(November 10, 2022 / JNS) The elections that have just taken place in Israel and the United States each boiled down to a contest between dragons and dragon-slayers.
The difference is this: Israeli Jews mostly recognize who are the dragons and who are their slayers. American Jews mostly can’t work out which is which.
In Israel, the dragons are the Palestinians, who want to kill Israeli Jews and steal their land, as well as the Islamic revolutionary leaders of Iran, who want to kill Israeli Jews and destroy their land.
In last week’s election, the Israeli public rejected the left-wing bloc because it saw them as politicians who would either tickle the dragons’ tummies or suck up to those like the Biden administration who so recklessly try to ride those dragons.
Instead, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most Knesset seats, even though those who voted for it knew there was a strong possibility that it would govern in a coalition with the Religious Zionist Party.
This party is led by the rabble-rouser Itamar Ben-Gvir, who in his youth supported the terrorist Meir Kahane (although Ben-Gvir now says he rejects his earlier views), and the ultra-conservative Bezalel Smotrich, who in 2006 organized a “Beast Parade” to protest gay pride marches (for which he later apologized).
Those who held their nose to vote for Netanyahu despite the likely inclusion of these two in his government did so because they understood that, however objectionable the rabble-rousers might be, they would defend rather than undermine and imperil Israel’s security.
More pertinently, the Israeli public is waiting to see how Ben-Gvir and Smotrich now behave—as well as how Netanyahu will behave when faced with their demands, if he does indeed form a government with them.
In America, both the Democrat and Republican camps believe the other is the dragon to be slain. President Joe Biden says Republicans are “neo-fascists” and a threat to democracy. The Democrats smear all who oppose “progressive” shibboleths—critical race theory, LGBTQ rights, relaxation of immigration controls—in the same way.
For their part, Republicans view the Democrats and their left-wing program of coercing conformity to anti-Western identity politics as an existential threat to America’s historic culture and core values.
In this week’s midterms, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won a landslide victory for the GOP in which even the hitherto Democratic bastion of Miami-Dade turned red, emerged as the Republican party’s chief dragon-slayer—and has possibly dealt a fatal blow to Donald Trump’s aim of securing the party’s next presidential nomination.
DeSantis articulates the values that led millions to vote for Trump simply because there was no one else who would fight so relentlessly against those who were destroying America. But the potency of DeSantis is that he is seen as embodying Trump’s virtues without his many flaws.
Indeed, DeSantis is more than Trump’s equal in his spectacular targeting of the “woke.”
DeSantis stripped Disney World, located in Orlando, of all special tax and planning privileges when it opposed his policy outlawing the teaching of “gender identity” in kindergartens. He stamped down hard on any attempt to start Black Lives Matter riots in Florida. He flew illegal immigrants out of Florida and dumped them in Martha’s Vineyard.
After his thumping victory this week, DeSantis declared: “The survival of the American experiment requires a revival of true American principles.”
Tragically, most American Jews get all this the wrong way round in both America and Israel. Slavishly following the Democratic line that all who oppose the “progressive” agenda are callous bullies and neo-fascists, they view people like Ben-Gvir as the Israeli dragons to be slain.
In a stunning departure from the convention under which American Jews don’t presume to interfere in the government of Israel, Mercaz Olami, the Zionist umbrella arm of Conservative-Masorti Judaism, called on Netanyahu not to give Ben-Gvir a cabinet post because of his history of “criminal acts including incitement of racism … and support of a terrorist organization.”
Mercaz Olami was promptly rebuked for its arrogance and gross hypocrisy. The Coalition for Jewish Values, representing more than 2,000 Orthodox rabbis, called upon American Jewish and other leaders to “respect the Israeli public and their democratic voice.”
Its former president, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, pointed out that these American Jewish objectors had made no such complaint over Arab parties who “seek Israel’s destruction, defend acts of terror and even associate with terrorists, sitting in Israel’s Knesset”—and indeed, becoming the lynchpin of the coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
As Lerner bitingly observed: “One might expect a Jewish movement to be delighted that fully half the supporters of the governing coalition made the Jewish character of the State of Israel their foremost priority, but one would be disappointed.”
Indeed, comments made by Mercaz Olami inadvertently revealed how such American Jews themselves now undermine the very essence of Jewish identity.
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, the CEO of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said that because Israel is a state for the entire Jewish people, it is important for Jews around the world to express their concerns about what Israel is doing.
Israel is indeed a state for the Jewish nation. However, membership in a nation confers obligations on its people to behave as a nation.
After all, the Torah itself tells us that when the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh said they wanted to settle east of the Jordan because the pastures there were more fertile, they were told they could do so only on condition that they first fought alongside the other tribes to conquer the land of Israel.
But American Jews such as those in Mercaz Olami don’t feel bound by any such obligation. They not only choose not to live in Israel but also choose not to fight in its defense.
Instead, ensconced in a faraway land they prefer, they lob verbal missiles at the tribe from which they have separated themselves when it defends its Jewish identity in ways of which American Jews disapprove.
Their statement said Netanyahu’s coalition would include politicians “whose positions regarding basic elements of democracy and diversity … significantly differ from the values which have guided Zionism since its inception.” As a result, it threatened, Israel would lose the support of American Jews.
But that support is being lost anyway. Indeed, America’s Jewish community is losing its own members at an alarming rate.
The Conservative-Masorti movement’s pick-and-choose approach to Jewish laws, and their emptying out of Judaism by claiming as Jewish values ideologies that actually negate them, are causing the American Jewish community to hemorrhage.
The core reason is that such Jews have lost any sense of themselves as a nation. Instead, they have chosen to endorse a “progressive” view of the world that views the nation as illegitimate and therefore to be superseded by kumbaya universalism.
This is why most American Jews are on the wrong side of the titanic struggle in the U.S. over whether it still wants to be the nation it has always understood itself to be—or whether, given the divisions over uncontrolled immigration, it wants to be a nation at all.
The one thing all Israeli Jews understand is that Israel is their nation state. Therefore, their overwhelming concern when electing a government is that it should defend that state against the dragons that breathe fire against it.
That’s why, regardless of the undoubted unease within Israel over its new government and the internal battles that are unquestionably to come, its people are in a far better situation than those in America and the West—both Jews and non-Jews—who are now reloading their fraying slingshots to attack it.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir Guardian Angel has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy. Go to melaniephillips.substack.comto access her work.
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