A canonical Jewish joke tells of the Jewish family in the old country many years ago that invites a poor man to Sabbath dinner. The hostess brings out a dish of smoked whitefish, and the poor man proceeds to wolf it down. Chagrined, the hostess says, “You know, whitefish is very expensive.” Between mouthfuls the poor man replies, “Believe me—it’s worth it!”
There are a lot of things that are worth it when you don’t have to pay for it yourself, and one of them is Jewish blood. The old joke came to mind while reading the July 31 profile of Rahm Emanuel in Ha’aretz. Binyamin Netanyahu was quoted by Ha’aretz recently calling Emanuel and his White House colleague David Axelrod “self-hating Jews,” which the Israeli prime minister later denied (which doesn’t prove that he didn’t say it).
Why is Emanuel, the son of an Israeli pediatrician who served in the Irgun (the illegal pre-state underground), bashing Israel over settlements? The answer is simple, and well documented by the Israeli newspaper feature. His views have remained frozen in time since he arranged the 1993 handshake inthe White House Rose Garden between then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat, like those of Oslo Accord negotiator Yossi Beilin. He still believes with religious fervor in the old peace process, while events have convinced the vast majority of Israelis that it is a dreadful idea. Ha’aretz reports,
When he was president Clinton’s adviser, Emanuel orchestrated the handshaking ceremony between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. It is even said that after Rabin’s assassination, it was he who suggested to Clinton that he include the expression “Shalom, haver” (Goodbye, friend) in his eulogy to Rabin. But in spite of the disappointments of the intifada and his criticism of the Palestinians and the Arab states, which he called on to impose “pressure” on the Palestinians - he has not forgotten the September 13, 1993, ceremony at the White House, which moved him profoundly.
He was one of the only two Jews in Congress who agreed to support the Geneva Initiative, in 2003.
“What’s happening today makes me angry,” says Yossi Beilin, one of the originators of the Geneva Accords. “The moment Rahm became such a significant factor in the administration and because he’s also the son of a former Israeli and speaks Hebrew, he became a target ... The right in Israel considers people in the administration who want peace, whose views would be between those of Kadima and Meretz if they were to vote in Israel, a type of traitor.”
The Geneva Accords were a public relations stunt, an unofficial attempt to circumvent the “road map” and sketch a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. They were taken seriously by no-one but the Israeli extreme left. I use the term “extreme left” advisedly, for what Beilin and Emanuel represent was in the Israeli mainstream fifteen years ago. Today Beilin has no official position and his party has three seats in the Knesset. And Rahm Emanuel was one of two Jewish congressmen who supported Beilin’s recent antics.
It happens that the left-wing Zionist youth organization Hashomer Hatzair is associated with Beilin’s fragmentary party. I belonged to Hashomer in the 1960s, and spent a summer on a kibbutz where the red flag flew above the flag of Israel. Sadly, I understand the mentality: it is an ideological commitment to a secular sort of universalism that demands a fanatical sort of faith.
After hundreds of death by terrorism and the Palestinian refusal to accept Ehud Barak’s peace offer as brokered by then President Clinton in 1998, the Israeli public repudiated Beilin’s ideological fanaticism. Not so American Jews, whose left-wing sympathies and sentimental attachment to secular universalism come cheap, like the poor man’s whitefish. Israelis pay for the experiments of leftist leaders in blood, and American liberals like Rahm Emanuel respond: “Believe me, it’s worth it.”
A personal anecdote: last December my mother passed away. She had belonged to what was advertised as a “meditative synagogue” in Seattle. At her funeral service, the “rabbi” of this synagogue (well, he wore a beard and a kipa) advised me that “our tradition” was to add the words “and all of [the people of Ishmael]” to the concluding line of our ancient prayer, the Kaddish: “May He who establishes harmony in the heavens also make peace for us and all of [the people of] Israel.” To alter a prayer we have recited for more than two millennia to make a political point bespeaks a putrid soul. I merely told the “rabbi” that as my mother held no such feelings for the Arabs, I would decline to recite the Kaddish according to his “tradition.” Out of regard for mourning family members present, I did not say anything else.
There simply isn’t any arguing with liberal Jews. The only solution is the Biblical one: in forty years, all of them will be dead, like the feckless generation of freedmen who left Egypt with Moses. Secular Jews have one child per family, Reform Jews 1.3, Conservative Jews 1.6, and modern Orthodox nearly 4. A new Jewish majority will form over the next forty years, and it will be religiously observant, close to Israeli thinking, and politically conservative.