This morning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted pictures of his candle-lighting ceremony with an Israeli army unit on the first night of Hanukkah. His language at the event was bellicose and aimed at the murderous Palestinian Authority and in “defense of the most moral army in the world.” I was struck in particular by the dogs photo (as was Max Blumenthal, who passed it along). Hanukkah is the festival of lights, a time of joy. The prime minister of Israel tweets a photo of himself that looks like a reclusive tyrant from the last century.
Israel will lose all American Jews but the crazies. That is the clear message of that photo, indeed of several recent events.
Israel didn’t look like this when I was growing up. Not to American Jews anyway. The synagogue gave me a Zionist archaeology book about Masada for my bar mitzvah (maybe that’s what turned me into a Jewish zealot?) while it gave my brother a record of Abba Eban’s speech after the ’67 War to the UN. I didn’t understand a word about what Eban was talking about, but we were proud of Israel. Eban spoke English better than the English, it was said, and Israel was a brand that almost all Jews wanted to be associated with. My father bought the novels of Agnon, David Grossman, and Amos Oz. Yes, Begin was a terrorist but he had a dignity to him. Shamir was from Bialystok and lost his family in the Holocaust. The peace martyr Rabin was an out-and-out hero in American Jewish life and his wife was a class act (no one talked about his orders to break children’s bones in the First Intifada). Even Sharon had his charms. Ehud Olmert got published in The New York Review of Books. Tzipi Livni could talk at J Street and AIPAC. Michael Oren went to Princeton. He wrote impressive books that got fancy reviews.
I’m talking about imagery and emotion, how things look, how they feel, and how they are passed on to the Jewish multitudes. Israel’s latest exports are drab or clueless and savage. The Finance Minister Naftali Bennett comes to Washington and dismisses world opinion as “a little thing called the rest of the world” and insults Martin Indyk, the courtliest man in the world, to the point that he talks about kicking Bennett’s ass, and Haim Saban, the leading Democratic fundraiser, is obviously angered by him. Caroline Glick shows up in the pages of the New Yorker as slightly unhinged, an impression she seeks to extend in a diatribe accusing European diplomats to their faces of anti-semitism for talking about the occupation.
The distinguished Oren has been replaced in the public mind by the two Rons, Prosor and Dermer. Ambassador Dermer has no tone. His father was the Miami beach mayor, and he’s a rightwinger who got his job because he had the trust and friendship of Netanyahu; and he’s only further alienated the Obama administration. Prosor gives a speech accusing Europe of anti-semitism for talking about the occupation. You failed us in the 1940s, you are failing us again, he says. How long can Israeli propagandists abuse the Holocaust without turning Americans’ stomachs? Not much longer, I don’t think. Ari Shavit was supposed to be the second coming of the literary greats. But there’s something off, he’s left a rightwing aftertaste.
The sense of Israel being represented by second-raters is advanced when you read the sassy tweets from Avi Mayer, or the Islamophobic propaganda of Matti Friedman. And meanwhile the kinds of Jewish minds we used to be so proud of in the American Jewish community, worldly thoughtful men like Shlomo Sand and Avraham Burg and Marcel Ophuls, are all publicly washing their hands of the Jewish state. And Yossi Gurvitz says Israel is turning itself into North Korea.
It’s not just imagery. Right now Israel has two giant substantive problems, the occupation and Gaza. It has done nothing to ameliorate the world’s bad opinion of these matters, it has just doubled down angrily against any criticism. The government looks to be moving further and further to the right and just who does Netanyahu think he is appealing to with this Hanukkah tweet?
The Obama administration can’t come out against Netanyahu, but the American Jewish community can. There has to be a crisis inside the offices of the Israel lobby. The 92d Street Y can’t sell this new Israel in that big hall with Jefferson and Maimonides and Moses incised in gilt at the top of the wall. The JCC’s don’t want pictures of muzzled attack dogs and commandos in balaclavas on Hanukkah; that’s a real nightmare, it can’t come here. Haim Saban can’t stand for the limitless contempt for European business, Bennett doesn’t understand how many people he alienated.
Israel will keep its lobby, but increasingly it will be the crazies, the hardcases, the fools. I predict an open uprising in the American Jewish community in the next few weeks before the election.
(Allison Deger was first to spot the Netanyahu speech; she likened it to a Miley Cyrus video.)