The Chasm Separating Israel From Europe and American Diaspora Jewry

I don’t normally like to talk about my health. But, this time, I must make an exception. You see, I’ve been getting a very sore neck lately because, after reading so many of the current news stories in print and watching videos of so many of those same news stories on television, I have been shaking my head back and forth in wonder far too much.


Here are just a few of what seem to be a tsunami of totally wondrous and seemingly disparate news stories about Israel that I have encountered lately.


At the New York conference run by the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick, who has never allowed facts to get in the way of her dogmatic opinions, charged former army major general and former head of the Mossad Meir Dagan and former chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi with having failed to carry out the orders that had been issued to them by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the then Defence Minister Ehud Barak to call up the reserves and to prepare for an attack on Iran in 2012. In effect, she was implying that they had committed a breach of duty and possibly even treason.


When Dagan quietly responded that the reason for the supposed disobedience was that the orders had been issued illegally, he was loudly booed by the more than 1000 people in the audience. The jeering audience members seemed unwilling to countenance the very idea that the two generals who were on stage with Glick, and who each had likely done more for Israel than everyone in the audience combined, had acted as they did because they knew with certainty that Netanyahu and Barak had broken Israeli law.


Extraordinary as it may seem, Israeli ex-military men were being put in a position where, before an American civilian audience, it was they who had to defend democracy, buttress the idea of civilian control over the military and champion generally-accepted principles of good government.


As Dagan patiently tried to explain amidst the cat-calls, under Israeli law, only the security cabinet (at a minimum) can declare war. With great patience he made the seemingly self-evident point that in a democracy, a collective of the people’s representatives—not the professional military and not autocratic leaders—should be the only ones to initiate the use of state-sponsored violence.


In this case, and in a move that was perfectly attuned to that most basic principle of democracy—the rule of law—the two generals, after they had been given their orders, had demanded that they first be allowed to address the whole cabinet. Significantly, after hearing the generals’ argument, the cabinet chose not to approve the Netanyahu/Barak proposal.
At about the same time that the meeting in New York was taking place, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine published an interview with Barak Obama; and, soon after, Goldberg himself was interviewed by David Rothkopf, the publisher of the magazine Foreign Policy in order to clarify some of the points Obama had made. From both publications, it would appear that Obama, a church-going Christian and the son of a Moslem father, thinks that he knows more about Jewish values than Israelis do. And without even a trace of facetiousness, Goldberg boldly declared that, in his opinion, Obama is the most “Jewish” President that the United States has ever had.


Then, not long afterwards, Aaron David Miller, who was a senior member of the American team that tried to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, published another article in Foreign Policy in which he tried to speculate how it was possible that the Israelis, according to a well-respected poll, are the 11th happiest people on earth—far happier than the Americans or the Brits.


The best reason Miller could come up with was an assumption that the Israelis get a high just comparing themselves to the people who live in Arab and Moslem states that surround them.


Soon after Miller had published his cogitations, the special committee set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council to investigate whether Israel had committed war crimes during the most recent bout of fighting in Gaza published its final report. The committee, as expected, charged Israel with having committed such crimes. However, it also admitted that it had made that judgment without having been given all the evidence it needed to do so.


More importantly, to my mind, when I checked the report, I discovered that the committee members hadn’t even considered how real soldiers elsewhere in the world have behaved under similar circumstances. In other words, the committee had no factual baseline to use as a check on the theories, suppositions and propositions that had popped into their heads as they reviewed the data that they had assembled.


I could go on and on. But the main point I want to make is that each of these news reports is about Israel, and at least at first glance, they all seem to describe very different sets of circumstances in which the country is involved. However, a closer look shows that they have one obvious commonality. They all involve perceptions that non-Israelis have formed about Israel…perceptions that cannot be validated by any facts that are available, but that these individuals have accepted as truths.


Each of the writers I have mentioned (and many others I could just as easily have noted) is well known, is a trend setter, and has a great influence on how Israel is perceived and judged by other non-Israelis. Nonetheless, although I have diligently researched the subject, I have been unable to find a single well-thought-through article that traces how these individuals’ observations about Israel are formed…and especially why their assessments so often diverge radically from the reality that can be pieced together from even an elementary perusal of the raw data available.


I cannot over-emphasize just how important this subject is, because only by exploring this issue in depth is it possible to explain the chasmic gaps in understanding that have developed between Israel and many of the democratic states it wants to befriend, and the often even deeper crevasses in understanding that have opened up between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.


In the past, I have invested a lot of effort in studying and explaining the Israeli side of the story—especially the shift by settler supporters from comprehensive, generally-thoughtful Revisionism to narrow, dogmatic neo-nationalism, the collapse of Labour as an effective, alternative political voice, and the growing insularity, stupidity and narrow-mindedness of Israel’s policy-makers.


Now, however, I would like to examine how and why some of Israel’s main interlocutors behave as they do.


My basic thesis for why there is such a widespread misunderstanding of what makes Israelis tick and what makes them behave as they do is an adaptation of the theory of human cognition that has been laid out by the Israeli-born Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman believes that people think in two distinct ways. What he calls “System One” is by far the most prevalent one. Under that system, we use all sorts of mental shortcuts to rapidly arrive at conclusions. This results in a huge saving in time and energy, but, obviously, it can lead us to adopt as the truth some very wrong ideas about the world around us. The second type, System Two, requires us to slowly and methodically think things through before coming to a conclusion. The drawback is that thinking this way takes a lot of time and huge outlays of energy that may not be available.


My own codicil to Kahneman’s theory is that, in both cases, unless we are acutely aware of them, all the input that we use when we apply both System One and System Two is first passed through a set of historical, social, political, ideological and especially cultural filters. Too often, this filtering is intense and ends only when people feel comfortable with the perception of reality that they have created—even if that perception, in fact, bears no relationship to the actual reality.


Only very rarely do people take the enormous effort needed to stop the filtering and go back to the raw data available in order to examine whether a clear assessment can be made…one that is not distorted and made hazy by the filters we carry with us. No less importantly, only through a careful examination of which filters are in use by speakers and writers who are trying to influence us is it possible to comprehend why each different group of Jews and gentiles adopts the positions it does with regard to Israel.


The two most common filters that people use are the value system of the culture of which they are a member, and the audience whom they wish to reach after they have made their assessment.


Almost invariably, even if the individual in question belongs to an organization numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands, or even if he or she putatively addresses an audience of hundreds of thousands, that individual’s true audience rarely numbers more than a handful of people.


I will use myself as an example of what I am talking about.


I am particularly sensitive to this entire subject because, in order to make a living, from the day I began to write professionally, one of my most important tasks has been to reconcile the data that I gather with the demands that editors bring to my work. Although, at times, my theoretical audience numbered in the millions, I was always writing for no more than two or three people at most—the ones who had the power to decide what I could broadcast or publish.


Because their usual mandate is to make reasoned assessments of what they read and see, editors are the most archetypical news consumers. For that reason, and because of my long experience in dealing with many, many editors, I have been able to make, what I believe is a fairly accurate assessment about how people digest the information they receive.


To begin with, I believe that on average, editors do think like other, normal sentient human beings. The only big difference between them and other news consumers is that they have to make assessments about the news more often and they get paid for doing so.


I have found that, almost invariably, the position an editor adopts when the subject of Israel arises has very little to do with the reality in which Israelis find themselves, and a great deal to do with the editor’s own personality. Good editors are able to put their own thoughts and preconceptions on hold while they digest the data that they receive. The vast majority, however, are highly influenced at all times by the culture of which they are a member and the audience or two or three people to whom they have to report. Their culture includes accepting certain other media outlets as authoritative sources of information and judgment.


Once their favourite filters are applied, the position that most ediors, like most other people, adopt with regard to Israel is very often the product of a default mechanism—not the result of careful analysis and cogent thought.


In other words, too often, editors, like most other people, use Kahneman-style System One thinking, not System Two thought.


What do I mean when I use the term “a default mechanism?” Quite simply, once a person uses all the short-cuts that Kahneman points to and the filters that I speak of, people usually come to believe that whatever is left, so long as these often disparate and incoherent leftovers can nonetheless be fashioned easily into a comfortable narrative. That narrative, no matter how simplistic, conspiracy-laden or horrendously convoluted it may be, is then considered to be the truth. The idea that other crucial information may remain to be discovered rarely enters their minds


The chasms and crevasses that I noted at the beginning are a direct product of the difference in perceptions that people hold after that have arrived at the narrative that they feel most comfortable with.


I now want to examine two such gaps in perception—the one that now separates many Europeans from Israelis, and the one that separates Israelis from most Diaspora Jews.


But before doing so, I need to lay out what I believe is the essence of Israel’s political world. For more that forty years, I have been trying to come up with an easily digestible description of Israel’s peculiar and often seemingly-indescribable political landscape…and last week, in a serendipitous moment, it finally came to me. In almost every way I can think of, the Israeli political ecosphere resembles a tropical rainforest that is extraordinarily complex, whose multitude of parts are exquisitely, synergistically intertwined, and which all too often has been subject to predation by those who do not care to study it or do not care about its future survival.


Among those who have been most guilty of not studying the Israeli political jungle properly are the West Europeans.


I have chosen to use the non-Russian-influenced Europeans as my first case study because their motivations and actions are highly transparent; and so their thought processes can be traced relatively easily. Furthermore, these Europeans, in general, are not inherently anti-Israeli and usually do not carry with them any historical prejudices against the State of Israel that might otherwise explain why they act towards the country as they do. They can thus provide a model and baseline for studying the way others, including Diaspora Jews, relate to Israel.


The recent attempt by France to get the EU to try to impose a broad framework for negotiations on the Israelis and the Palestinians is an excellent example of how ignorance can produce scenarios that are actually counter-productive to the aims that proposers of a solution to the Israeli-Arab dispute have enunciated.


By any rational analysis, the Israeli-Palestinian issue should be way down on the Europeans’ list of priorities. After all, that continent is now almost totally overwhelmed by an avalanche of crises that include, but don’t stop at, the flood of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, the radicalization of the Moslems in Europe, the threat to international instability caused by the advent of ISIS and el Qaeda, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the weakening of the economy of most of the EU countries, the almost complete collapse of the Greek economy, the Russian seizure of the Crimea, Putin’s not-so-secret war in Ukraine, the Russians’ harassment of the Baltic states, the inability of the Europeans to agree on a boost in defence budgeting to 2 percent of GDP to meet the Russian challenge, the ecological cost of over-fishing…and many other things.


According to all the evidence we have available, for the most part, the Europeans have been largely unable to find solutions for these possibly existential problems. However, there are thousands of politicians and tens of thousands of bureaucrats in Europe who somehow have to justify their right to hold down their current jobs and the salary that accompanies those jobs.


Precisely because they have been unable to resolve so many of the far more immediate and pressing issues with which they are faced, the Europeans’ current attempt to rejuvenate the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations became many of these officials’, bureaucrats’ and pundits’ default option for justifying their existence. And it became a particularly high priority because the Israel-Arab dispute is structured in such a way that it is an almost ideal vehicle for performing the task of justifying one’s exstence.


To begin with, despite everything that has been published about the dispute, the audiences that these officials need to relate to most, whether they are institutional bean counters or political wheeler-dealers, are basically ignorant of the reality in which the Israelis and Palestinians live. Their expertise is in the fields of bean-counting and political wheeler-dealing, not political anthropology.


Therefore, it has been fairly easy for these officials and the journalists with whom they have constructed a symbiotic relationship, to construct a narrative to suit their audiences cultural comfort zone and their own particular needs. Anything said to a broader audience via a news conference or other public statement is mere slop-over stuff that was invariably originally prepared for the tiny core audience that these officials are seeking.


Secondly, from a purely technical point of view, the Israeli-Palestinian story requires only a minimal amount of thought on the officials and politicians part to assuredly trigger a System One response on the part of the targeted audience. All they need to work on are a set of remarks that can elicit emotional responses that are sufficiently strong that they overcome any residual desires audience that members may have to undertake substantive thinking.


And, maybe most importantly, precisely because the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is about a subject that is, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, underway “in a place far away of which most people know little,” these officials know in advance that almost anything they do or say, and especially any mistakes they make along the way, will be, relatively speaking, socially, politically and economically cost-free to themselves.


However, as I have already noted, whatever these officials do or say must relate to their audience’s native culture and the value system that accompanies it.


The process that led to the proclamation of the EU’s basic values began very soon after World War II ended. The leading political, economic and social thinkers on that continent at that time felt driven to try to find a way to prevent the sort of calamities that had twice brought previously unimaginable wreck and ruin to their countries in less than half a century.


The Americans had already undertaken a similar intellectual search. In keeping with their cultural values that favour mechanistic solutions to political and social problems, the Americans had quickly adopted two extraordinarily generous and successful technically-based policies—the Marshall plan that enabled the economies of the countries that had been devastated to be rebuilt, and the decision to found NATO in order to protect Western nations against another bout of military aggression, especially from the Soviet Union.


The Europeans, however, because of their cultural background, felt the need to take a different, more socially-oriented tack. As part of that effort, they helped create three remarkable initiatives. The first was to sponsor a set of revisions that were made in 1949 and 1954 to expand the Geneva and Hague conventions respectively. The aim of these changes was to strengthen a notion that was already in the process of becoming widely accepted on the continent. That idea is that rational people can construct a comprehensive code of international law that can govern the behavior of all countries. For decades now, many Europeans have believed that such a code, if properly and sensitively put together, can be acceptable to all cultures and…even when those countries are engaged in murderous mutual violence.


The second was to establish the European Steel and Coal Community in 1951. This project was an attempt to eliminate state-initiated violence and war by weakening what the Europeans had come to view as the main cause of wars—nationalism and its European-invented by-product, nation-statism. The vehicle that would be used to accomplish this objective was the replacement of narrow autarkic nationalism with mutual dependence created by supra-nationalism. The ultimate aim, as French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman put it when the treaty establishing the Steel and Coal community was signed was “to make war not only unthinkable, but materially impossible” by creating permanent interdependence.


The third was a decision to give up control of the colonies that the Europeans had established in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The invention of new technological means of communication in the 20th century, especially motion picture film and radio, had made wide swaths of the public both in Europe and in the colonies perceive that the continued possession of colonies is immoral, and should be the subject of opprobrium wherever it is detected.


Very soon, history books used in schools were rewritten to accord with this new zeitgeist. One by-product of this historical revisionism was the installation in a whole generation of European children of a rejection of and a sense of deep guilt at what they were taught their nationalist, colonialist, warmongering, forefathers had done.


A new political orthodoxy had been born


However, the instructors of this new ethos also needed to create a new form of rhetoric that could be used to explain, explicate and propagandize their new weltanschauung. Earlier this year, I pointed out that the rhetoric chosen, especially by those on the left, was based on a set of expressions that were first employed by the early Church fathers in the 4th century, but which had been secularized to accord with modern Europeans’ ideological needs.


Significantly for Israel today, most of those expressions were part of a literary and rhetorical canon that was originally designed to demean and denigrate the Jewish culture from which Christianity had evolved. I think that it can be successfully argued that the anti-Jewish texts and subtexts of the early the Christian fathers’ writings have remained part of the European collective unconsciousness…and for that reason, expressions that derive from that collection of arguments can be used very effectively in creating an muchly-desired, emotional reaction by the public in support of criticism levelled at the ways Israel, the nation-state of the Jews, behaves.


Put simply, by the mid-1950s, the Europeans, and especially European officialdom, had come into possession of both a comprehensive social and economic ideology, and a vehicle for expressing it. This was a significant achievement by any measure.


However, that did not mean that all the old behavior patterns would somehow disappear.


Among the behavior patterns that remained was a tendency to turn the initial post-war political writings of brilliant, imaginative and ground-breaking figures such as France’s Jean Monet into the secular equivalent of holy writ and thus to create a new, rigid Orthodoxy. Another was to employ what I called in one of my books “displacement.”


One of the most common phenomena that I have found in my years as an analyst is that when a society has difficulty in discussing an existential or severely troubling issue, it often does so by discussing the same issue, but only in reference to another country. For example, the Belgians have yet to reconcile or forgive themselves for King Leopold’s abominable behavior in that country’s Congo colony. But they rarely talk about it. Instead some of their politicians and almost all of their press focus incessantly on what they claim are the evils of the Israeli colonization of Arab territory.


Only by recognizing and understanding all of these factors is it possible to understand the way in which Europe’s relations with Israel evolved. In basic point form:


  • European officials needed a vehicle to justify their existence
  • That vehicle had to feed into the perceptions of and satisfy the needs of these officials’ immediate audience.
  • Therefore, it had to be accompanied by ideas that had become orthodox beliefs.
  • Only two or three accepted dogmas—those most favoured by the target audience—were usually needed to provide a focal point for the vehicle.
  • The subject of the exercise had to be a group that appeared to either agree with or disagree with the reigning orthodoxy of the target audience.
  • Likewise, another easily-defined and easily-pictured group that took positions that were totally at odds with the first one had to be included in the planned scenario in order to provide a foil for the first group. In other words the vehicle had to include clear descriptions of who were the “white hats” and who were the “black hats.”
  • The proposals made did not have to be tempered by reality checks because the initiators of the proposals did not have any long-term, personal stakes in the outcome. That was because they knew in advance that they would not suffer any penalties if their proposals were actually adopted, implemented and ultimately shown to have been a failure or even counter-productive.


All the factors that I have just mentioned have combined to produce a by now widely-accepted narrative in Europe that Israel is inhabited by and run by an ugly, nationalist, aggressive, war-mongering, colonialist society. Not only that, Israel is governed by criminals. In particular, because of its settlement policies, the country is operating in contravention of the Europeans’ prized and adored international law.


Of course, in order to provide an appearance of balance, the officials always also point to what they usually describe as a band of a few brave Israeli and Jewish Diaspora souls who are willing to challenge the Israeli status quo.


Note that the Israeli centre, and its concerns with the subtleties, nuances and ambiguities of the situation in which Israel finds itself, is completely ignored. That is because officialdom everywhere considers itself to be an elite of movers and shakers. Therefore, they believe, all diplomacy and policymaking should be directed at influencing other elites. The hoi polloi are best ignored because they can act in embarrassing ways and say embarrassing things.


If I can come back to my central metaphor for a moment, the Europeans behave like a group that chooses to live in a closed lodge that is on the edge of the rain forest. Every once in a while they decide to send small raiding parties into the jungle with instructions to pick the lowest-hanging and most-reachable fruit they can find. Any branches that may be broken or torn in the process can be ignored because there will be no penalties applied to the pickers for having done damage to the trees.


Strange as it may seem at first, a not dissimilar process of division and criticism between Israeli and Diaspora Jews is also proceeding apace at this moment. For lack of time, I will focus now only on American Diaspora Jewry.


The different historical experiences they have undergone and the different milieus in which they live have led Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews to employ very different sets of filters in their day-to-day lives. This has then led almost every definable Diaspora Jewish group and community to perceive many issues in very different ways; and also to perceive many of those same issues in ways that differ from most Israelis.


In order to understand this dynamic, it is important to recognize and to take into account the fact that Ashkenazi Jewry, which essentially controls the vast majority of both Israeli and Diaspora Jewish discourse, has not had a unifying, comprehensive set of values since the rebellion by the Baal Shem Tov in the early decades of the 18th century. Since that first major division, which took place almost entirely in Eastern Europe, Ashkenazi Jewish society everywhere has been defined by its factionalism.


Even more importantly, not long after the Baal Shem Tov began his preaching, another, even more radically-inspired division got underway in Central Europe. In Berlin, the German Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelsohnn, became the first Jew to try to adapt traditional Jewish thought to the concepts that had emerged from and were continually evolving as a result of the gentiles’ intellectual revolution that has since come to be known as the “European Enlightenment.”


The process that Mendelsohnn began gathered momentum in Western Europe with the arrival on the scene of Napoleon and his granting of unprecedented freedoms to Jews in the lands his troops occupied; and it was given further impetus in both Central and Western Europe by the political and social rebellions in Western Europe in 1848. In Germany, for example, some Jews acquired a secular university education for the first time—at least in those subjects that they were allowed to study.


Unsurprisingly, soon after this revolution had gathered speed, yet another split developed…this time between the modernizers and those reactionaries, led by German Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who, unlike the Eastern European Haredim, chose not run away from the challenges raised by the modernizers.


Because the general environment created by Catholics and the Orthodox Church leaders in Eastern Europe was totally stifling and conservative, it took until the mid-19th century for the Jewish Enlightenment that was initiated by Mendelsohnn to develop any momentum in Eastern Europe. But in keeping with what had by then become a Jewish tradition, by the late 1880s, two new major and bitterly competitive secular political movements had emerged out of the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment movement in Eastern Europe—Hebraist Zionism and the Yiddishist Bundism. The Zionists believed in Jewish nationalism, while the Bundists were convinced that the Jews’ future lay in adapting to the gentile world around them.


It is significant that at that very moment a massive emigration by Eastern European Jews to the New World had begun in earnest. Partly because America was so welcoming but also so unprotective of the labouring classes, socialist Bundism became the primary ideology of the masses of the Eastern European Ashkenazis who chose to immigrate to the United States.


For a while, though, especially after Israel was founded and had emerged triumphant from its War of Independence, it appeared as though Bundism in North America would eventually die out. In the United States, the passage of the first generation of American-born Jews out of the manufacturing sector of the economy and into the professional, managerial and trade-based middle class, the resulting steep decline in Jewish trade unionist activism, the vilification of socialism in American political discourse, and the refocusing of Jewish activity on the synagogue and the JCC rather than one the Jewish political movements such as the Farband and Habonim all pointed in that direction.


However, by the 1950s, the second and third generations of American Jews were actually in the process of trying to meld their grandparents’ Bundist ideals and the semi-Bundist values their parents had inherited with those embodied in the American constitution. The end product of that effort, prior to the invention of neo-conservatism, was that very special political beast, which is usually referred to as Democratic Party-voting American Jewish liberalism. Among other things, adherents to that particular ideological grouping played a major supporting role in both the anti-Viet Nam War movement and the fight for equality by American blacks in the 1960s.


Crucially for these neo-Bundists, a new dynamic among Jews almost everywhere got underway during the traumatic 3 week waiting period prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War. The threat to such a huge number of Jews, especially so soon after the Holocaust (during which Jews had been largely hapless in trying to save their co-religionists) had become so palpable that these neo-Bundist, often-fervent American loyalists felt that they could not ignore that threat. For that reason, a great many of these same American Jews, who had had only a passing interest in Israel in the past, began to more openly support the survival of the Zionists. Significantly, they did so as a human rights, right-to-life issue, not a Jewish nationalist one. Once the war ended, the pride created among most Diaspora Jews by Israel’s monumental victory could henceforth not be ignored by even the most diehard America-first Bundists.


For that reason, and for a very short while, especially during the interlude from the Six-Day War to the period immediately after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it appeared as though most of modernized world Jewry had reversed its previous tendency towards factionalization and had actually found, in theirsupport of Israel, a common political language.


However, even before the 1973 war began, the advent of Israeli settlement policies in the occupied territories, initiated largely by the socialist Ahdut HaAvodah faction of Labour, the urban Mizrahi faction of the national religious movement in Israel, and the Herut faction of the newly created Likud party was bringing about a major Zionist political realignment that would soon be taken to even greater extremes by some Jews in the United States.


In Israel, Menachem Begin succeeded in creating a coalition of disaffected Mizrahi and Sephardi voters, classical Zionist Revisionists, and Labourites who believed in the right of Jews to possess the Whole Land of Israel. Although Begin was a devout ideological Revisionist, the first casualty of this realignment in Israel was the Israelis’ previous attachment to comprehensive political, social and economic ideologies. Well thought-through ideologies were soon replaced by narrow emotionally-driven dogmas—especially about how Israel should deal in the medium and long terms with its possession of the areas it had captured during the 1967 war.


To continue my tropical forest metaphor…The intellectual ruminations, especially by the Labour, Revisionist, Liberal and Mizrahi parties that had led to the creation of the forest in the first place, came to an abrupt halt. For decades, each of these groups had labored to polish their carefully-thought-through masterplan for how such a forest should look and operate. The result of their combined and competitive intellectual and physical handiwork had been the assemblage of an extraordinarily complex political biosphere. However, the next generation had been less interested in the fine points or even the underlying or over-riding rational why certain elements within the forest had been created and even nurtured.


Labour’s heirs wasted most of their energies trying to determine who would lead the next group to enter into the forest; and so they rarely bothered deciding what they would do once they actually entered the undergrowth and the green canopy.


The scions of the other major groups preferred to focus only on over-cropping those economic, social and political commodities that would give them the most immediate benefits. Most cared little about studying what would best sustain the ecosphere that had been created with such thought and care.


It was almost inevitable that under these circumstances, when faced with the seeming polarization of the political system in Israel, that the American, liberal, Bundists-turned-sort-of-Zionists would become ardent supporters of the land for peace camp that Labour claimed to be leading.


By a quirk of fate, a young black lawyer and law professor would become attracted to and become close friends with those secular Jewish intellectuals at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago who were active or charter members of the Bundist-turned-Zionist political pole. And it was through them, prior to his election as President of the United States, that he became acquainted with and absorbed what he came to believe was the single and singular value system that underlay the Jewish religion.


In this sense, he behaved much like those anthropologists who enter a forest, discover a tribe of natives that they find appealing, and then, with no further exploration, declare that these tribal members should be viewed as representatives of the entire human population in the forest.


Compounding this elementary logical fallacy of believing that a part must represent the whole, when he finally had to confront the other tribes in the forest, Barak Obama failed to recognize that, in Israel, public attitudes on the subject of land for peace have always been far more detailed, and infinitely more nuanced and subtle than the ideas and observations that are propagated most Israeli politicians, almost all foreign journalists and foreign diplomats.


Even though many of his advisors were Jews, because there is almost no communication between ordinary, Hebrew-speaking Israelis and English-speaking Diaspora Jews about these details, Diaspora Jewry took at face value what little they did hear about Israelis from third parties. Then, crucially, the information that did arrive was then passed through the American Jews cognitive filters


In the United States, the easiest filter that Jews there could apply was their personal attachment to the ideals espoused by either the Democratic or the Republican Party. The most extreme examples to emerge from this filter were the virulent anti-Zionists who have become supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement and the hyper-nationalists who booed Meir Dagan. Somewhat more moderate groups included those Jews who became associated with the American neo-Conservative movement, in the case of supporters of the Republican Party, and those who joined J Street, in the case of Democratic Party supporters.


Interestingly, is generally well known by political cognoscenti that the most ardent leaders of the neo-Conservative movement turned out to be former American Jewish Trotskyites like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol.


However, the no less extraordinary shift that occurred when the seemingly-silenced Bundists in the United States emerged from what turned out to be a political pupa stage, and reappeared in public forums for the first time as Zionists, has not been recognized at all.


Had that happened, it would then have come as no surprise to anyone that the approach to the Arab-Israeli dispute that was taken by these neo-Bundists has borne a remarkable resemblance to that being taken by those liberal, secular Europeans who were not inherently anti-Zionist. That is because, as I have already pointed out, both the liberal, secular leftist European groups and the liberal, secular Bundists were originally fashioned by the very same events that took place in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuriws.


With all this as background, it should now be easy to comprehend much of what else occurred following the 6 Day War.


Almost immediately after that war, virtually all the existing American Jewish organizations, whether mainstream or not, felt obliged to reorient at least their rhetoric, if not that ideologies, so that they would not be left behind by the Israeli juggernaut whose dramatic, Hollywood-like vicissitudes were producing highly emotional responses among Diaspora Jews everywhere.


The leaders of the so-called mainstream American organizations such as Bnai Brith and AIPAC, though, found that they were being confronted by a seemingly unresolvable problem. In the wake of the 1977 Likud victory, both Israeli propagandists and the media were making it appear as though there were only two basic Jewish political camps in Israel—those who were for trading land for peace, and those who were opposed to it.


As I have pointed out, the fact is that the majority of Israelis didn’t fit completely into either of these narrowly-defined blocs. However, the propagandists from the two blocs in Israel nonetheless succeeded in making the majority of Israelis virtually invisible to American and other foreign eyes by declaring that this huge group was “irrelevant” because its members were “self-involved,” “indifferent,” “disengaged,” and “apathetic.”


The leaders of most of the mainline American Jewish organizations then found themselves in a fix. The last thing they wanted was to appear as though they were representing the position of only a part of Israeli and Diaspora Jewry. Without an all-encompassing Israeli group to actually affiliate with, the leaders of most of the big establishment American Jewish organizations were in danger of losing the broad-based philanthropic support on which they depended.


These leaders, just like the European officials I have spoken about, needed a way of justifying the six figure salaries that they were receiving. And like the European officials, the fact is that for all their boastful verbiage, the financial backers upon whom these institutional leaders depended, actually knew very little about the Arab-Israeli dispute. However, these “gevirim” (in traditional Jewish parlance) did have very strong opinions about the political values of the country in which they lived.


Therefore, the American Jewish institutional bosses, just like the European bureaucrats and officials, found the easiest way out by picking the most reachable, low-hanging fruit that appealed to the donors upon whom they were dependent.


Although I haven’t actually conducted a survey, from conversations I have had with them, I doubt very much whether any of the biggest donors to American Jewish organizations has actually ever read UN resolutions 242 and 338 that set out the framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. But I did come away from those meetings with the distinct impression that most have been caught up to one degree or another in the movement towards political polarization and towards the adoption of dogmatic political orthodoxies that has afflicted the United States since the days of Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and 1990s.


It is thus perfectly understandable that, almost without exception, all the paid leaders of the biggest secular Jewish organizations chose what they thought was the easiest way out by declaring that they would support whichever government—in other words whichever group of politicians—was elected in Israel. However, in doing so, and to the great relief of the Israeli political hacks, they too they ended up ignoring and therefore silencing the bulk of the Israeli population.


If I can continue with my metaphor, American Jewish leaders decided that they would support whatever group could legitimately claim that it was managing the forest, regardless of whether this group also included illegal loggers, slash and burn aficionados or hunter-gatherers out to take whatever they could get.


In conclusion, I personally find it fascinating that, as the use of the internet and social media forums grew, many people predicted that for the first time in history, people would be able to learn from a vast variety of postings on the web about all the elements that had created a complex and otherwise seemingly unfathomable situation. This would then enable them to carry on a rational debate about the relative merits of any suggestions that were being made. However, as every survey has now found, virtually everybody, because of their predilection for System One thinking, and their filters, prefers to seek out only those postings that reinforce those narratives that are already their heads. Professional sociologists call this “confirmation bias.”


This then leads the narratives being used by Diaspora Jews to often differ considerably from the ones being used by Israelis. As time passes, the differences in the narratives become more and more blatant.


It has taken an Israeli Jew living in the United States to come up with an explanation for this phenomenon that is so incisive and so accurate. Put in modern American English, Khaneman discovered that at least when it comes to Diaspora-Israeli relations, keeping things simple makes you stupid.


Leave a Reply