Tony Karon has really outdone himself in today’s post arguing that Barack Obama’s candidacy marks the fulfillment of the highest ideas of ethical Judaism. While Tony is an anti-Zionist and I am not, I thought he nailed almost every major point in the debate about what it means to be a true “pro-Israel” candidate: how Hillary has betrayed progressive values by slavishly adhering to a Likud-like line regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; how Obama has consistently attempted to do the right thing regarding the conflict, while still adhering to a pragmatic position that allows him to attract the support of less progressive Jews.
The thing I especially liked about Tony’s approach was that it was similarly discursive to mine in writing these kinds of posts. He begins by talking about a discussion of Caribbean music, which leads him to an e mail from a South African friend about Obama, and then to the subject at hand: Obama’s relations with Israel and American Jews.
Here are some of the highlights:
Rootless Cosmopolitan is not in the habit of endorsing political candidates, but Barack Obama — Barack Hussein Obama — is an exception. Rootless Cosmopolitan loves Barack Hussein Obama.
…My good friend Michael Weeder — Father Michael Weeder, an Anglican priest and longtime revolutionary in my native Cape Town — sent me an email at about the same time in which he noted the following:
“Obama is the child both of Africa, who was robbed of her own, and of those whose aspirations were embodied in the Mayflower. A child of our continent in the White House … this is not just a North American election, no… we should all have that bloodied vote. I see how Americans are stepping up to the plate of human justice and solidarity.
Out of the whore of Babylon comes something new as the sloping Beast pauses, en route to Jerusalem. Perhaps a new day is possible.”
The reason people around the world are excited about the possibility of an Obama presidency is that they see in him a person who appears to live by that credo “neither inferior, nor superior, to anyone.” And that’s in marked contrast to the arrogance with which every U.S. president of the past quarter century has addressed the world.
…Barack Obama is the perfect candidate in this election for those who believe that our Jewish values compel us to be part of a universal movement for justice that joins us together with all who share that goal, across all tribal boundaries. And he’s the perfect candidate to lead America in an age when it will have to learn to treat the rest of the world as something more than its vassals and courtiers…
Another element of his post that he nailed right on the money was his characterization of Haaretz’s Shmuel Rosner:
When Obama gently but firmly suggested to Ohio Jewish voters that there was a difference between being a friend to Israel and embracing the toxic Likud view of how to approach its neighbors, some Zionist commentators went apoplectic — Haaretz’s manic U.S.-based nationalist watchdog Shmuel Rosner howled that Obama was interfering in Israeli internal affairs! But then Rosner represents the Zionist alte-kakker perspective to a tee, with grading of American political candidates solely on the basis of their level of hostility to Israel’s foes and willingness to give it carte blanche to destroy the Palestinians and itself. Why Haaretz publishes this crank, I have no idea, but it should be embarrassed to run this sort of tribalist drivel which most American Jews find acutely embarrassing.
Though Tony Karon really “gets” Obama’s candidacy for liberal Jews like me and articulates this beautifully, I think he mars his essay by using the term “Zionist” as a disparaging collective epithet:
…Precisely the prospect of an American president committed to justice and dialogue that freaks out the Zionists. They cite his willingness to talk to Iran as Exhibit A in the case against him. That’s because the Zionists want an American president who will bomb Iran, having worked themselves into a lather of with their own dark fantasies about Iran as Nazi Germany. And if Obama is prepared to talk to Iran, he may be prepared to talk to Hamas, too. For the Zionists, that’s another reason to plotz at the prospect of an Obama presidency, even though talking to Hamas is exactly what Israel and the U.S. need.
The greatest fear, quite explicitly, cited by the Zionists is that Obama may pursue an even-handed policy on the Middle East. Imagine that…
Tony wouldn’t allow his writers at Time to get away with such rhetorical overkill. And it’s a good thing too. Tony should know that collapsing all American Jewish supporters of Israel under the pejorative “Zionist” does a real disservice to the political debate on this subject. There are Zionists who observe the views he correctly excoriates and those (like me) who don’t. Where he could use a scalpel he uses a flame-thrower.
I’m also uncomfortable with the pejorative term “tribalism” used to describe Zionism:
…tribal nationalism has no place in my idea of Judaism, and it’s not something I want any part of…
It’s far too reductionist and dismissive a term to conjure any real understanding of just what Zionism is and means to the majority of Jews.
This passage too contained too many slogans and not enough specificity:
I have little doubt that he’ll [Obama] easily carry a majority of young Jewish voters, about 70% of whom, like Obama, opposed the Iraq war at the time that Hillary voted for it. And what this reveals, in fact, is that Zionist hegemony among American Jews is fading.
I too join Tony in wishing for the break-up of the homogeneous consensus among American Jewish groups regarding Israel. But if he thinks young American Jews are turning anti-Zionist (which is what this statement seems to imply) he’s woefully mistaken. Young Jews care very much about Israel. If you explained to them what Zionism was the majority would consider themselves such. But it would not be their father’s Zionism. It would be a tolerant, open-hearted Zionism that embraced the possibility for Israeli-Palestinian understanding; that sought an end to the Occupation; that rejected religious extremism on either side.
There is also one error in the essay regarding a 2007 survey of American Jewish attitudes toward Israel. Karon claims:
A 2007 study commissioned for American Jewish organizations found that less than half of American Jews under 35 would consider Israel’s disappearance a “personal tragedy,” and more than half were uncomfortable with the very idea of a Jewish state.
Actually, U.S. News and World Report’s article on the survey clarifies:
…54 percent of the under-35 group are “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state”…
In other words, the majority of young Jews are comfortable (not uncomfortable) with the idea of a Jewish state. That doesn’t negate the fact that a very significant number of young Jews are gradually coming to reject the notion of a Jewish state. And this number will continue growing unless Israel achieves a normal role in the region. This fact is an important development which all Jews interested in Israel’s future should examine.
Good Karon and good critique. There is more than one Zionism and it gets confusing for some who don’t bury themselves in this day to day. I also think that the terms ethnic nationalism and tribal nationalism have validity but should not be applied to all versions of Zionism. Distinguishing the different Zionisms, maybe historically and ideologically would be a good and useful discussion.