As George Bush took the oath of office in January of 2001 (I did not watch the event; I was speaking to my father on television, who was watching it on Fox News – he likes watching Fox News, because people scream and shout at each other on that channel), the queasiness generated by the implication of a fact had now fully set in: all three branches of the federal government were to be Republican-controlled for the foreseeable future. Republicans, prior to the 2000 election, had already had a majority in the House; Democrats, as of the swearing-in date, had lost their several-months majority in the Senate; a Republican (whom I knew during the campaign was a “conservative” psycho dressed in “moderate clothing,” as should anyone with half a brain) would now be President; and the Supreme Court, fresh from having issued a decision it KNEW to be not in accordance with constitutional jurisprudence, was also Republican.
So, as my father and I were on the phone, he made a remark to me that he had made several times in the past. The remark needed no explanation to me, but I’m afraid it might to a select few group of people I’ve been talking to lately. “I’d better make sure my passport is still good,” he said. “I hope to God you’re joking,” I replied.
My father is an Israeli (he was born in Hadera, a favorite terrorist target), and as such, as dual citizenship and can return to Israel at any time. His remark meant two different things, but both of the things expressed a common sentiment. The first thing it meant was: 1)I am an immigrant, and therefore I had better make sure I can still get out of this country, and having a valid passport is the only way I can do that (he said this, of course, because of Republicans’ dutifully xenophobic anti-immigrant stance, a stance whiich has been cultivated over the last 100 years, and which is still very much in evidence – see, e.g., the House of Representative’s current posturing over the President’s immigration bill, Pat Buchanan et al’s absurd “reconquista” notion, and so forth). The second thing it meant was 2) I am Jewish – and as such, I am a member of a minority that is simply not embraced by the Bush crew – as Bush has already made it clear during his campaign that he intends to cater to an evangelical Protestant base. Therefore, I hope the “right of return” is still good.
About the subject of Bush, Jews, and Israel, I feel, as Paddy Chayefsky (ironically) once said, that I must say something, at least “if I expect to live with myself in the morning.” Bush does not care about Jewish people. His base includes large Christian demonimations who vilify Jews on a regular basis, who make comments such as “God does not listen to the prayers of a Jew,” who took the occassion of “The Passion of the Christ” as an opportunity to remind the whole world that Jews were “Christ-killers”; who constantly criticize “Hollywood” and the “Northeastern liberal media” (read: in their minds, “Jewish” people). The first public prayer session, held by Bush as part of his inaugural, was one at which only Evangelical Protestants were welcome. In contrast, Clinton’s equivalent session was one at which a rabbi, a Catholic Priest, and a reverend, were all welcome.
But, say some, what about Bush’s “Office of Faith-Based Initiatives?” Isn’t the very existence of this office proof that he cares about Orthodox Jews? No. The only people ever appointed to this office have been evangelical Christians interested in using that office as a profit-making enterprise. Not a single Jewish – or even Catholic – person, for that matter, has ever been appointed to this office.
But, say some, what about Bush’s “School choice” initiative? Isn’t THAT proof that he cares about Jewish interests? Again, no. The sectarian schools he has offered up as model schools under this program have, again, been overwhelmingly Protestant. The “school choice” program is born out of a conservative desire to destroy public schools, not out of a desire to show concern for the religious interests of people of all faiths.
But, some still say, what about Bush’s hatred of Muslims? Surely THAT proves the Jews are on his side… No, it doesn’t either. His pollsters have told him (justifiably so, to a large degree) that fanning the flames of Muslim hatred is good politics. Yet this tactic has mostly stoked… You guessed it, the onward-Christian soldiers cabal that has hijacked out military, and that has shoved various branches of the Armed Forces to be subject to proselytyzaion, hearing Christian prayers, and so on. Yes, if I were Jewish, I would certainly feel welcome having been subject to these activities.
But, but, what about Bush’s massive tax cuts geared toward the rich? Surely THIS is evidence of solicitousness toward Jews, many of whom are wealthy. Again, no. The massive tax cuts reach such Bush favorites as… Bill Clinton and black people, for crying out loud. Their enactment is not evidence of pro-Jewish sentiment.
The Republican party is still a white Christian party (80+ percent of its members are white Christians). As the old saying in politics goes, “you dance with those who brung you.” Did Bush condemn Pat Robertson’s comment about Ariel Sharon’s “deserving” his stroke? Did he condemn Jerry Falwell’s comment about a Jew being the Antichrist? No, and no.
Bush himself comes from a family that engaged in war profiteering with the Nazis. He had a Jewish girlfriend (don’t ask me how that happened), but his mother made sure the relationship never got any further than that. Jews are among the most educated minorities in the world, and 80% of us voted against Bush in the last election.
Yet there are 20% of us (count me not among them) who insist that the other 80% have “got it all wrong.” These 20% say that Bush is a friend of Israel, and thus, automatically, a friend of the Jews. For the life of me, if I could physically disprove the canard that being a friend of Israel means being a friend of the Jews, I would until these 20% were mentally beaten into submission.
Bush believes in the oldly-minted but newly-applauded concept of “The Rapture.” If you do not believe this – if his own public statements do not serve as sufficient evidence of this, read Gore Vidal’s book, “Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia.” Vidal reports fact when it comes to explicating Bush’s belief in this matter. Under the Rapture, 4/5 of all Jews are to be killed BEFORE JESUS EVEN COMES BACK to Earth; the remaining 1/5 are either to be forcibly converted to Christianity or die once Jesus appears. My God – feel the friendship!!!
Bush’s evangelical Protestant backers believe in the concept of the Rapture as well – in other words – they believe in the mass extermination of the Jews (yes, they like us that much), but, according to scripture, one of several things must happen before the Rapture can occur: Israel must be controlled by the Jews. Last time I checked, it is. Of course, many Raptureologists have interpreted the phrase “to be controlled by Jews” to mean that the land that makes up Israel cannot be encroached upon by those who would do Israel harm; hence, Bush’s non-reaction to the recent Israel-Lebanon-Hamas contest, and his utter unwillingness to engage in peace talks. After all, peace talks may lead to a geographical reconstitution of Israel, which some Raptureologists claim will result in the precondition not being fulfilled (never mind that God did not specify the exact latitudinal and longitudal coordinates of Israel). Also, peace talks may lead to…. peace talks, which means non-war, a concept which is begging to meet this administration’s acquaintance.
To answer the question of whether Bush’s support of Israel means support of the Jews, we must first ask why he supports Israel. I indicated reason #1 above. Reason #2 is, of course, the fact that Israel is the only democratic country in the region, and as such, can keep a watchful eye on the barbarian (oil-producing) Muslim countries who may decide to get out of line. I still fail to see, however, how either reason is indicative of suppport for Jews as such. After all, what does Bush know of Jewish culture, tradition, and so on. He thinks the Jews killed Christ. Do you REALLY believe someone like this wants to cozy up to us? And by the way, that he has nominated a fair number of people into Defense Department positions that are Jewish does not change the fact that his actions toward Israel are not reflective of pro-Jewish sentiment. The people in question happen to support Bush’s version of “transforming” (read: capturing the oil of) the Middle East. These people, understandably, would love to bomb Muslim nations, as would Bush, simply because his pollsters told him that in the wake of Sept. 11th, it would make him look strong (do you really think Bush has his own opinion on these immensely complicated matters?)
So, Bush’s support of Israel – while it is not necessarily indicative of anti-Jewish ANIMUS, definitely does not mean support of Jews. Some people will never understand this, though. Why?
Norman Podhoretz, the intellectual grandfather of the neoconservative movement, in explaining why Jews should sign on to Bush-like “pro-Israel” agendas, said: “Israel (which in his mind is tantamount to “the Jews” does not have the luxury of picking its friends. Therefore, it must take its friends how and where it finds them,”) as if Israel were a tortfeasor and its victim an eggshell skull Plaintiff. Podhoretz’ statement presumes pro-Israel=Pro Jewish, DESPITE evidence to the contrary (or else he would not have made the “eggshell skull” comment). Why should I have to agree with his “logic” such that if I don’t, I am a self-hating Jew/do not care about Israel/do not care about the Jews? Many Jewish people say that if I don’t agree with his logic, I AM a self-hating Jew/don’t care about Israel/about the Jews. To them, I say, for lack of a better phrase, fuck you. It is tempting beyond tempting for the most vilified minority in history to embrace a group/President who exhibits a trait (i.e. support for the nation of Israel) that the vilified minority approves of. Why? Because a vilified minority has not known friends for so long that it will literally drink the sand. I can speak to this point from my own personal experiecence. I have no friends where I live. I would be willing to put up with, for the sake of having a friend, a lot of imperfections. But that doesn’t mean that the friend is someone who should be embraced head-over-heels, or that the friend necessarily really “likes you.” The friend, more probably, simply hates the idea of being ALONE more, just as Bush hates the idea of the U.S. being the only democracy who votes against the interests of the savages, and thus, out of this hatred (and among other reasons), supports Israel so that he can have at least one other nation stand with him at the U.N. This Hatred, though, is neither tanamount to, nor does it imply, that Bush actually LIKES individual Israelis (read: Jews), and yet the need for American Jews to be accepted by their government is so strong that they have deluded themselves into thinkin it does. Read Alan Dershowitz’ “The Vanishing American Jew” for a description of this phenomenon. Dershowitz is defiantly pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, but he is able to understand that one does not imply the other, and has convincingly – if not conclusively – demonstrated how history has shown that one does not imply the other.
So, despite the fact that (as Bill Maher pointed out a few weeks ago) Bush’s support for Israel has nothing to do with support of Jewish people, should I nonetheless vote Republican? No, because let’s not forget something: the support of Israel by the U.S. only goes so far. Because we give Israel aid, and because our shit doesn’t stink, we feel we have the right to tell Israel who it can and cannot attack (e.g., 1982, and so on). Were Israel to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran, the Bush government would,in some way, denounce this action, because it did not control the sequence of events. A curious response for a government that claims to support Israel so whoeheartedly. I should also not vote Republican because for the TIME BEING, Israel is hated less than the Muslims are. Republicans play hate games like they play musical chairs. Saudi Arabia is our ally. If several Muslim countries dangled some kind of oil-laden carrot in front of us, who KNOWS were Israel’s standing vis a vis these other nations would be. And there is, yes, one more reason why I should not vote Republican just because of the support for Israel: by voting republican, I may very well be voting myself into having to exercise the right of return (which applies to children of sabras). Perhaps, indeed, this is one reason why Republicans support Israel: so that if tweaks need to be made to immigration policy, Jews living in America that were born in Israel will be welcomed back there due to our “generosity” toward Israel over the years.
And, finally, I am not a single-issues voter. Over the last six years, real wages have stagnated, the costs of health care have skyrocketed, our civil rights have been ass-raped, mouth-raped and vaginal-raped, the environment has been ravaged and ravished, all thanks to Bush and friends. Sorry, but I have a right to say that these issues, collectively, are at least as important to me as Bush’s support for Israel, a nation which learned long ago that it must (and indeed can) defend itself alone. If the United States continues upon the regressive path it is now marching down, and thus moving to -say – Israel – is thus required, then HOW on EARTH can Bush be said to be a friend of Israel? A friend does not typically force the other friend to take the first friend’s possessions while giving nothing in return. If I forced a friend to provide room and board for my entire family because I couldn’t stand the family, and because I had driven the family to the point of eviction/to the point where they couldn’t stand me because I ruled over the family with an iron fist, is the friend who takes the family in going to view my forcing the family upon it as an act of friendship? What kind of collective madness has afflicted us?
Oh, and one more thing: the pro-Israel=pro-Jewish crows takes it as an article of faith that a Republican President is somehow a better protector of Jewish interests than is a Democratic one. I guess that means the 80% of a highly educated sub-population is a perenial group of morons, and that their caring about civil rights and for fellow Jews in particular (as opposed to the vague notion of “the State of Israel”) means nothinb. Since, however, one has no idea what Republicans’ ACTUAL motivations are for supporting Israel, how can we be sure they will better protect Jewish interests? It’s like believing someone who says, “Well, my religion hates you because of reasons x, y and z. Reason x may REALLY cause me to hate you, even exterminate you, in the next four years. But in the meantime, we’ll be sympathetic toward the State of Israel-maybe.” Would you trust this person? I wouldn’t. For the people who keep wanting Jews, Palestinians and other people to die, voting Republican makes a lot of sense – because this is what happens whenever a Republican is president – the number of suicide bombings and Jewish civilian casaulties goes up, as compared to when a Democrat is president. When a Democrat is President, yes, I concede that the Democrat may not be as “pro-Israel,” in that the Democrat may actually attempt to be interested in peace talks, and may criticize Israel for its actions, but living under a Democrat, I do not fear that my rights as an American Jew are imperiled, and thus I don’t feel the COMPULSION to relocate to Israel. And since EVERY U.S. President has been pro-Israel to one degree or another (the Democrats, out of practicality, I think; the Republicans, for God knows what reason), I still think I’ll vote Democratic, despite the perception that Republicans are more “pro-Israel.” If that stance means that I am an unwelcome citizen here, then the stance is of little comfort to me. Many Democrats have made regrettable anti-Israel comments over the last few years; thus, however, can be accounted for as much by their hatred of Bush as for any other reason. If a Democrat DOES get elected President, that person by DEFINITION will be “pro-Israel,” because the country would not permit him or her to be otherwise. And if I had to say whose anti-SEMITIC (not anti-Israel) comments I found more scary – Jesse Jackson’s or Pat Robertson’s – I’d choose the latter, because Robertson and his ilk have tremendous sway over White House policy, whereas Jesse Jackson does not and never will. Sometimes, yes, it comes down to whether the insulter can actually be in a position to turn his insults into policy. The religious right can; Jackson can’t. Michael Moore can’t set policy, but James Dobson can.
Earlier this year, Hesh’s daughter on the Sopranos passed a comment: “We should be friends with the conservative Christians. They support the Jews because they support Israel.” Hesh, who was older and wiser than his daughter, simply chuckled, and told his daughter, “You wait.”
The “you waiters” in America: stand proud and be counted!