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Philosemitism’s threat to Zionism

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Sorry to be off the site, it’s a change of season, and spirit. I’ve been thinking alot about philosemitism since a friend of my wife’s spent the night last week, a Jew married to a non-Jew. She told me that her world is made up of such mixed couples, and that she finds some all-Jewish ones a little too "strong" for her. I reflected that my wife found my family culture pretty strong (as I found hers strong), but today both our worlds are adulterated, and her world is rather Jewish. Her last few bosses have been Jews, many of her best friends etc., she relies on Yiddish in a pinch, and of course she’s married to one.

Then yesterday I went to a religious ceremony that was half Hindu and half-Jewish and quite moving on that score. The two traditions blended and spoke to one another. There was a rabbi I’ve come to admire there, a non-Zionist woman with a big strong spirit.

Not enough is written about the history of philo-semitism. It’s been the big fact of Jewish life in the U.S. for the last generation. Our rise is a reflection of philo-semitism. We were accepted in the highest corridors; and even if people were afraid of the bakery-truck-driver’s intolerant son (Joe Lieberman), getting close to the football, the two offices closest to Obama’s are occupied by Jews. Jews have a ton of power in U.S. society, because Americans trust Jews.

Zionism was born of anti-Semitism, it was the natural response to it, a way to get Jews out of an unsafe place. And of course Zionists cultivate the idea of persistent anti-Semitism to justify Israel’s militancy. This morning at AIPAC, Dan Senor, who might be running for Senate from New York, said that American immigrants to Israel that you meet there today share a "history of persecution" with Jews who have come there from Ethiopia and Russia.

Please elaborate, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It is not my reality. But I know why Senor says it. Recognizing the reality of philo-semitism removes the reason for the Jewish state…

The objects of philo-semitism, myself included, feel some guilt about it. We know, or ought to, that we’re participating in an assimilatory process. We are hurting the tribe’s future as a tribe. And so for those who care about tribe, Israel gains a new significance: it is the bulwark of Jewishness, the place where Jews marry Jews. That’s why my mother’s best friend moved there, so her children would marry Jews. And here, the Israel lobby gains force as the guardians of the only thing protecting Jewishness.

It is not as if us universalist Jews have come up with a picture of a Jewish future; many of us don’t much care about tribe, in the end. We care about a genuine and equal relationship with the other, and for me that means an honest appreciation of what western society has granted me, and what my people are doing to the Palestinians. And I recognize that I’ll have little influence over the body of Jewish life in the U.S. so long as I can’t imagine a corporate future. That’s just the way it is.  

These religious cultural issues are involved in the tumult of the last two weeks. The bombshell– underneath Obama’s stand on ongoing colonization– was the statement attributed to General Petraeus and then to Joe Biden too, that the special relationship with Israel is endangering American lives. This is a teaching that Zionists have denied for 10 years. They denied it at 9/11–though the 911 Commission affirmed it (along with Mickey Kaus and Eric Alterman). They denied it during the Iraq war. They denied it when Walt and Mearsheimer said it. They denied it (per The American Conservative) when former LBJ-braintruster George W. Ball said it in the ’90s.

Ball warned long ago that those who sought to divorce American interests from Israel’s were subject to "ad hominem" attacks. We saw it happen with the smearing of Walt and Mearsheimer, two men who have dealt with Jews as equals all their lives (and who admire Israeli achievements). We’ve seen that happen again with the Petraeus leak, and the Obama administration’s attempted shift to realism. The lobby will smear anyone who tries to create daylight between the two countries’ interests, or suggests that Israel’s policy of permanent war in the Middle East is not out of some bizarrely eternal coincidence good for the U.S.

And look what the AIPAC conference’s prescription is for Israel’s troubles in the Middle East: more bombs, this time, targeting Iran. That is the sole thrust of the conference, so far as I can make out: to compel the U.S. to take military action. "Could you please bomb these guys immediately?!" neocon Robert Kagan said that Iran’s neighbors demand of the U.S.–a horrifying misrepresentation of Arab sentiment. 

That’s no surprise. In everything the AIPAC people say there is little respect for the other. Too little respect for Muslims in the Middle East and for gentiles in the U.S., whom they cannot trust to act wisely without being politically coerced and bribed. The lobby has returned the incredible trust that Jews have been granted in the U.S. with suspicion. And yes I know, that’s all about the Holocaust, and it’s generational. I grew up fearful of gentiles, and had to unlearn all that.

I’m hopeful. The ways the world is changing are changing all of us, and ethnocentric arrogance is unsustainable in a globalized environment. I saw it yesterday in the young people at that religious ceremony, for many of whom self-regarding ideologies have just been hurtful. When traditional barriers break down, we’re all transformed. And yes I know, good things are also lost.

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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