It’s one thing to desire a particular outcome. It’s another thing to achieve it by causing harm to those for whom you claim to care.
Last week exemplified the phenomenon of law and politics catching up to culture, as the US Supreme Court ruled against challenges to Obamacare and struck down state bans on same-sex marriages and the cultural tide seemed to shift dramatically against the display of the Confederate battle flag. It was quite a week.
Peter Beinart, the left-wing columnist who made tens of thousands of dollars speaking to pro-Israel audiences before suddenly deciding he completely disagreed with himself, looked across the changed American landscape and drew the conclusion that American attitudes on domestic fairness and equality were likely to drive Americans away from their support of Israel.
No, I’m not kidding.
The American cultural position on Israel is clearly and unmistakably favorable to the Jewish state.
The lesson of last week is that in this new America, you cannot beat appeals to equality with appeals to heritage, God or the free market. And you are unlikely to beat them with appeals to security either.
This has been the mantra of the Jewish Left for some time: If Israel doesn’t accede to the suicidal wishes of the Left (its own, Europe’s, and, most importantly, those of the American Jewish community), it will steadily hemorrhage support as it slips ever closer to what the Left characterizes as a form of institutional apartheid.
But the American cultural position on Israel is clearly and unmistakably favorable to the Jewish state.
And, unlike many Jewish leftists, most Americans see with total clarity the moral circumstances playing out in the conflict between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors.
American culture is pro-Israel. So why, for Jewish liberals who say they care about Israel, is this seen as an obstacle rather than a blessing? American support, they contend, allows Israel to persist in what they believe are wrong-headed policies. While some on the fringes blame a nefarious and all-powerful Jewish lobby, most understand that pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are influential because Americans already support Israel and expect their lawmakers to do the same.
Thus, in order to achieve an Israel conforming to their Jewish Disneyworld fantasies, America’s pro-Israel culture must be changed. Beinart and the Jewish Left are so certain that they are right about what Israelis must do that they’re willing to undermine the American cultural attachment to the Jewish state. Not just the Jewish attachment – though they’re hard at work on that, too – but the broader American attachment. It is, after all, for Israel’s own good.
Rather than falsely smear Israel as an unequal society, people who profess to love Israel should tell the real story of a multi-ethnic society that, like all societies, has its problems.
Beinart and friends will maintain that they’re merely sounding the warning bell … that Israelis can avert such a cultural shift by doing exactly as they are told by the American Jewish Left. They’ll say that the people really damaging the US-Israel relationship are those right-wing, Likudnik, occupation-supporting Israelis. This is akin to the mobster scratching his chin as he warns the store clerk, “Nice shop you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it.”
And so we have two groups of people peddling the slander of Israel becoming an apartheid state: the most noxious of Jew-haters and a bunch of American Jews whose professed love for Israel is significantly shallower than their own bottomless need for moral preening. That’s it. Those are the only people who propagate the preposterous and spectacularly insulting falsehood that Israel is or could develop into an apartheid-like system.
Rather than falsely smear Israel as an unequal society, people who profess to love Israel should tell the real story of a multi-ethnic society that, like all societies, has its problems. They should tell the story of an intractable, implacable, hateful foe that no other nation on the planet would be expected to tolerate.
But that story doesn’t further their policy goals. And, as we have seen in the last week, the Left well understands that policy is a lagging indicator of culture – truth and implications be damned. America’s pro-Israel culture simply must be changed. By any means necessary.
Jonathan Greenberg is the senior vice president of the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. An expert in Middle East policy and former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, you can follow him @JGreenbergSez.