About Me

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Memory of Michael Levin

I attended the Memorial at Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery today to pay my respects to the family of Michael Levin, an immigrant from the U.S. who was one of three soldiers killed on August 1, 2006 in clashes with Hezbullah in the southern Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab.

Born and raised near Philadelphia, Michael grew up in a traditional, American Jewish household, was active in USY and attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos. In February of 2001, Michael came to Israel for two months and attended the Alexander Muss high school program. After graduating high school, Michael attended the NATIV USY year long program in Israel. In his NATIV yearbook he wrote:

"You can't fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all"

At the young age of 16, Michael already decided that he wanted to move to Israel and join a front-line combat unit in the IDF. He followed his dream three years later, and immigrated to Israel.

Upon arrival in Israel, Michael wasn't about to tolerate the built-in delay that allows most new immigrants several months to settle in and adjust to the Israeli way of life before starting IDF training. Michael fought for -- and received -- special permission to join the IDF almost right away. Once in, he fought again to get into the elite Paratroopers Brigade, becoming one of the few former Americans ever to do so, joining the elite paratroop unit #890 shortly thereafter.

In summer 0f 2006 Michael had received special permission to travel to the United States to visit his family, but when he heard about the outbreak of the war, he decided to end his trip and return to help his unit. He went straight to his commanders and demanded to be sent up north to defend Israel against Hezbollah. Seven days later he was killed.

On Tisha B'Av, Michael Levin was laid to rest at Mount Hertzl Cemetery. His family flew in from the U.S., where they were joined by literally thousands of people from all over Israel who came to pay tribute to his memory, his heroism.

Michael Levin made the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish State that he loved so much.

May G-d console his family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

(Information about Michael's life was culled largely from the website of a film about his life, called: A Hero in Heaven. )


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Out of Many, One (Or, what is the "purpose" of Luxembourg?)

The ethnic, national, and racial diversity in my Ulpan class is a legacy of the cultural diversity and far-flung nature of the Jewish Diaspora: it is said that Jews have come to modern Israel from 103 countries and speak more than 70 different languages. In my class alone, there are Jews from Ethiopia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, the UK, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.

In addition, other nationalities represented in this global melting pot of Israel are Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Libya, Syria, India, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Canada, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, and others.

Because our instructor uses English while conducting class, she will, throughout the day, when explaining something of special importance, often ask the Russian speakers in the class who are fluent enough in English to translate what she said for the Russian non-English speakers, and will ask the same of the Spanish speakers. In the case of those who speak other languages that don't have a companion national compatriot in class, they have nobody else to rely on other than their often shaky grasp of English and whatever body language and other non-verbal communication the instructor uses. For instance, the Ethiopian in our class, Hanoch, who speaks a little English, has nobody else in class to ask for assistance, as nobody speaks, or in any way understands, Amharic.

However, on the first day of class, when we were all gathered into the assembly room for an introduction to the Ulpan and to the staff, and we sang Hatikvah, Hiney Ma Tov, and Oseh Shalom, most everyone was familiar enough with the tradition and spirit of the songs, if not the Hebrew lyrics, that it was as if we were all speaking the same language - the language of the dream we all had to live in Israel, to make Aliyah, and to fulfill the ideals articulated in Hatikvah of being "a free people in a free land."

The unity of the Jewish nation, which often eludes many Jews and non-Jews alike, the common narrative we share - despite our differing languages, cultures, religious affiliations, and nationalities - of thousands of years of struggles, dreams, and destiny, makes Israel, by almost any measurement, among the more unified nations in the world.

(Indeed, in a 2009 survey, Some 88% of Israel's Jews are proud to be Israeli, and 95% of them are willing to fight for their country, according to the patriotism survey, making Israel among the most patriotic nations in the world. Indeed, such results places Israel second only to the United States in surveys measuring patriotism and overall sense of national purpose. While Israelis, like citizens in all countries, differ on my things, there simply is no crisis in Israel on the meaning and significance of being an Israeli.)

Israel is to certainly be admired for its progressive nature (its freedoms that many other nations can't soon hope to enjoy) but the one thing that is unique about Israel is, as Herzl says, its role as "guardian of the Jews". There is no other nation in the world that can be counted on to, every time, come to their rescue and risk lives and treasure to save Jews from peril all over the world. Lets not forget that only a few years ago, Israel devoted a decade of dangerous but successful work to rescue the Jews of Ethiopia, saving tens of thousands of lives that would have been lost. (No other nation in the world has ever taken such risks to rescue thousands of black Africans from harm, and allow them to become citizens.)

And, there is no other nation in the world that will devote its energies to fostering (and protecting) Jewish culture, the Hebrew language, and our unique religious identity, and to ensure a society where Jews don't have to compromise their unique identity in order to "fit in" to society.

Yet, there are those who oddly question the purpose of the Jewish nation, and who even shamefully suggest that we should cease to exists, or that the justification for our existence is tied merely to some sort of sympathy for our suffering of the Holocaust and is currently tenuous at best, for which I want to ask one question: What is the purpose of Luxemborg? Though I'm being a bit sarcastic, it is truly remarkable that Israel, a nation with such a specific purpose and unique, unambiguous, and enduring identity - of all the nations of the world - is constantly asked to defend its right to exist, when, really, how many of us can speak with any degree of eloquence about the purpose of the other 191 nations in the world. Tell me, go down the list of nations accepted by the U.N., and tell me what is the "purpose" is of each. While Muslims can live in a way consistent with their traditions in over 50 nations who are self-described "Mulim states", and Christian can live comfortably in dozens of states whose identity is at least "de facto" Christian, if not outright codified as such, there is only one Jewish state in the world - the only one that there will likely ever be.

My guess is that if the New York Times Magazine had a long essay about some tiny, obscure tribe in South America or Africa with a unique language, culture, and history, whose history extends several thousand years, and who is now in danger of being vanquished by external enemies and international indifference to their plight, readers would decry the situation and express righteous indignation over the possible collapse of a culture with such a long and proud history. I also bet nobody would question what their reason for being is. Indeed, such a question would most likely be thought by such readers to be imperious, arrogant, and callous.

The fellow Olim in class with me certainly struggle with understanding and conversing in Modern Hebrew, and we get frustrated while we attempt to negotiate the intricacies of a new (and at times maddening) government bureaucracy, and an entirely new culture. And, many of the younger Olim must gather their strength to eventually serve in a national defense force that will likely have to deal with yet another military confrontation during their time of service. But, what keeps us going is that we have absolutely no doubt as to why we struggle. In a Western world increasingly unable to grasp the details, yet alone the significance, of even the most recent history, the traditions and rhythm of Jewish life allows Israelis to see beyond the now, and to see the big picture, the context, and to view the minutiae of everyday events through the powerful lens our people's history.

Paraphrasing Ze'ev Maghen, being Jewish means that, throughout our history, we were all there. As the Passover Haggadah implores us that, “In every generation, a person must see himself as if he personally left Egypt," so, too, can Jews look at the other major events of our history, the festivals, and the tragedies, as if WE were actually there. As Ze'ev Maghen said:

[Its as if] WE ALL participated in what they did..fought their battles, felt their feelings and learned their lessons. We tended flocks with Rachel...and toppled the walls of Jericho with Joshua...brought the house down on the Philistines with Samson, vanquished the might of imperial Persia with the wisdom and beauty of Esther; we were with Judah the Maccabee at Modi’in, with the Zealots at Masada, with Akiva in the Roman torture chamber and with Bar-Kochva at Betar; we were crucified for refusing the cross in the Crusades, and were turned into ashes for our stubbornness at the autos-da-fé; we were exiled from the shores of Spain by Isabella, and chased down and raped by the hordes of Chmielniki...went out to Safed’s fields to greet the Sabbath bride with Luria, and went in to Galicia’s huts to seek the ecstasy of the fervent Ba’al Shem Tov; we fled the Black Hundreds across Russia’s taiga, and were welcomed by Lazarus at the gates of Ellis Island; we filed into gas chambers at Bergen Belsen; we parachuted into Hungary with Hanna Senesh, and fought back at Warsaw with Mordechai Anilewitz; we revived our dead language, resurrected our sapped strength...and returned to ourselves...renewed the lapsed covenant, and arose like a lion and hewed out your freedom on the plains and the mountains of our old-new land. Throughout all this, we were there with them. We are members of a unique, extended family...partake in a four-thousand year-long journey of savage struggle and jubilant exultation, of unimaginable sacrifice and ineffable beauty, an adventure recently rekindled in a phoenix-like flash of incandescent splendor - the creation of the modern state of Israel - the likes of which human history has never seen."

Ok, one more time, please tell me what the national purpose of Luxembourg is.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

My visit to the hilltop settlement of Kida

The West Bank settlement of Kida, which I visited last week, is northeast of Jerusalem, and is part of the Benyamin regional council, which covers 42 Israeli settlements in the southern Samarian hills of the West Bank. The seat of the council is Psagot. (The council is named for the ancient Israelite tribe of Benjamin, whose territory roughly corresponds to that of the council.) Kida is situated on a hilltop that is half a mile above sea level. From Kida there is a view to the east that includes the Gilead area that was home of Elijah the prophet, the Jordan Valley, and to the West the communities of the Shiloh block. Kida is surrounded by vinyards and olive orchards, a lookout from where Hermon can be seen, and ample hiking trails.

Twenty families live in this unauthorized settlement, which was established only four years ago, and though this community will almost certainly be evacuated when, or before, a final peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians, the spokesperson for Kida, Tzofia Dorot, spoke optimistically of a future for her community which would include such amenities as a community center, a childcare center, a coffee house, and permanent housing for a community she hoped would grow to 400 families.

While the residents of Kida are, unlike the larger and more diverse community of Eli, uniformly religious, Tzofia was quite clear that, in the event that the government decides to evacuate their community, their members would, "naturally", obey the democratic wishes of her nation. In fact, while reasonable people can indeed conclude that, given the near certainty that the borders of any future Palestinian state (in whatever form it takes) will certainly include this hilltop community, such settlement construction is counter-productive, one other thing seems clear: the caricature of the settler, seen in much of the Western media, as violent religious fanatics wishing to obstruct peace seems more and more like the stuff of fiction.

To put the territorial dispute with the Palestinians in some much needed perspective:

By the end of the Six Day War, in June 1967 - a defensive war that Israel tried desperately to avoid - Israel had captured enough territory to more than triple the size of the area it controlled, from 8,000 to 26,000 square miles. The victory enabled Israel to unify Jerusalem and Israeli forces had also captured the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Israel subsequently returned all of the Sinai to Egypt, and all of the Gaza Strip was given to the Palestinians, which involved the peaceful evacuation of Israeli settlers from these territories. To date, approximately 93 percent of the territories won in this defensive war have been given by Israel to its Arab neighbors as a result of negotiations, which clearly demonstrates Israel's willingness to trade land for peace. So, while I'm willing to admit that, political realities being what they are, I doubt the long-term viability of settlements so far from the Green Line, such as Kida, to view such small communities as representing a major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians is an assumption simply not supported by history.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On learning Hebrew עִבְרִית

I visited my new school today, where I'll be studying Hebrew for five hours a day, five days a week, for the next several months - known as Ulpan Etzion.

Ulpan Etzion's new buildings - it recently moved to the East Talpiot neighborhood at Beit Canada - are built in the trademark Jerusalem stone, interspersed with gardens and a playground. Catering to young adult new immigrants from academic and professional backgrounds, the Absorption Center’s halls are abuzz in a variety of languages, with the comings and goings of new Israelis from around the world. The Ulpan is designed to provide new immigrants with the opportunity for social networking, Hebrew study and a supportive initiation into Israeli life and society. Though I'm living off campus, so to speak, the Ulpan maintains dormitory style housing and a Kosher cafeteria for those who choose to live there during their months of Hebrew study.

Established in 1949, shortly after the State of Israel was founded, Etzion was the first Hebrew ulpan in the country where, by all accounts, it set a model for Hebrew language education that was used across Israel. Today it is the only absorption center in Israel specifically designed for young, single new olim (immigrants), who must hold a bachelor's degree to qualify for a place. Staff and students all seem to agree that the intimate atmosphere and high quality of teaching, have made it a sought-after destination.

I must admit to some trepidation about the prospect of learning a new language after all of these years, as - anyone who knows me won't be shocked to hear me say - I'm not generally the fastest learner. I mean, what I do know I know well, but, lets face it, not everyone has the same learning curve and, while I don't at all have any self-doubt when it comes to what I do know....those topics I feel more than comfortable discussing, relating to human nature, politics and the world in general, for some reason I have never been able to assimilate new information quickly. And, while I am glad that I, at least, have chosen the Ulpan with such a stellar reputation, its going to take a lot of hard work to master this old language that Elizer ben-Yehuda modernized and reintroduced to the Jewish people as a modern language more than 1700 years after it disappeared as the spoken language of the Jews.

Indeed, Hebrew's change from a liturgical written language to a spoken language of official status in the State of Israel was not purely a linguistic process. The revival of Hebrew was part of an ideology of modern Zionism, used as a medium of revolt and a symbol of unity for the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

By most accounts, the process of Hebrew's return to regular usage is unique; there are no other examples of a language devoid of native speakers becoming a national language with millions of first language speakers. Like many of the giants of Zionist history whose stories I've become more intimately familiar with since my Aliyah - like Herzl, Ben Gurion, and others - I am quite humbled by ben-Yehuda's example of dogged determination in the face of tremendous odds. Yehuda once said:

"For everything there is needed only one wise, clever and active man, with the initiative to devote all his energies to it, and the matter will progress, all obstacles in the way notwithstanding... In every new event, every step, even the smallest in the path of progress, it is necessary that there be one pioneer who will lead the way without leaving any possibility of turning back."

So, in the face of such vision and strength of purpose, it will be hard for me wallow in self-doubt about my capacity to learn Hebrew for too long, and will try to remember that I'm here after all, not just to experience Israel, but to become an Israeli.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My visit to the settlement of Eli, in the West Bank

My tour today included the settlement of Eli, a few miles from Ariel, stretching over a vast area situated on a mountainous topography, including a cluster of neighborhoods with a total of 3,000 residents. The center of life in Eli is the pre-military academy that attracts religious students from all over the country. Maj. Ro'i Klein, an Eli resident and hero of the Second Lebanon War, was killed when he lept on a grenade to save his soldiers.

Quality of life is not a vague concept at Eli. There are cultivated gardens, breath-taking mountain views, the shades of its olive trees, and a well-kept regional sports center, which includes multi-purpose playing fields, a tennis court, a work-out facility & swimming pool. Eli provides health services, a small shopping center, and post office. Synagogues and ritual baths are scattered around the neighborhoods.

Eli is also only 30 minutes from Jerusalem. And, the relatively short distance from Israel's large centers of employment, particularly the Industrial Parks in Barkan and Ariel, allow direct access to and from work. The town is at an elevation of about 700-800 m. above sea level, with a climate similar to that of Jerusalem.

Kobi Eliraz, who is the head of Eli's local council, spoke to our group with an immense sense of pride about his community. Eliraz is disappointed by most Israelis' refusal to cross "the eastern threshold of Ariel," after which the real "settlements" begin. He wanted to also make it clear that he recognizes the authority of the state, and if it wants to evacuate him from Eli, he says, he'll fight the decision - but peacefully go along with it. Indeed, that sentiment was echoed by others we spoke to.

One of the more interesting things I discovered was that the population of Eli includes a significant number of secular Israelis - inconsistent with the caricature of the settlers as uniformly religious. While I obviously wasn't able to speak with a large number of residents here, my sense from speaking to the community leaders is that Israelis are drawn to such settlements for a number of reasons. The beauty of the area and relative affordability of home ownership is a factor for some; the allure of living in close-knit community is also a draw, as well as the feeling, which I heard echoed by Eli residents - as well as the residents of a tiny outpost near the Jordan Valley that I visited later in the day - that a pioneer spirit was partly at play.

I couldn't help but think of the American families moving to remote unsettled areas, in the19th century, as the borders of their nation gradually expanded westward....drawn by cheap land, the promise of a fresh start, and, no doubt such pioneers thought they were entitled to do so either by political right or by providence. Likewise, Israelis who have opted for these remote hillside communities are also driven by perhaps a sense that, as the original Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel included areas in what we call today the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), they too have a divinely inspired right to settle the areas. But, as the West Bank was captured by Israel in a defensive war, and not, as in the American example, in the context of expansionist conquest, they no doubt also feel they have a strong moral and political claim to the land.

And, while I'm very sympathetic to the settlement community, and am saddened by the degree to which they are often demonized (even by Israelis and Jewish supporters in the diaspora), and further feel that Israel's reluctance to cede more land to the Palestinians, after their experience in Gaza, is completely justified, I also feel that, for the sake of a TRUE and LASTING peace, evacuating such settlements may eventually be the the only responsible option. Not a fair option, mind you, but, as politics is rarely about perfect justice, merely about decisions about which of several options will cause the least harm, if the decision is between holding onto such settlements at any cost, and ceding the land for genuine peace, I think the choice is a clear one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A minor scare while touring the ancient ruins of Shomron in the West Bank

The group tour I went on yesterday, of two Jewish settlements in the West Bank, began with what was going to be a relatively brief stop a few miles north-west of the W. Bank city of Shechem, at the sites containing ruins from the ancient "hill of Shomron,". It is an oblong hill, with steep but not inaccessible sides, and a long flat top. From what I read, Omri, the king of Israel, purchased this hill from Shemer its owner, and built on its broad summit the city to which he gave the name of "Shomeron", i.e., Samaria, as the new capital of his kingdom

This city, after many changes of sovereignty, was given by the emperor Augustus to Herod the Great, who rebuilt it, and called it Sebaste (the Greek form of Augustus) in honour of the emperor. The area is now represented by the hamlet of Sebustieh, containing about three hundred Arab inhabitants. The ruins of the ancient town are all scattered over the hill, down the sides of which they have rolled. Remains of the old amphitheater, as well as the 100 or so shafts of what must have been grand Corinthian columns are still standing.

Due to security problems - we were informed that there are occasionally rocks thrown at visitors to the site and other hostile acts - the area isn't visited too often, but our group was able to get permission from the military, who provided several IDF soldiers (accompanied by two light armored vehicles) for our tour, who met us a military check point nearby, and accompanied us for our tour.

An hour or so into our tour of the ancient ruins, we were told that, due to security problems in the area where we started our tour, we would have to climb down a different way from the high point of the hill, using a much steeper path to a new location where our bus would meet us. Several of the people on our tour were elderly, and a few walked with some difficulty, so the soldiers, as well as myself and some other younger members of our group, assisted those who needed help climbing down. After much effort, we all made it down safely, and were accompanied out of the town by our military escorts.

Though we were surprised at the time that they forced us down this very difficult path, what we didn't realize at the time was that the security concerns were quite real, involving young Palestinians throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails in the general direction of where we began our tour, prompting the IDF to alter our original plan.

We obviously all owe the IDF soldiers quite a bit of gratitude for the confidence and professionalism they displayed in assessing and effectively responding to the danger we faced.

Brief comment on the political nature of this blog

I didn't originally intend for my posts to be so political but, as anyone who knows me would not be shocked to hear, I am extremely political by nature - a trait I no doubt inherited from my Father - and I naturally tend to see politics (I'm using the term "politics" broadly, to refer to any sort of political, moral, or social message, implicit or explicit) in everything...or most everything. I'm not one to see most serious problems in the world as merely the result of honest "misunderstandings"...a dynamic which would imply that once both parties in a conflict are well-informed on the nature of their ignorance, peace will then be achieved.

No, I believe strongly that most of the serious problems in the world are indeed triggered by a conflict between two parties over differences in fundamental political/social/moral/cultural values....ideas which represent the heart of who we are, and what we believe to be the best way to structure our communities, our families, and our nations. As such, I see the Israeli-Arab conflict through this lens and filter much of what I experience here not as solitary events totally divorced from any greater meaning, but in the context of the moral, religious, and political aspirations of its actors.

Sure, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", and I do try to see our shared humanity (the hopes, fears, and passions which we do have in common) when I can. And, indeed, some of my posts have commented, and will continue to comment, on the personal, the quirky, and the just plain odd. But, I at least aspire to be a realist, and fear the Utopian urge (this chimera of world peace and harmony just around the corner) many of us have, not because I believe that such idealism doesn't have a place in every healthy soul - I believe it does. But, rather, because the history of humanity clearly suggests that we should balance this longing for a perfect world with a healthy degree of fear of those who claim that they have found a new solution to our society's gravest problems (conflict, war, poverty, etc.) that, up until now, nobody has ever thought of. This epistemological skepticism (an understanding that there is much that we don't know about social and political phenomena - their cause and effect - and how we can solve intractable problems) is what defines much of my politics. Call it, the audacity of experience. (No offense to you Obama supporters!)

So, while I'll strive to comment on my experiences as a new Israeli consistent with a passionate longing that we might, one day, finally achieve peace with our neighbors, that we'll one day truly be "a free people in our land", and will attempt to see the people I meet not as mere abstractions - but as the rich, stunningly complex humanity they are, I'll also attempt to do so with a keen awareness of human frailty and moral failings, and a determination to not shy away from seeing the harsh reality of what actually prevents our most cherished political visions from being realized.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 4th reflections

Thanks to the Assoc of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), we just had an early July 4th celebration in Israel at the Jerusalem Cinemateque - a festival which included hot dogs, apple pie, donuts, a dj playing American music, & the showing of American films.

Though my new national identity, as an Israeli, is something I cherish, and think about often, I never really had any doubt that my Israeli citizenship would diminish the degree to which I feel, and am passionate about, being American. And, I'm pretty certain that my fellow American Olim would share this feeling - a confidence that there's no contradiction between our two identities..a citizen of two nations who share many important political and social values, and have been allies since the day, 61 years ago, that the modern Jewish state was born.

However, as Jews have historically had their loyalty to their host country questioned no matter how faithful and devoted they were and as, later, after the establishment of the state of Israel, such Jews - even among the overwhelming majority of Jews who don't make Aliyah - often had to face the charge of dual loyalty (especially with Jews who engage in political activity connected with Israel) I think a bit of clarification is necessary.

To show why I think those questioning the loyalty of American Jews who are passionate about Israel, or possess Israeli citizenship, haven't fully thought through their argument, consider this.

A question posed to Jews, at times, who have dual citizenship is who, precisely, do we ultimately support more...who, when it comes down to it, would be more loyal to, in the event of a military confrontation between the two states. And, though there is much of this charge to break down, suffice to say that such a query would seem bizarre if posed to an American possessing dual citizenship with one of our other allies whose laws also allow such a bifurcated identity. There are, for instance, many Americans possessing dual citizenship with Great Britain and I almost can't imagine such an individual being asked which side they would choose if some military conflagration would occur between the U.S. and the British, because, well, I think such a charge would seem quite odd. The chance, we would all agree, of such an event occurring is nearly zero. I mean, is there something about being an Israeli that is inherently less consistent with also being an American than being a Brit and an American?

Alright, my accuser is now saying, its agreed that such a question is quite silly but, they insist, it isn't odd to inquire about the role that an American Jew's loyalty to his religious homeland taints his judgment when engaging in the American political process concerning Israel. How does one know, he asks, that a Jew is acting on behalf of what is in the best interest of the U.S., especially when it involves foreign policy decisions, as opposed to Israel.

To this I would answer by explaining that political lobbying, by its very nature, is based on a decision that the advocate makes to lobby on behalf of one thing and not the other. That is, when lobbyists for the American Assoc of Retired Persons (AARP) advocated on behalf of the recently enacted prescription drug benefit, nobody accused them of not caring about the health needs of children, despite the fact by devoting x amount of resources to a drug benefit invariably means that less funding will be available for the health needs of poor kids.

Or, put another way, does someone who lost a family member to cancer and then decides to lobby the NIH on behalf of greater cancer research have less credibility than someone lobbying for such research who hasn't lost someone? I mean, doesn't it come down to the weight of the facts and logic employed to make the case for more research? Jews who has a strong emotional connection to Israel (or who have family or friends who live there) should be able to lobby for continued or increased U.S. support for Israel and only be judged on the merits of the argument.

For, it is understood, that when you decide in a democratic process to lobby on behalf of something, you are making a decision to lobby on behalf of A and not B. You aren't saying that B isn't worthy, just that A is especially worthy and, since you can't possibly advocate on behalf of every worthy project, you make a choice. That's politics pure and simple.

It doesn't mean you don't believe there are other valuable things to advocate on behalf of, but you have, for any number of reasons, decided to choose one over the other. Why? Well, in the case of advocates for AARP, many are no doubt senior citizens themselves, and motivated by a combination of self-interest - that is, they wish to ensure that retirees like themselves don't go broke paying for the medication they need to stay alive - and their sense of what's in the best interest of the country...two factors that they don't view as necessarily being in conflict with one another. Likewise, Jews who advocate for Israel of course act to a large degree out of their concern for the survival of the only Jewish state in the world, but also because they are convinced that such advocacy is in no way inconsistent with the values and interests of America.

So, if someone wants to make the case that such Israel advocacy is wrong-headed....that policies which serve to enhance Israel's security are inherently inconsistent with America's security, then fine....make the case and let the political process play out, just as it does with countless other issues facing the nation. But, its quite another thing entirely to make what ultimately is an ad hominem attack on the Jewish community - questioning the patriotism and motivation of Jews without addressing the substance of the foreign policy debate. I think the onus is on those wishing to change the historic support American has given to Israel to honestly demonstrate why the U.S.-Israeli alliance should be downgraded, based on facts and logic, not on scurrilous attacks on Jewish Americans.

I would argue that the historic canard of Jews being immutably "clannish" and disloyal has filtered into the respectable realms of public discourse....allowing even those not generally predisposed towards anti-Semitism to buy into the trope - an intellectual tick triggered by the sight of Jews expressing pride, and showing concern, towards the state of Israel.

My American passport is no different today than it was the day before I made Aliyah. There's no asterisk on my passport number and my status...my rights and obligations as an American, in the eyes of the State Department and the other branches of government, hasn't at all changed - just as it hasn't changed for the millions of Americans who possess dual citizenship with other nations.

Just as important, in my heart nothing has changed. Though I sit here absolutely amazed by the fact that I'm now a citizen of the first sovereign Jewish state in 2000 years, I also never cease to be amazed by how, in the most visceral and immutable way, I am, at the core, an unabashedly patriotic American.

Happy Independence Day!







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