No nation should have to live like this. No nation should have to die like this. … what we do know is that the option of dead Jews is no longer acceptable. We have a right to live.”
Rabbi Boteach and Israel are as one.
Far be it from me to question the rabbi’s capacity to commit to two countries. Seamlessly does Boteach spread passion and “Kosher Lust” (his new book) wherever he goes. In question here is the unseemliness of dual patriotism; the conflict of interest, if you will.
Assailed by savages on their borders, Israelis have my sympathies in the battle for the West. For that matter, so do the Russians and the Europeans. In Israel – warts and all – the West has reclaimed a small spot of sanity in a sea of savagery, where enlightened Western law prevails, where Christians and Jews and their holy places are safe and where innovation thrives. (Who do you imagine invented Microsoft’s “Kinect,” which is in the Guinness Book of Records as the “Fastest-Selling Consumer Electronics Device” ever? Microsoft likes to claim credit for “Kinect,” but it belongs to an Israeli outfit called PrimeSense.) Hellene and Hebrew certainly have civilizational commonalities. But Americans, Israelis and Europeans do not necessarily share strategic and military interests.
Contra Boteach, my own passions are tempered by time and place. I live in America. My neighbors are American. This is my home. I may be a Jew, but I’m an American patriot first. My loyalties lie with my (war-weary) countrymen, first. Duly, in the waning months of 2012, this column called out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for inserting himself into the middle of a rancorous American election season. Israel was a wedge issue in the last election. Bibi had chosen a most inopportune time to demand face time with Barack Obama. “Now is not a good time, Bibi,” I admonished.
“Whose House is it, anyway?” I asked when, in 2011, Netanyahu was permitted to issue forth before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. It was an abomination when Mexican President Felipe Calderon was allowed to address the Congress, in May of 2010, and it is an abomination for the Israeli prime minister to have been granted such access to the People’s House. Both these respective foreign leaders are patriots, looking out for their countrymen. It is the American people’s representatives who are the traitors, for it is they who’ve permitted this reoccurring spectacle.
More recently, I urged an Israeli to “go jump in the sea of Galilee.” During President Barack Obama’s 2013 visit to Israel, an indignant Israeli journalist demanded to know why Americans have not stopped the carnage in Syria. “Why us?” I asked. “Why not Israel? Let Israel police the region.” The president replied firmly, politely putting the man in his place. Readers who frequent this space have learned not to expect partisanship. I detest Obama and what he stands for. That doesn’t mean I will not call it as I see it on those rare occasions when the president is right.
You get the impetus. An American writer’s intellectual energy ought to focus on American interests, first. Personal probity demands it! Otherwise, the columnist is a fifth column.
Perhaps because his message is so simplistic, Rabbi Boteach juggles his potentially conflicting loyalties rather well. That he loves America and wishes her all the good things he wants for Israel is not in question.
Less providential in his partisanship is HuffPo’s Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Like Rabbi Boteach, Creditor also uses the first-person, plural, personal pronoun, “We,” in reference to Israel. His identification with the Jewish state is complete: “We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right,” puffed the rabbi.
Is Rabbi Creditor an Israeli, living in the thick of terrorism? No. Creditor is another cloistered, clannish American Jew. Still worse, the rabbi is conservative in Israel, but liberal in America – proudly touting his credentials as “a progressive U.S. faith leader,” who has “work[ed] to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more.”
“Paint me blue,” proclaims Creditor proudly.
Oblivious to the logical and moral contradiction inherent in his special pleading – rightist political prescriptions for Israelis; leftist prescriptions for Americans – Rabbi Creditor touts himself as “a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard,” and who believes “immigrants [are] treated like chattel by the U.S.”
On America, Rabbi Creditor wills a “Camp of the Saints” scenario – “the 1973 novel by French author Jean Raspail envisioning an apocalyptic ‘invasion’ of Europe by successive boatloads of Third World nationals.” For Israel, Rabbi Creditor has an entirely different vision. The Jewish state, presumably, should retain a creedal and cultural distinctiveness and a Jewish majority. Israel, but not the U.S., should be allowed to control immigration and police its borders.
Ask any left-liberal American Jew if he supports a “Right of Return” to Israel proper for every self-styled Palestinian refugee, and he’ll likely recoil: “Are you meshuga? Never! That’s a euphemism for Israel’s demise.” The very thing he rejects for Israel, the liberal Jew is inclined to champion for America: a global right of return to the U.S. for citizens of the world.
This is the problem central to the articles penned by Rabbis Boteach and Creditor. The articles also border on pastiche; they’re a poorly reasoned and badly written hodgepodge.
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