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Liberal Conservative Multiple Personality Disorder

Reader comment on item: Who Supports Israel[, Jews or Conservatives]?

Submitted by Elisha Ignatoff (United States), Sep 3, 2003 at 13:20

"Today, all that has changed. The Middle East has replaced the Soviet Union as the touchstone of politics and ideology. With increasing clarity, conservatives stand on one side of its issues and liberals on the other."

It is difficult to describe living inside this historical gyre, which is what I find myself up against on a daily basis.
I'm as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs when I contemplate the embrace of my "new" friends on the right. It's hard to shake the notion that their "love" of Israel has more to do with Christian eschatological triumphalism than with any real regard for Jews. That their positions on issues such as church/state separation, the use of government to promote social and economic justice and the use of government to moderate the workings of our capitalist economic engine are almost always antithetical to mine, is no help.

At the same time, I can't get over that "et tu Brute" feeling I get from my "former" friends on the left. Especially from the "Jewish Intellectuals" leading the charge. These are the folks with whom (for a century and a half) I have shared fundamental ideological stands, invariably in opposition to the "Right." (I'm not that old I'm speaking historically).

As with any other "sea change" there are also submerged currents at play. The most significant (to me) revolves around the use of the word "Jewish" (as in Jewish Intellectuals). A Jewish name or Jewish grandparents does not a Jew make. The only rubric which covers both Jews like myself (at the far liberal end of the spectrum) and those at the extreme orthodox end of that same spectrum is not connected to "being" Jewish (although that is the only language available to describe it). It proceeds from "doing" Jewish. Maimonides to the contrary notwithstanding (his is a comparatively late voice) Judaism is not a religion of faith, but of acts. Judaism is built around the 613 commandements contained in the five books of Moses, all of which are acts which one is either required to perform or required to refrain from performing.
Laid over this is a tradition of argumentation and interpretation, required because no fixed document can cover the continually expanding possibilities of the human experience. This body of interpretation is presented as argument, with the majority opinion, the minority opinion and often additional opinions, presented together, in recognition of the fact that under slightly different circumstances the secondary opinions may be the more valid; and as a way of elevating the process of engagement with the texts over any particular opinion.
By this standard, the "Jewish" nature of these "Jewish Intellectuals" pales in significance in comparison to the other components of their intellectuality.
If you challenge them on this point they will huffily respond "Of course I 'am' Jewish." "I 'am' Jewish by virtue of the fact that I choose to assert that I 'am' Jewish." "My statements and acts are drawn from and informed by the highest values of the Jewish experience (mostly the social justice ideals as ennunciated in Isaiah et alia)" "If I willingly identify myself with the most reviled and persecuted people in recorded history, no one can say me nay."
That they rely on the concept of "being" Jewish rather than "doing" Jewish is, for me, a measure of how attenuated their "Jewishness" actually is. But this is the texture of all the soups of contemporary American religious life and the majority opinion as to what constitutes "Jewishness".

As to Sharon, I don't view him as a cause, but rather as an effect. When confronted with the third iteration of Arab rejectionism the Israeli body politic turned away from those politicians who advocated accomodation and ressurected Sharon as a holding action. If Arab intransigence on this fundamental question does not change Israel's leadership will only continue to harden into a mirror image of rejectionism (rejection of the idea of a Palestinian state and a reliance on the rule of war - they've started three 'formal' wars and two 'informal' wars against us, all of which they have lost. This territory is ours to do with as we see fit; up to and including the expulsion or liquidation of the present population. To do exactly as was done to 1,000 year old Jewish communities in the Arab countries)

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