The Response I Owe A Friend: Thoughts on Israel, The Jewish Position, and The New Eastern Question.
It’s almost certain now that the struggle (Jewish) leaders have waged against the Iran deal will fail. But in their ongoing efforts to alienate their own children and grandchildren from the institutions they’ve built, they will have succeeded all too well. — Peter Beinart, Haaretz, The latest failure of the American Jewish establishment
The SHORT of It
Reading Effort Level : 1
Israel is angry. If not the Left, then the Right. If not the Center, then the very idea of a Jewish State. And the diaspora Jew is at or past the tipping point.
Some may tout that Jewish people are as synchronous as they’ve ever been. But I’m going to stand by this question: What does it mean to be divided more than ever, physically, spiritually, politically and nationally? Not since the late 1800s have the Jewish People found itself at such a crossroads, between the Jew wanting to march forward and away from the struggle that is being a Jew, and those who will risk everything to be a consummated Nation on a Fatherland, where the struggle is the only thing there is.
Does one pick a team, waffle, or forge a new path?
The MEDIUM of It
Reading Effort Level : 3
There’s a fight for the hearts and minds of the diaspora Jew — diaspora meaning members of a group physically separated from their base: Jews, either new arrivals from anywhere Earth, or those who’ve only known the US their entire lives. In most cases, neither of which may have for maybe 300 generations ever stepped foot in the Middle East.
The diaspora Jew is not only defined by a physical distance to its base, but also now ideologically. There have always been dissenters of the most radical elements of Zionism, but it’s ossified into a larger recognizable entity with all the characteristics of a real threat to hard line Zionism.
They’re in a position to influence American support of at least two hot button issues: In the forefront is Iran, and closely behind, but eternal, is the issue of the Palestinians.
From the Millennial Jew, whose emotional connection to the Levant may be eclipsed by that with One Direction or Game of Thrones, to the lingering Silent Generation, whose want of a return still runs deep, they’re clearly in the cross hairs now. Poker chips are on the table, and Israel has called all cards.
Do you support a deal with Iran or not? Do you support Israel’s position with Palestinians? Do you support American monetary and military support to Israel?
These are a few questions presented as generically as I can put them. But usually they are shoved at people in such a way that it’s impossible to even recognize the question. Are you going to turn your back on your people? But they still want the same answers, yes or no.
This isn’t the kind of pressure one gets when favoring one beer brand over another. Do you support decisions being made across the globe by people you’ve never met(?), in this case, is a loaded question with implications that go far beyond if one agrees or not. What’s really being asked is What kind of Jew are you? And what’s worse is that the angst is being exploited in often harsh terms and in hostile arenas. You are a Jew hater. Or. You are a Palestinian killer. This environment is uncomfortable, and will no doubt push Jews and non Jews closer toward one camp or the other, further polarizing them. Further polarizing us.
You are with us, or against us.
Though it’s been this way for some time, perhaps forever, no one can doubt that the Internet has only exacerbate the issue, though I’m not sure if the web will grow it steadily stronger, or help it burn itself out faster.
Having experienced few such scenarios, these are dangerous grounds for Millennials, who will rush to either end of the continuum, or waffle in an uncomfortable ennui risking never really finding themselves at all. I have my opinions and I’d like to see people agree with me, but I’d rather see a young Jew pick either end than be trapped in a pickle, becoming nothing. It is this nothingness that early Zionists were looking to change.
Be something. Be us. Be a Jew.
Jewish Voice for Peace is an organization that has taken a clear stand, and it’s drawn fire. As the name implies its aim is bringing about peace to a terrible situation. And it supports BDS, whose methods have a track record of bringing down injustice (See South Africa Apartheid), unless one feels that bringing peace on unequivocal terms is certain to bring ruin to Israel, in which case, JVP and BDS are a whole litany of terrible things, by opinion.
There is also J Street, an organization in DC seeming to have more political clout and understanding, and is upfront about its support of a Two State solution.
On the other side are comparable groups, but they’re overshadowed when mentioned in light of the one group with it’s massive hands deep in the guts of the American government — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. It’s not difficult to notice the unambiguous nature of AIPAC, which itself makes no bones about being a PR entity designed to sway US foreign policy, which will shift its aims on the whim of the Israeli government, and not to solidify a group which will stand by its moniker through thick and thin, like JVP. It’s davie vs. DAVID KING OF ISRAEL.
Other groups, such as Foundation for the Defense of Democracies are more emotional and patriotic by name, but aligned with AIPAC by their interchangeable natures, methods and people, like LEGOs. I’d wager that as many people believe that the Federal Reserve is a government agency, so to do many believe AIPAC to be a legitimate element of the government, with all the privileges of the IRS and FBI. I can’t blame AIPAC if Americans don’t know the difference. I can simply say, “Well played.”
They home everywhere, but are nowhere at home. — Leo Pinsker
I can’t put myself in the shoes of a Jew. As a Mexican American, I have two countries to call home. American Jews of course are Americans, born here if born here and red white and navy through and through. Historians will point to the nationalized Jews of Germany and France and Italy of the 1800s who waved their adopted nation’s flag and to some degree basked in their host countries, seen not as hosts but as Motherlands. That lasted until, what Pinsker labeled “the real wandering Jew, anti-Semitism,” changed all that.
The GODOY of It
Reading Effort Level : If you have to ask, don’t even try.
Two or three years ago my phone rang, so I answered, you know, as we do. Hello? It was Jason, and he was completely losing his mind. The first time I met him, he was losing his mind. It ended in the throwing of an iPhone. Somehow Jason and I became friends.
But this was different. He wasn’t just misplacing his mind, carelessly spacing it like a set of keys or a business card. He was losing it the way one does a car in a high speed wreck. He was totaling it. I was on a photo shoot when he called, a technical one so I was elbows deep in a camera, but I shouldered my phone and listened while I worked. I’m a good friend like that. Jason’s even called me Mensch, though he’ll probably deny it.
I heard something about “just because you can write,” “you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” and “Jews,” just screaming it out there in his baritone FM voice (He fully belongs on the radio. But only radio.)
Jason and I had had fairly heated conversations regarding the New Eastern Question, specifically with regard to the Palestinians. And honestly I am an outsider, while Jason is a diaspora Jew, three or four or 256 times removed from the Levant. When it comes to opinions, Jason and I are two screwing eagles who will both hit the ground before capitulating. It’s yet to come to that. So I wasn’t surprised by what I was hearing over the phone. I just didn’t know why.
He’s a vicarious Facebooker, living the social media life voyeuristically through his wife’s account. So it took me a while to realize he’d seen something on my Facebook page I’d written on the subject. And he called me, going bananas. Ten minutes into it, he suddenly stopped, and calmly asked, “Baseball game, Thursday, you wanna go?” I said I couldn’t, and he continued losing his mind for another ten minutes before hanging up. I think he even called back a couple of times to add post scripts. I don’t think we continued the conversation except to giggle about the phone call over drinks at our favorite drinking establishment BaBar.
I’ve never forgotten about it, and for two reasons. First, I felt honored that he’d allow me into his life that way, in the sense that to reveal oneself by exposing our inner animal, let loose in the brief insanity that is anger, it showed some kind of trust. That was immediate. Second, and what’s grown more and more to the forefront of why he called, I feel, is the question of a great confusion of unity within what it means to be Jewish. I could be completely wrong, or spot on. I’m sure I’ll get that call, tipping the scale one way or the other. When I do, I will take him up on that baseball game.
I’m not one to meddle in religious reflection from the inside. The inside being faith. I am not religious. I do not believe in any gods. In fact I am quite critical when pressed. I am spiritual in the animistic way, talking to lawnmowers and paperclips and other guilty-innocent inanimate objects in hopes I may sway some influence when things are not going my way. But having academic experience in the philosophies and religious arenas, I am well aware of the difference between philosophical and theological spheres, and like the line between fast and slow lanes of traffic, I respect that difference, and stay in my lane. In my fear of swerving into someone else’s lane, I’ve been so careful that I’ve avoided off ramps to subjects that may take me into uncomfortable neighborhoods. But watching the events in Gaza unfold, my freeway was suddenly stopped by signs, flashing red lights, ambulances, bodies strewn across the asphalt and moral police and first responders waving me into a detour.
Approaching the subject with Jason I learned some buttons and reflexes to expect from others on the subject. Jason’s reactions gave me some context on what to look for when reading various perspectives, and absorbing the news. And the consistency of the proponents of the situation have been reliable. Over time, I grew more confident in my own hypotheses, and how to approach information and opinions and events.
Another day, another phone call, but it wasn’t Jason. A man introduced himself as a rabbi, and immediately after “How are you today,” he launched into it. He said he’d seen a brand I’d created (left) that reflected Jewry and thought my work was great, and that something in my style would work for his organization.
I loved his voice, strangely young for what you would imagine as a rabbi. His cadence, his vocabulary, his well-crafted use of flattery and confidence and tone, everything about this phone call was the center bite of a really great burrito. I instantly wanted to be a friend to this man. But based on the subject, I kept waiting to hear Jason giggling in the background. And I waited, and I waited. It never came.
He gave me the name of his organization, and I quickly brought it up on my computer screen. It was an organization for the support of IDF vets. Already being suspicious of US vet support organizations being thinly-veiled efforts to support the military-industrial complex, and emotional tools employed in the efforts of recruitment and political influence, I clicked around the site, and I saw what I expected to. In the pages behind the fallen soldiers were the young children crawling over flag-emblazoned tanks, playfully manning unloaded machine guns with smiles and laughs, raising peace signs while wearing the iconic IDF helmets. They referenced event days for children to come take part in the support of . . . Well, you get it.
I interrupted him, and said, “I do not support what Zionist are doing.”
Relative to the pace the young rabbi had set in his language, the 4-second silence that befell him was a very long time. It was the kind of silence that happens when two marching soldiers hear a loud click underfoot, and the immediate thought is, “Was that you or me?” In this case, it was us.
He went through the list. ‘Members of previous generations have been murdered in the Holocaust.’ ‘Rockets are falling from the skies over Israel.’ ‘A lot of IDF vets wouldn’t be happy to hear your opinion.’ Some of you might want to hear that he flew off the handle and went rabid with it, but I won’t, because he didn’t. He maintained his steady business tone. I told him of my dislike of parading US vets around to whip up support for war, and that I’m not one to judge the motives of either side, but instead look at things in the historical context, that 200 years from now, books will point to these people killing those people killing other people, history books that will be dispassionate and without much judgement. I finished with “Right now, we have a slaughter going on, and religious arguments don’t interest me as justification from either side,” more or less.
He nodded his phone, realizing he’d met a man who had a vantage, and probably unwavering opinions about a can of worms he wasn’t in any position to open right then, and with someone he didn’t know at all: His position there on the phone was to support wounded vets, not delve into the indoctrination of children in a nationalistic mindset, or backdoor support his organization is really after from the American government, the American Jew, and the American people. I told him I enjoyed our conversation, and that if he ever wanted to talk again, to give me a call. And that was it.
Days later, another phone call, another Jason. He was chuckling in his pirate-like a storm’s a brewin’ way. “Oh you’re in a world of shit now,” he said. He dragged it out before getting to it. “I walked into a meeting with some Jew heavies and at some point they said, ‘Oh, you’re friends with that anti-Semite guy Anthony.’” The rabbi had been passed Jason’s card, and the brand I designed for him. Between then and Jason’s meeting, he’d called me.
Ooooooooooh. Well, at least Jason hadn’t recommended me.
That put the word anti-Semite on the map for me right then and there.
Jason had barked anti-Semite at me, and Jew hater in the heat of arguments in the past, but only in context, and it was so cartoonish that it didn’t even register with me. Jason says some crazy shit sometimes. Naturally I wondered what Jason’s response was to having heard someone else say that about me, and he offered, “I told them you are no anti Semite. And I gave them my opinion on Zionism and that was that.” In the end, I really have no idea what Jason said at that moment, in my defense, or otherwise.
Then I started hearing that word everywhere, thrown around like Frisbees at the beach. And from time to time it was leveled at me, and not until one did I really want to engage in a deeper understanding of, what the hell?
. . . over the last year I have noticed you posting more and more volatile and hateful videos and links regarding Israel; and it’s starting to appear like you are actually anti-Semitic more than pro-peace.
That came from a good friend. And it bothered me. Deeply. I couldn’t brush it off because, one, my deep respect for him, and, two, an axiom I pass around: It doesn’t matter what you mean. It matters how you are perceived. And I had Marc to thank for reminding me of that, and to whom I am still grateful. In fact this whole piece is mainly the response I’ve owed him.
His message came just days after the launch of Protective Edge when the media started disseminating and dissecting what was going on, and the web was full of news headlines and links to stories, which I passed along. None of it was anti-Semitic.
It doesn’t matter what you mean. It matters how you are perceived.
The media was also giving the non-curious, non-contemplative world the tools it needed to delve further into the issue, and a stage for previously unknown voices on either side. And if not the tools, at least the motivation. And I suspect something happened during and after Protective Edge: With the internet there for anyone curious enough to look around, a horror story unfolded that took the protective edge out of anti-Semitism.
It didn’t negate the word. It didn’t justify it in the larger sense, except in the eyes of actual anti-Semites. But it turned the lights on over the people who were using it, people and groups with whom you thought you were having a two-way dialogue with, who were actually only kind of paying attention and passing out anti-Semitism tickets like inner-city parking violations. They didn’t understand the gravity of the conversation about the New Eastern Question, either side really. For so long it was easy to just lob it out there like a grenade at the slightest hint of criticism. People scattered, and proponents gained some breathing room, or even walked away from a conversation left unsatisfied. But the air was getting thicker, and it wasn’t with anti-Semitism, as such.
It appeared to uncover a laziness on both sides of the conversation.
Losing access to that word put many out in the cold, exposed to issues previously laid low under the insulating layer of history. And without that, the conversation changed. The atrocities being played out, with Israelis camping out on bluffs overlooking the bombardment of Gaza hospitals and schools and cheering and threatening CNN reporters on the air, and soccer-playing children being murdered on a beach right in front of journalists from around the world, it wasn’t an issue of the Semite one way or the other, but a conversation that starts out like this, What the hell is THAT?
“Well we were . . . Hamas did the . . . . Iran and the . . . Hiding guns in that . . . ANTI-SEMITISM!” And that put the last nail in the coffin of that word in the American mindset, by and large.
Loyalty and obligation suddenly became the forefront. As diaspora Jews, racial and religious members of the Jewish People, and satellite members of the Jewish State, Zionism expects Jewry everywhere to be a fan no matter who their team is playing, be it major league Hezbollah in Lebanon, or minor league Hamas in Gaza, or even chest pounding rhetoric against Iran: You cheer your team at home or away. But what was playing out then, even in the mainstream media which has always been careful in its coverage, changed the mood. Then the international voice started roaring from stadiums miles away, audibly, loud and clear in the stadiums of America. The game just got ugly, to the point you just didn’t even want to watch anymore. But as a Jew, you aren’t supposed to look away.
Then Netanyahu overplayed his hand. In March of this year, he sauntered into the Capitol Building in an effort to manipulate the executive branch’s lead in foreign affairs, and emboldened Obama obstructionists to go one step further with their open letter to Iran in the national press, stating that no matter what deal you make, we Republicans are going to jack that shit up.
He also put the American Jew to task: So let’s root root root for the . . . Who are YOU rooting for?
Netanyahu put no uncertain amount of pressure on the American Jewish sense of oneness, as well as AIPAC-loyal senators and congressmen. And as the light that illuminates the playing field of American international policy toward Israel shines brighter, groups morph and change and scurry about, and it’s hard to tell where the threat of influence comes from anymore. Foundation for Defense of Democracies sounds like a grass roots organization that has set up shop in an Indiana pancake house with the aim of building baseball fields around the four corners. It isn’t.
In the early 1800s, the question of being Jewish was a tough one.
Jews in Western Europe grew tired of being treated poorly, and who wouldn’t. Assimilation became vogue, and for many created a relatively prosperous period where acceptance also gained a sense of access within modern rationalized societies. The strategy was to cloak into the people, to mix in, to hide in plain sight.
People chosen by God must disappear forever. Out of death will spring new precious life. — Moses Hess, 1837
Eastern Jews didn’t have it so easy, and even if they had, Eastern culture was hardly the tempting shining light that were Berlin, Paris, or Vienna. Among the orthodox Jews and Eastern Jews, there was some animosity regarding the dilution of Jewry, and what it meant to be Jewish. Zionism started out as an ideological and spiritual call for unity. Then it set its sights on land.
I’ve not known an American Jew harboring the same complaints as an 1820 German Jew, though to be honest I’ve known none of them, either. I’ll give Jason the benefit of the doubt that he can identify examples. Real examples. I suspect he’ll be screaming them at me over the phone in 3, 2, 1 . . . But that doesn’t mean that Jews aren’t feeling the same forces at work in the bigger picture.
What does it mean to be Jewish? What is our world role as Jews, in light of the rising political aspect of nation building and nation defending and nation strengthening. Are we even strengthening at all, or prolonging an inevitable collapse?
Could I, Anthony Godoy, a fat and happy carefree creative living without such pending concerns, even handle such a responsibility of having that weight on my shoulders? Could I live with sloughing that obligation off for my comfortable assimilated life where I am, red, white and navy? Could you, Medium-reading Millennial skimming this on your iPhone, handle it?
Parts of the New Eastern Question contain elements of what it means to be Jewish. A Jewish Nation at all costs is the call to many. But anticipating the cost, watching the cost, and paying the cost are fifty different things, and the pressure on diaspora Jews around the world to keep cheering on the home team is real. In some arenas, it brings out the best of people. In others, the worst.
BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement started among the Palestinian people has gained impressive momentum, in an effort to end what many feel are Apartheid conditions in Israel. And what I see in its wake is an all-out parking lot brawl after a heated soccer match, and it includes a lot of Jew on Jew. The below comment came from a thread on a Facebook page for Jewish Voice for Peace.
“You stupid Jew hater. You use this page to pretend you love Jews and just hate Israel. Israel is the eternal home of the Jewish people and you are a stupid Jew Hater. Find a real issue to tackle. Like taking care of puppies or something. idiot.”
I can’t even fathom what that must feel like, to have someone point that at me were I Jewish. That was posted by a Facebook account supposedly of an American-educated manager working at FedEx, but you can’t be sure. In its panic, it’s reported that the IDF and other government and non government organizations have heavily recruited social media-savvy people to flood the web with fake accounts to disrupt groups critical of its policies, and manipulate numbers showing support of Israel. Behind the facade of anonymity, it’s incredible what people will say.
And it goes both ways. In another post:
“Zionism is an ideology of genetic purity and racial supremacy whose aim is the extermination of non-Jews. Keep your hasbara for those who fall for it.”
I wonder if there had been the same animosity in the 1800s when assimilating and even converting Jews clashed with the Orthodox Jews and Jews of lesser means. I wonder what the feeling among even agreeing factions of Jews was. Could they feel it between each other, some kind of doubt of what they were doing? Or was there unanimous relief? Perhaps this apathy toward the situation is itself a boycott against the more radical elements within Zionism: To not show enthusiasm for a cause, what does that mean?
Could it be that by showing no interest in a situation you are a part of is more infuriating than taking up the opposite side? Now you’re just pissing off both ends.
Me? Personally? I see the rhetoric offered by Zionist sympathizers who often frequently point at the Saudi human rights record, and at Iran for the claim it wants to wipe Israel from the planet, and how Palestinians want to kill all Jews. It bothers me that they want to justify the abuses against Palestinians by deflecting the blame toward someone else. The response of many is to dive in and argue it point by point. But it’s the same game that’s been played, and the problems only get worse and worse. So I switch to the historical context, and how in 10, 30 or 100 years, history will show these people killing those people killing other people, and end the end, everyone burned.
Only a select few will be interested in the excuses.