Jewish nationalism, in its belligerence and paranoia, is watching the world pass it by – and the overwhelming majority of Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere do not want that to happen to them.
The split between humanistic Judaism and nationalistic Judaism goes back a very long time, but in recent years, the complete takeover of both Israel and the Republican Party by nationalist radicals has obviously sharpened that split, nearly creating schism within Judaism. (By “Judaism,” I don’t mean just the religion but all of Jewish civilization.) Every Israeli election is a battle between these two opposing Jewish camps, but Tuesday was the first time a U.S. election divided American Jewry along the same lines.
This was the first U.S. presidential election in which one of the two parties took the Israeli right-wing line, attacking the other party for endangering Israel’s existence, and calling on American Jews (as well as Christians) to vote for it and donate money to it at least partly on that basis. This wasn’t a marginal, low-key theme, either; in heavily Jewish states, especially the swing state of Florida, the message was as bombastic as can be. Roughly 6.5 million American Jews had this message drummed into their skulls by the Republicans – who took their inspiration and much of their phrasing from the leader of world Jewish nationalism, Bibi Netanyahu – that voting for Obama meant “throwing Israel under the bus.” This was the first time Israel became a left/right issue in a presidential campaign, and the right flogged it with absolutely all their might.
While not all the 70% are Jewish humanists – most of them voted for reasons having nothing to do with Judaism or Israel – it’s fair to say that all American Jewish humanists were among that 70%. None of those voters were Jewish nationalists – a nationalist being one who sees the world in terms of “us vs. them” – because the Republicans were talking the Jewish nationalists’ language on Israel, while Obama was the Jewish nationalists’ nemesis and had been ever since they found out his middle name.
So this election was a tremendous blow to the American Jewish right, which has just been getting stronger and more extreme in step with Israel and the Republicans. It’s a blow to AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby. It’s a blow, of course, to Netanyahu, particularly because of his unprecedented support for one of the candidates, who happened to lose. It’s a blow to the whole Israeli right.
And they’re all connected – the Republicans, the American Jewish right, the Israel lobby, Netanyahu, Likud-Beiteinu, the settlers – the whole Israeli right. Jewish nationalism, all of it, from the inner core to the outer shell, just experienced an earthquake, and there’s a lot of broken stuff lying around.
Who are the big winners? In America, I think of J Street, Peter Beinart. In Israel, we’ll have to see if a major candidate or party takes on Jewish nationalism’s defining project, the occupation, in the January 22 election. Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni are stirring, people are trying to convince 89-year-old Shimon Peres to run (maybe run is not the right word). There seems to be an effort to form a kind of national salvation front to get rid of Bibi. I don’t know if it can win, but I do know Netanyahu’s stature at home, in the U.S. and among foreign leaders has been severely diminished by Obama’s victory.
And while Bibi’s support for Romney will not lead Obama in the next four years to throw Israel under the bus or put out a contract on its prime minister, neither will Obama feel the need to give Israel or its prime minister any undeserved rewards like he did over and over in his first term. For instance, I seriously doubt that the U.S. will lobby in the UN against the upcoming Palestinian bid like it did in September of last year (and thank God for that). I expect a second-term Obama to be rather cool to Israel and altogether icy (though in a subtle way) to its prime minister, so long as that prime minister is Netanyahu. Lots of Israelis think a second-term U.S. president is going to let a foreign leader who depends on his support push him around in his first term, and even campaign for his opponent (!), without teaching him a lesson. That strikes me as an improbable view.
I think the leader of Jewish nationalism in Israel and the Diaspora is heading for a rough time, and so is the rank and file. They’ve been moving further and further right – and America just moved decisively left. The Republicans’ only ally among the world’s ruling parties was Likud, and vice versa. Now the Republicans have gone down, and they took a piece of Likud’s leader with them. The forces of Jewish nationalism threw everything they had at Obama, and he won 70% of the Jewish vote. In tandem, the forces of American nationalism threw everything it had at Obama, and he won the electoral vote 332-206 and the popular vote by 3 million.
For the last four years, or maybe since 9/11, it has been the Republicans and Israel against the rest of the world, and together they’ve grown more and more belligerent and paranoid. This week, America, including 70% of its Jews, rejected that mentality. And if America and 70% of its Jews rejected it, imagine what the rest of the world thinks.
Jewish nationalism, in its belligerence and paranoia, is watching the world pass it by – and the overwhelming majority of Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere do not want that to happen to them. This is why I think the Jewish future is a humanistic one. It’ll probably take longer to get to Israel, but sooner or later it should arrive.