November 17, 2018

Campaign controversy as the sum of all Jewish fears

If you’re not yet tired of the ad campaign controversy (see here, here, and here), you might want to read these two smart Anglo-Saxon Israelis, David Hazony and Gil Troy. Interestingly and similarly, both think that this controversy has more to say about American Jewish fears and apprehensions than about Israeli condescending arrogance.

Here’s Hazony:

Yet in the hysteria of the response, the insecurity of American Jewish life is laid bare. This, rather than the campaign itself, is the real story.

Say what you will about the political wisdom, the fear-mongering, and so forth, on the part of the Israelis. The fact is, at the heart of the campaign lies a truth too painful for many American Jews to handle: That the chances of one’s grandkids ending up identifying as Jewish are indeed significantly higher in Israel than they are in the U.S. — and that this is important in thinking about our future. I really do believe that if American Jews were to step outside their own emotions for just a moment, to stop changing the subject and actually focus on the issue being raised, they’d admit that, seen from an Israeli perspective, the fear expressed in these ads is, to a large extent, quite justified.

And Troy:

In advertising’s blunt, cartoonish way, the three internet ads captured these complex issues, dramatically, effectively.

This American Jewish freak-out is strange given all the talk lately about how Israelis must learn to take criticism from Americans and American Jews without freaking out. The “big tent” looks less welcoming if the criticism only flows, like the donations, from enlightened America to benighted Israel. “Hugging and wrestling” must be mutual; otherwise it becomes moralizing and finger-pointing.  With Jewish Voices for Peace becoming ever louder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comparing Israel to theocratic Iran and the segregated South, while Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta browbeats Israel to kowtow to the Palestinians, Americans have shown they know how to disparage Israel.

As I was reading these two (great) writers – and was writing my story for Maariv’s weekend edition on this same topic – I suddenly realized that the whole story here might be the clash of fears: Israelis’ real fear of abandonment, American Jews’ real fear of assimilation. Thus, Israel’s somewhat hysterical scare campaign targeting expatriate Israelis, and the somewhat hysterical criticism (“a tad overblown”, as J.J. Goldberg describes it) by American Jewish opinion makers.