Last weekend I joined my wife’s extended family on a mountain lake; and every time Gaza came up, my ears pricked up.
For instance, someone grabbed The New York Times business section with Bloomberg’s picture on the front and said “What’s Bloomberg up to?” and someone else said snarkily, “Going to Israel.” The article was about Bloomberg trying to become “mayor of the world” by going to Turkey and Indonesia to stop people from smoking. There was not a word in the article about the “mayor of the world” rushing out to embrace Netanyahu when Netanyahu was being criticized for the Gaza massacre. The Times left that out. But not my in-law.
Later the next-door cabin’s argument about Gaza spilled into our cabin. The neighbor said that Israel was justified in firing missiles because of the rockets, and his sister took sharp exception. I listened and nodded. Then an older relative of my wife pulled me aside, a rockribbed conservative, to offer me advice. “When they start up about the rockets, you have to talk about the siege. The siege. The siege. The siege. Those people are in a prison. How big is it? 140 square miles? Don’t give me that— square miles means nothing to people. Six miles by 25 miles? Say that! Say 2 million people are under siege inside 6 by 25 miles.”
I was surprised. I’ve never heard her speak so forcefully or knowledgeably on this subject.
Gaza has hit home for non-Jews in a way that nothing before has. They’re upset and they’re going to say something at last. My wife’s clan are privileged but civic-minded people, and what’s stopped them in the past is the Don’t-criticize-someone-else’s-family taboo, plus the anti-Semite label. It’s not going to work anymore. Maybe because they see so many Jews like myself engaged in the issue; maybe because they’re sick of the repeating wanton violence. But they’re going to break loose, and it’s an important trend. The church divestment measures are going to pass. The politicians are going to start feeling the heat from non-Jews who are tired of the well-worn loop they’ve walked: I hate this/I can’t say anything because my Jewish friends will be upset/I’ll wait till it goes away.
I remember when the divestment measure at Harvard and MIT in 2002 failed after Harvard President Lawrence Summers declared it anti-semitic. I talked to a professor who’d signed it who said he wanted to hide under the desk. He didn’t want to be accused of anti-Semitism; Jews were part of the fabric of elite academic settings, he didn’t want to be alienated from his Jewish colleagues. I remember when Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer spoke out as establishment non-Jews in 2006. I thought they were going to open the floodgates. But they didn’t; they were pioneers, the territory was still too dangerous. They were willing to get hit by the anti-semitic smear, but others weren’t. That was eight years ago, and there have been two Gaza massacres in between. As Mearsheimer said back in July, “How can any person with a shred of decency support what Israel is doing in Gaza?” As Jim Fallows said at the same time, this is like napalming kids in Vietnam. Some of my wife’s extended family feel the same way, and they want the freedom to say so.
Again I quote Andrew Sullivan, rejecting the old terms of debate:
[T]he thing that happens to me in this debate in America is that many of my Jewish friends cannot debate this, it seems to me, without extreme emotional investment in it, and that’s a very hard thing to deal with. It seems as if when you criticize Israel, every Jewish American takes it personally. That, I think, makes debate about this very tough.
That is of course emotional blackmail, and I don’t think it’s working anymore. There are too many prominent Jewish dissenters breaking up the Jewish unity on the issue and giving folks cover to criticize Israel. IfNotNow are young Jews dedicated to confronting Jewish establishment organizations for their moral deadness. Many liberal Zionists are embarrassed or in crisis: “I fear Israel has no idea how thoroughly it has lost international support,” says one. There are showbiz faces in Jewish Voice for Peace’s great video of Gaza names. And Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are going to get away with calling it genocide.
When I was growing up I thought Protestants were boring because they didn’t have feelings. Then I married one and she explained to me that (while it was a generalization) they were boring because they repress their feelings– but they have the feelings. Well now they’re not going to repress them. And it won’t be boring.