Sigal Samuel is a young and evidently religious Jewish blogger at Open Zion. In a post on the Jewish vote, she cites a rabbi’s injunction to Jews to vote in a spirit of “hakaras hatov“– recognizing benefits afforded to us in the United States. Samuel says this principle is being eroded by the Republican discourse of “fealty to Israel.” The piece is further evidence of the dual loyalty issue that has been a central objection to Zionism by anti-Zionists for more than a century. Samuel:
The GOP is redoubling its efforts to win Jewish votes… By September 23, the discourse had sunk so low that, when Obama uttered what should have been a thoroughly uncontroversial statement—“When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there”—all hell broke loose. Right-wingers attacked Obama for “insulting” and “snubbing” the Jewish state, even though he’d simply expressed the fact that, for him, the American people come first, and even though he then went on to express support for Israel, practically in the same breath.
This kind of discourse enacts, I would argue, the exact opposite of hakaras hatov. Instead of expressing gratitude for a democratic system that takes as its highest priority “what’s right for the American people,” that safeguards Americans’ ability “to live in this republic in safety”—something Rabbi [Moses] Feinstein clearly championed—it evinces a disturbing disregard for domestic wellbeing. Which, unfortunately, is part of a larger trend among American Jewish organizations: Though they once regularly addressed everything from civil rights to labor unions, they now speak out almost exclusively on Israel issues and remain weirdly agnostic on questions of domestic policy.
So, as we gear up for tonight’s presidential foreign policy debate, we’d do well to bear in mind Rabbi Feinstein’s implicit statement that voting in American elections is ultimately about showing appreciation for America—and not, contra polarizing campaign videos and billboards, about showing fealty to Israel.