In an Israeli TV interview, the hosts posed some tough questions to Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister. The background to the interview was that she’d been invited to speak at Princeton University Hillel last month. After Jewish students on campus protested her appearance as part of a Brand Israel propaganda campaign, the Hillel determined that she would be too divisive a speaker and cancelled her invitation. This caused a major PR coup for the pro-Israel advocates who danced a gig over this supposed infringement on Hotovely’s free speech rights. Apparently, they’d neglected to consider the massive violation of the rights to free speech and peaceful protest by Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation. The local Chabad offered her an alternate venue and she appeared there instead.
The interviewers questioned her aggressively about the reasons why American Jews, especially those on campus, might feel so alienated from Israel that they would refuse to permit her to speak. They also questioned her about the Kotel plan which Bibi Netanyahu destroyed after three years of careful negotiation. In her response, Hotovely blathered nonsense about Robinson’s Arch, the original proposed prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews which had been rejected by Women of the Wall, being a lovely space which Reform Jews never used because they weren’t really interested in praying at the Kotel. The Israeli minister called the Kotel dispute a manufactured controversy with a political, rather than a religious motive.
In another response to questioning, Hotovely made her most damaging claim:
…Hotovely accused American Jews of “not understanding the complexities of the region”, describing them as “people that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, going to Iraq.”
Yes, Hotovely is clearly a young, inexperienced Likud pol who will become more careful and cynical in her pronouncements in the future. And she certainly has little or no understanding of Diaspora Jewry, which is why it was a mystery that she was chosen to speak on behalf of Brand Israel at the prestigious Ivy League institution.
But in one sense, the Israeli “diplomat” was correct. Most American don’t understand the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Despite this, they’re often quite alienated by what they do know and see. If they did understand these complexities chances are they’d be even more angry and hostile toward Israel.
As for the false claim that American Jewish children don’t fight for their country, in fact a slightly larger proportion of Jews do enlist and serve than their comparative numbers in the general population. There are Jewish generals. American Jews do, in fact serve in Afghanistan, as the accompanying photo proves.
One of the most famous American Jewish veterans is Col. Morris Davis, who was the lead military prosecutor of Guantanamo detainees. Davis also took the lead in criticizing the Air Force academy for permitting evangelical Christians to have unfettered access to the campus and classroom. Col. Davis would, no doubt, be surprised to hear that he couldn’t possibly be Jewish if he was serving in the U.S. military.
An Israeli Facebook Friend pointed to a literary analog to Hotovely’s disparaging view of American Jews. In his novel, Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut creates an Ezra Pound-type character who harangues Americans every night on Nazi radio broadcasts during World War II. Here is how he characterizes Jews and their view of the military service:
“…There are no Jews in the foxholes…The Jews are all too busy counting merchandise in the Quartermaster Corps or money in the Finance Corps or selling black-market cigarettes and nylon in Paris to ever come closer to the front than a hundred miles.
You folks at home, you parents, and relatives of boys at the front… Do you know of a single Jewish family that has received a telegram from Washington, once the capital of a free people – do you know of a single Jewish family that has received a telegram from Washington that begins, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son…”?
It’s no accident that the Israeli minister’s dismissive attitude toward American Jews mirrors views held by American white supremacists and Nazis. They are, unfortunately, birds of a feather in this particular regard.
Hotovely’s misconception stems from a common Zionist stereotype concerning the “Diaspora Jew.” He is (and this Zionist conception is definitely male-oriented), in fact he must be, a weakling. He is brainy and successful. But he is someone prepared to barter his success in society in return for shedding his Jewish identity. As for fighting for himself, his (Jewish) people, or his nation–nah, that’s just not his cup of tea.
The only place to find fighting Jews is Israel. It alone knows how to fight for Jewish identity and how to protect the lives of Jews. This of course is nonsense. But it’s still a powerful bromide in Zionist thinking.
It explains why the current Israeli far-right regime has all but abandoned American Jewry (except the 20% which is Orthodox). As Israel has allied itself with the American alt-right and the farthest extremes of the GOP, Likud leaders have come to understand that they will never carry with them the rest of American Jews who consider themselves liberals and support the Democratic Party. So Israel needs a replacement strategy to make up for the support is expects to lose.
The substitutes are Christian evangelicals and the alt-right, even including neo-Nazis, who so hate Muslims that they are willing to embrace the notion that Israel, that bulwark against the Arab-Muslim hordes, is somehow different from “Jews” (that is the liberal Democratic Jews they hate). Israelis are the real Jews, while American Jews are somehow imposters.
The problem with this strategy is that there will inevitably come a time when Israel will no longer be the flavor du jour for evangelicals or the alt-right. Invariably, Israel will choose a path that diverges from the agenda of these groups. Then the ardor will cool; and who will take their place? American Jews will be long gone. Once you lose them you won’t be able to summon them with a dog whistle as the Israel Lobby do now.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.