Jewish time deals in sevens. Think of the biblical account of Creation and its seven days that end with the Sabbath, when God rested. Think of the Bible’s Sabbatical Year, every seventh year when all fields lay fallow and all debts are forgiven. Think of the Bible’s Jubilee Year, the year after every seventh Sabbatical Year when the shofar is blown for the manumission of slaves. Think of the Bible itself: Ptolemy II, who hoped to undermine the divine authority of the Hebrew original, commissioned 72 Jewish scholars to translate it into Greek, but forced each to work independently; according to legend, however, each scholar miraculously produced the same identical Greek text, which was subsequently rounded down and given the Latin name Septuagint, meaning 70. That number is of especial importance to Judaism’s relationship to mortality. Traditionally, 70 years is taken to mean “the length of one generation,” and the prophetic writings invoke that length exactly seven times. According to the Psalms, 70 years is the average lifespan, yet that span is but “labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
Seventy, then, is a deathly sum. It follows that Israel’s 70th birthday should be a reckoning.
And yet Israel has two birthdays, because of its dual calendar: the Hebrew lunar (used by religious Jews), and the Gregorian solar (used by everyone in Israel, including the religious). The modern state of Israel was founded on 5 Iyar 5708, which was May 14, 1948. If you do some basic calculations, or just search online, you’ll find that Israel’s 70th, 5 Iyar 5778, corresponded to April 20, 2018, which just happened to be the eve of the Sabbath (in calendars that count by the moon, the days begin and end with sunset). This means that Israel marked the septuagenary “platinum” anniversary of its independence a full 24 days before America and its other allies paid their respects, on May 14, 2018, the eve of the date memorialized by Palestinians as Nakba Day: the day that brought the destruction (Al Nakba) of their homeland.
This 24-day period is just about the longest drift that’s possible between anniversaries of the same event in the lunar and solar calendars. The fields of horology (the study of time) and chronology (the study of historical records to determine the dates of past events) have a term for this divergence: “secular difference.”
The term suggests a schism, a split; cycles out of sync, spheres obstinate in their incongruence. This is because it defines as a technical time-discrepancy what is better understood as a religio-political discrepancy, or as the artifact of immemorial attempts by solar-calendared empires to subjugate the lunar-calendared Jews and absorb them into their time frames, attempts which date back to at least the reign of Ptolemy III, the eldest son of Ptolemy II, who introduced the leap day to Egypt.
Today, that “secular difference” not only still exists, it’s become greater than ever. This might be the one fact that everyone, even Jews, can agree on.
In 5778/2018, another word for this period was spring.
The major official event of every Israeli Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut) is the public lighting of a menorah, which is conducted up by the military cemetery on Mount Herzl. Though the biblical menorah was a seven-branched candelabra, modern Israel prefers to use the twelve-branched version, which dedicates a flame to each of the ancient Israelite tribes and gives the event’s organizers—a committee that includes Knesset members—more honors to distribute.
Each year, the committee invites twelve Israelis to perform an act that, to many American Jews, and even to many Israeli Jews, resembles nothing so much as a supersize bar-or-bat-mitzvah-candle-lighting-ceremony, in which F-16 flyovers have been substituted for cake. The honorees were called up, one at a time, to kindle a wick—in this case, to touch a torch to a gas jet—and, as they fumbled, their lives were described (the emcees for the occasion were Channel 2 news anchor Danny Kushmaro and movie actress Yaël Abecassis). As to be expected of state ceremonies in any democracy, even one exclusively made of, by, and for Jews, the cast of citizens chosen to participate keeps getting more diverse, and in this transformative year for global feminism (in which so many of the famous men accused of wrongdoing are Jews), there was a particular emphasis on women: the young, ultra-Orthodox tech mogul; the director general for the Asia-Pacific region in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Poland-born “First Lady” of the Israeli stage; the Morocco-born pioneer of the “nano-ghost,” which is a type of gene therapy, apparently. The aim, per Israeli custom, was to produce an event reflective of the country’s multiculturalism and respect for human rights (which is to say reflective of Jewish multiculturalism and respect for Jewish rights), and, above all, to keep the event apolitical.
Most politicians, regardless of nationality or party, still understand the “apolitical” not as an attainable mandate, but as an aspirational principle: a standard of decorum, an affirmation of norms. But then most politicians aren’t Benjamin Netanyahu—the Israeli prime minister who, like all masters of authoritarian-ish populism, takes an almost sinister pleasure in mocking genteel civic fictions, even while refusing to admit his own lies. Netanyahu entered this ostensibly joyous season not merely emboldened by Donald Trump but seemingly intent on matching the porn-star-struck, justice-obstructing American president scandal for ludicrous scandal. Israeli police had been investigating him for over a year, trying to figure out whether he and/or his family had traded favors for nearly one million shekels’ worth of ritzy gifts, including champagne (which Netanyahu’s team requested using the code word “pinks”), cigars (code word: “leaves”), and jewelry (Netanyahu’s team requested a necklace and bracelet set, and then complained when they only received the necklace), all of which were provided by Arnon Milchan, a former Israeli intelligence operative and Hollywood producer whose credits include The Big Short and 12 Years a Slave. Another case in which Netanyahu was implicated involved two Israeli newspapers, Yediot Ahronot and Israel Hayom. Prior to this investigation, Yediot Ahronot was generally regarded as a dependably independent “moderate” voice, with a habit of criticizing Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Israel Hayom was, and remains, a generally Netanyahu-friendly freebie tabloid, as trashy and garish as its owner, GOP-donor and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Recorded conversations were leaked to the Israeli press, however, in which Netanyahu can be heard telling financially embattled Yediot Ahronot publisher Arnon Mozes that he’d be willing to back legislation that would harm Israel Hayom (in the form of a bill that would limit the circulation of freebie tabloids), in exchange for Yediot Ahronot giving him and his party, Likud, more favorable coverage in advance of the 2015 elections. Here’s a choice excerpt of those recordings, in my translation:
Netanyahu: We’re just talking about moderation, about the media becoming more reasonable. The hostility level toward me has to be lowered from, say, a 9.5 to a 7.5.
Mozes: Sure. But the important thing is to make you prime minister.
Netanyahu: We have to consider what’s best for the country.
Mozes: If you want to put it that way, suit yourself. You’re the whackjob who wants to be prime minister.
Three other cases have entangled Netanyahu, but hadn’t yet implicated him personally that spring—one involving his cousin and personal lawyer David Shimron, in a convoluted scheme to bribe executives of the German company ThyssenKrupp, in order to profit off Israel’s purchase from them of three Dolphin-class submarines and four Sa’ar 6-class corvettes (warships); another pertaining to whether Netanyahu and/or his staff and/or his associates ensured a preferential regulatory environment for the Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq in exchange for profit and/or positive reporting about Netanyahu on the popular Bezeq-owned news site Walla!; and then yet another pertaining to Netanyahu’s former communications adviser offering the attorney generalship of Israel to a judge in return for the judge dismissing charges against Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, who lately has been struggling with some problems of her own. (She’s accused of misuse of state funds, for her swanky catering budget at the prime minister’s residence inter alia.)
The investigation and litigation of all this will continue well past the conclusion of Netanyahu’s present term, which, despite the wishes of some Knesset members of his own coalition, he insists won’t be his last—but the point is: spring. Just before the start of Israel’s birthday season, investigators gave Netanyahu’s opposition a shiny present when they recommended that the prime minister be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, in the booze/cigars/jewelry and newspaper cases, which the Ministry of Justice calls Cases 1000 and 2000, though I myself call them “Bibigate,” an inclusive term that spelled in Hebrew characters reads like Yiddish: “Bibi-Geyt,” meaning “Bibi Goes.”
And, indeed, Bibi went: With his political fortunes in peril, Netanyahu wasn’t going to skip the Yom Haatzmaut party, which, after all, would be broadcast live on Israel’s state-owned TV channels, and streamed online. Instead, he put on a happy face and a blue-and-white-striped tie and demanded to address the nation—something that no sitting prime minister had ever done, in accordance with the “apoliticality” of the occasion. Netanyahu’s attempt to break precedent and bask in menorah-light was met with resistance by the organizers and scorn on the Israeli street, but Netanyahu called in reinforcements in the form of that most formidable of global powers, Honduras.
This was preposterous. After Trump announced his plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at the end of his first year in office, other countries fell in line: Guatemala, Paraguay (Romania and the Czech Republic are still considering). Honduras, though, was one of the first of the second-string to declare its intention to relocate, and Netanyahu decided to honor its president, Juan Orlando Hernández, a 1992 graduate of a diplomatic course held by Israel’s Foreign Ministry who in spring 2018 had just begun his second term in office, after he’d appointed Supreme Court judges who changed his country’s constitution to allow two-term presidencies, and he’d won what was almost certainly a fraudulent election.
Netanyahu’s thinking went like this: It’s established diplomatic protocol in Israel, as it is in most countries, that when the sitting head of another state visits as an official guest and makes a public appearance, the sitting head of state of the host country must join him. Ergo, if Netanyahu invited the Honduran president to ignite a menorah-branch, then Netanyahu himself would have to be there, and, as long as he was there, why not give a speech, too? Wouldn’t that only be polite? The Israeli press was dumbstruck: It was business as usual for Netanyahu to manufacture a controversy, but it was novel and almost un-Israeli of him to argue his position by invoking proper etiquette and statecraft. Meanwhile, the Honduran invitation had already been extended. Negotiations among Netanyahu, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev—whose nicknames include “the Israeli Trump” and “Trump in high heels”—and Honduran officials resulted in a compromise: Hernández would cancel his visit (he cited scheduling conflicts), and Netanyahu would be permitted to address the ceremony for no more than five minutes, though his remarks had to remain—again, whatever this means—“apolitical.”
He ended up speaking for about 14 minutes—opening with a dubious anecdote about a trip he’d once taken to Rome, where he’d toured the Arch of Titus, whose entablature contains a relief depicting the looting of the original menorah from the Second Temple during Titus’s re-conquest of Jerusalem in, yes, 70 C.E. According to Netanyahu’s account—which, as it went on, took on the grizzled repetitiousness of a Jewish joke—he visited the site (presumably with aides and a gargantuan security contingent) only to find himself beset by groups of “Japanese and Scandinavian tourists,” who, apparently, kept pointing at the Arch’s menorah and suddenly erupted into a chant, “Israel, Israel, Israel.” This spontaneous clamor, Netanyahu said, served as proof that the menorah was, is, and will always be universally recognized as a Jewish symbol, which is an assertion that, unlike Netanyahu’s sanity, no one has ever seriously doubted. “In the year 70, the menorah’s light went out,” he said. “But today, in Israel’s 70th year since Independence, the menorah is the symbol of our nation, and its light is stronger than ever.” Rallied by the applause, Netanyahu took the opportunity to exceed his remit: “Even today some seek to extinguish the menorah, to extinguish the light that erupts from Zion.” He then half-turned at the podium, as if issuing a threat to Tehran: “I assure you, this will not happen. It will not happen because our light will always overcome their darkness.” At that moment of the state broadcast, the chyron flashed: NETANYAHU: NOBODY WILL TURN OUR LIGHTS OFF AGAIN.
When Netanyahu finished his speech, it was still 26 days until the May 14 dedication of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, but only 24 days until the May 12 deadline for the United States’ recertification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran Deal, which—contrary to every statement ever made by Netanyahu and Trump both—made the Ayatollah’s regime accountable to international atomic energy inspections and prevented it from developing a nuclear arsenal. Netanyahu had spent much of Barack Obama’s second term campaigning against the agreement—remember that obnoxious, GOP-sponsored address to a joint session of Congress in 2015?—but from the moment Trump arrived in the Oval Office, his lobbying for America’s withdrawal had been relentless, with rhetoric that grew more ominous even as his domestic scandals grew more gross. Iran couldn’t be trusted, he insisted; the U.N. Security Council, whose permanent members had authorized the pact, would be complicit, and were colluding, in Israel’s destruction. Nonetheless, what Netanyahu certainly knew at the time of his Yom Haatzmaut speech, but didn’t mention, was that the issue of recertification had been rendered at least temporarily moot by Iran’s interference in Syria, alongside Russia. As Russia busied itself mobilizing its largest military presence in the region since the Cold War, Israelis came to fear that the Islamic Republic wouldn’t have to develop any nukes of its own: My Israeli social-media feeds were rife with warnings of Russian nuclear material falling into Iranian hands, through negligence, or theft, or on purpose.
This impasse was the backdrop for the Israeli actions of the next three-weeks-and-change; not that many Americans were cognizant of it, given that most of the U.S. media coverage of “The Middle East” was preoccupied with Trump’s latest reality show—The Apprentice: Recertified? “Will the president tell the mullahs ‘you’re fired’?”—and the fact that, on April 26, the gutted U.S. State Department finally got a replacement secretary, Mike Pompeo, who three days after being sworn in made his first official trip, to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and yes, Israel.
On April 30, Netanyahu took his anti-Iran appeal online, in a clumsily stage-managed English-language press conference, in which he stood alongside a utilitarian metal bookcase full of bindered documents that he claimed the Mossad had exfiltrated from Iran. According to Netanyahu, these documents demonstrated that Iran’s pursuit of nuclearization had not merely been for energy purposes, as Iranian officials had insisted, but rather for the purposes of obtaining a bomb. This was a fact that everyone was already aware of—a fact that even Trump was already aware of—but that only Netanyahu was desperate enough to repeat as if new and act shocked by (along with Fox News and about half of CNN).
Later that same day came the explanation of the press-conference charade, though hardly any U.S. news outlets carried it prominently: Israel bombed a storage base in Syria where Iran was keeping munitions, in an attack that killed at least 16. On May 1, a law was passed by the Knesset that allowed the prime minister and defense minister to declare war without cabinet approval; on May 7, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz issued a warning that if Iran attacked Israel from Syria, Israel would assassinate Syrian President Assad; on May 8, Netanyahu ordered a missile-strike against a weapons depot south of Damascus in an attack that caused the deaths of at least eight members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other foreign pro-regime fighters; that same day, Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Iran Deal, four days in advance of its deadline, and that evening U.S.-time, the next morning Israel-time, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet President Putin to discuss the future of Russia’s involvement in Syria, in particular Russia’s reported plan to equip the Assad regime with S-300 surface-to-air missiles, which might significantly degrade Israel’s air superiority in the region.
Within his first year, Trump didn’t just set in motion the fulfillment of his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he also officially recognized Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish State. He did so, it must be said, not merely to please Israelis, and not merely to please American Jews, but mostly to please American evangelical Christians for whom Jerusalem is not a city but an eschaton. Now, like Trump, and like Netanyahu, I’m all for cutting through bullshit—Jerusalem is Israel’s capital if only because Israel says it is and won’t give it up and isn’t about to move the Knesset—but there’s no point in cutting through bullshit if, in the next moment, you’re just going to go and step in it. Which, of course, is precisely what Trump did. It was the pomp-and-circumstantial grotesquerie of the doing that was maddening. What transpired on May 14 wasn’t an embassy opening—it wasn’t even the opening of a Trump casino—it was more like the opening of a semifinished block of shoddy time-share condos backed onto the side of a for-profit Baptist church (discounts available for members). Stars of David and the Stars and Stripes were projected against the forbearant stones of the Old City’s walls, as the notables of the day assembled: Trump’s former bankruptcy attorney/U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, former Goldman Sachs stooge/U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner (who was smirking throughout, perhaps enjoying his day-off from preparing his oft-touted, but, as of this writing, yet-to-be-presented “Peace Plan”), and Ivanka Trump (who appeared so nervous that when the curtain was tugged to reveal the embassy’s seal, she welcomed everybody to the newest outpost of “the United States on America”).
The two men who sermonized at the embassy dedication are rich and famous and thoroughly odious, and yet, they might be the only Christian figures in America more familiar to Israelis than to American Jews. Dr. Robert Jeffress heads the 13,000-member First Baptist Dallas, and hosts a weekly TV ministry that reaches 28 countries, and a daily radio ministry that reaches 195 countries. He’s also had a lot to say over the years about homosexuality, and Mormonism, and Islam, but let’s skip over all of that and, because he was in Israel, get straight to Jews, whom he believes are destined for damnation: “You can’t be saved being a Jew; you know who said that by the way, the three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ, they all said Judaism won’t do it, it’s faith in Jesus Christ.” The other ecclesiast who spoke—the more dangerous member of the cute couple, in my opinion—was Pastor John Hagee, another televangelist/radio-evangelist, the leader of the San Antonio-based Cornerstone Church, and the founder and leader of the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel. Pastor Hagee, like Dr. Jeffress, has many beliefs, but perhaps most salient to his pilgrimage to Jerusalem was his assertion that God let the Holocaust happen to ensure that “the Jews” returned to Israel (whenever a pastor, or anyone, opens his mouth, note whether he says “Jews” or “the Jews”—old-school Marxist anti-Semites and new-school evangelical Christian philo-Semites always choose the latter).
Both men praised Christ, God, and Trump, roughly in that order, and Dr. Jeffress even did so on behalf of the audience, the bulk of which was presumably security personnel and journalists: “I believe, Father, I speak for every one of us when we say we thank you every day that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, but more importantly, stands on the right side of you, oh God, when it comes to Israel [Izzz-real].” Pastor Hagee, in his homily, showed that though he knew his “Old Testament” chapter and verse, he didn’t seem to know that the mighty cadences of his modified King James aren’t quite impressive—are, in fact, quite confusing—to those who speak the language of the original: “Let the word go forth from Jerusalem today that Israel lives—shout it from the housetops that Israel lives. Let every Islamic terrorist hear this message—Israel lives. Let it be heard in the halls of the United Nations—Israel lives. Let it echo down the marble halls of the Presidential Palace in Iran—Israel lives.” The cowboy cleric doth protest too much, I thought. And the more he did, the more I worried: Was “Izzz-real” dying?
To understand what these hucksters were up to, you’d have to understand their faith, and so, Yahweh forgive me, here’s a summary: Both Dr. Jeffress and Pastor Hagee subscribe to versions of “Dispensationalism,” which maintains that the history of the world is divided into—wouldn’t you know it?—seven “dispensations,” each of which is another epoch or stage of existence that brings “the Jews” closer to their ultimate conversion to Christianity, and so brings all of humanity closer to Armageddon’s End of Time. (It should be said that Armageddon, an archaeological site that Israelis call Megiddo, is about an hour and 30-minute ride in a tourist van due north from Jerusalem, adjacent to the site of some of the country’s most notorious prisons.) The First Dispensation was that of innocence, which covered the age before Adam’s Fall; the Second was the dispensation of conscience, when humanity was tested and found wanting and punished with the Flood, from which only Noah’s family survived; the Third was the Dispensation of governance, which covered Noah’s rule through Abraham’s founding of monotheism; the Fourth and middle Dispensation was that of patriarchy, which culminated with the creation of “the Jews,” through Moses receiving the commandments at Mount Sinai; the Fifth was that of the Mosaic Law, which consolidated “the Jews” as a people; the Sixth—the one we’re all currently dragging through and paying taxes in—is that of the church, which began with Christ’s martyrdom and will end, in the Seventh Dispensation, with his return to earth to establish the Eternal Kingdom, whose capital will be Jerusalem. Don’t take my word for it; take Pastor Hagee’s, from a May 11 interview with Breitbart News in promotion of his embassy appearance:
“Christians believe that Jerusalem will be the capital city in the Eternal Kingdom, ruled by Jesus Christ.… Outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ was crucified, resurrected from the dead, and when he returns the second time, is going to put his foot on the Mount of Olives in the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the future of the world.”
I want to be clear that whatever animus I have for these two unctuous philo-Semites is nothing compared to the contempt I have for the Jewish anti-Semites who invited them: The deeper hatred is always for one’s own. The evangelical presence in Jerusalem only confirmed what, over the course of the spring, I had been sensing as a conscious shift or pivot—a political realignment that I’m going to call “the Dispensation of the Jews,” by which I mean Israel’s dispensing with, or betraying, its own people. The ingathering of that people was the prime mission of the Zionist movement generations before the existence of modern Israel. The country was conceived as a refuge for the resettlement of persecuted Jews from throughout Christendom and the Ummah, and each wave of emigration to crash upon its shores brought with it with its own character. European aliyah peaked, obviously, with the Holocaust generation, after which Mizrahim, or Jews from Arab lands, began arriving, fleeing a perennial anti-Semitism exacerbated by Israeli Independence. Jews from Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere—the victims of anti-Jewish legislation, property seizures, and pogroms—came throughout the 1950s and 1960s; Jews were expelled from Egypt in 1956; Iranian Jews came throughout the ’50s, and then in another onslaught during the Islamic Revolution in 1979; Ethiopian Jews, whose religion was banned by the Communist Derg government, arrived in the 1980s, and finally Soviet Jews arrived after the collapse of the USSR, which, in terms of Israel’s Jewish demography, might as well be considered the end of history: There are not that many exiles left to ingather, and fewer than ever after a recent influx of Jews escaping the ruin of the Venezuelan economy, and a trickle of Europeans who—spooked by a rise in Islamic and neo-Nazi anti-Semitism— haven’t surrendered their EU passports, but merely purchased second homes on the Mediterranean. It seems, then, that the last major Jewish Diaspora that remains for Israel’s absorption is America’s: a Diaspora far too entrenched and unendangered to trade L.A. for Haifa just yet.
There’s no need for me, or for anyone, to describe the out-size influence that American Jewry has had on American foreign policy: The Israeli government has already spent decades exaggerating that influence for me, and vain American Jewry has never challenged that assertion. It’s perhaps due to this hyperbole-campaign, not to mention America’s formal Soviet-containment and informal anti-Arab stances, that U.S. politicians found it expedient to enshrine American Jewry’s support of Israel (mostly individual and community philanthropy) as American policy (alliances, arms agreements, aid packages, and loans). During Israel’s War of Independence, official U.S. support was lackluster, but flash-forward 20 or so years to the Six-Day War, and especially the Yom Kippur War, and America was already becoming what it remains: Israel’s stalwart defender. To Jewish boomers, who were born into Zionism, Israel was a multiethnic/multiracial democracy that respected women’s rights; a self-made paradise that realized the socialist dreams that’d been deferred at home, and a righteous victim perpetually called upon to defend itself from Arab aggressors; whereas America was a capitalist behemoth that fought not for its existence, but in Vietnam, and persecuted the citizens whose ancestors it had once enslaved. Jewish millennials, by contrast, take their parents’ youthful critique of America for granted but treat Israel with ambivalence if not disdain. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement has found considerable support on U.S. campuses, where prevailing “discourse” dictates that a Jew cannot, for example, condemn American racial discrimination and also be a Zionist.
Netanyahu is mindful of this and has done some simple math—even simpler than the math that converts the calendars: There are about six million Jews in America, but, given the 56 percent intermarriage rate, that number is expected to shrink, in what ultra-Orthodox Knesset member Israel Eichler has called “a silent Holocaust”; millennials earn less money than boomers, and so also give less to charity, and those who brand Israel a rogue state and apartheid regime will give nothing. There are, however, approximately 83 million evangelical Christians in America, well more than half of whom claim to support Israel, and well more than three-quarters of whom claim to give money to charity. The evangelicals are obviously the stronger bloc—so why not bring them into the tent? Why not break bread with them and make them allies? Netanyahu’s maneuvering would make unimpeachable sense were he the prime minister of any other country. Instead, he’s the prime minister of a country whose people his new allies want to convert, and whose capital they want to repurpose into the throne and footstool of immortal Christendom. I can only wonder whether Netanyahu would’ve made the same bargain were the evangelical movement to come into possession of a multibranched military with a nuclear program.
To be sure, Netanyahu feels as betrayed by American Jewry as American Jewry feels betrayed by him, and it’s difficult to tell to what degree these feelings have been motivated by disgust and spite (Netanyahu hating American Jewish naivete, American Jews hating Netanyahu’s cronyism and violence), and to what degree they’ve been motivated by opportunism and self-interest (Netanyahu wanting the evangelical money and political cover, American Jews wanting to shore up their credentials on the identitarian left).
American Jews affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements tend to experience their current rejection by Israel as merely the politicization, or nationalization, of an Orthodoxy-privileging process that originated with Israel’s rabbinates, in their refusal to recognize non-Orthodox Jews as Jews and their prohibition of women from full participation in Jewish ritual life. This, however, is a misperception, a classically liberal American failure to understand how Israel has elevated national loyalty into an acceptable substitute for religious observance. For evidence of this, American Jews—or the roughly 13 percent of whom who can read Hebrew—would do well to peruse the report released this spring by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs (which is headed by Naftali Bennett, who is also minister of education, head of the archconservative Jewish Home party, and the son of Israeli olim—immigrants—from San Francisco). This outstandingly cynical and hypocritical document—which is perhaps the defining document of Israel’s rejection of American Jewry—forgoes the political reckoning that would encourage aliyah from the United States, and instead purports to identify approximately 60 million people from around the world (many of them the white descendants of Inquisition-era forced converts in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Latin America) who have what are characterized as “affinities” for Judaism and Israel, and who might profitably be brought to Israel and converted, so as to provide an ideologically reliable bulwark against the higher population numbers of Palestinians.
Zionism’s primal achievement was not the Israeli state, but rather the fact that it created, or re-created, a people out of an almost baffling array of humanity. It was only as a by-product of this miraculous act that “the Jewish people” could lay claim to their biblical antecedents, and so could lay claim to their biblical lands. This idea of peoplehood didn’t merely come from ancient texts—it came from the reading of ancient texts by the newly liberated Jews of Ashkenaz, or Jewish Europe. Ashkenazim dominated early Zionist discourse as they dominated early Israeli society: They comprised the governmental and economic and cultural elite, while at the opposite extreme of the caste system were Mizrahim, Jews from Arab lands who were tasked with putting Ashkenazi theories into practice through labor. Mizrahim rightfully came to resent this discrimination, along with their impoverishment and lack of political representation, and, as Israel’s survivalist wars gave way to ongoing conflict with Palestinians, they voiced their dissent through accusing their Ashkenazi leaders of weakness: Ashkenazim were liberal humanists unwilling, or unable, to protect them. Leaders of Shas, the main Mizrahi party now in a coalition with Likud, have given hard-line speeches about how Ashkenazim don’t understand Palestinians, having never lived among Arabs themselves. Mizrahim had—they had extensive experience with Arabs, and so knew how harshly they had to be dealt with. If Israel continued to engage Palestinians in the Ashkenazi way, it would be driven into the sea: Ashkenazi became a metonymy for compromise, concession, impotence. Mizrahi antipathy for Israel’s neighbors, informed by cruel acculturation to Arab rule, but fomented by resentment of Ashkenazi power, was transmuted into policy in proportion with the changing demographics of the country: It was only in this generation that Mizrahim were due to have supplanted Ashkenazim as the majority Jewish ethnicity in Israel. (Israel does not collect comprehensive statistics on this aspect of Jewish ethnicity.)
Some Mizrahim might be put off by my articulation of their attitudes, and some Ashkenazim might find my conclusions shameful or out of date. But then I don’t take my cues from Israeli sensitivities. Besides, I’m an American Jew, and so regardless of my level of Jewish education, or of Jewish observance, whatever I come up with can be discounted. Nevertheless: It is my opinion that Israeli mistrust of the Ashkenazi spirit is intensifying, due both to the increased influence of Mizrahim in Israeli life and to Ashkenazim’s own—fairly well-chronicled— inclinations toward self-hatred. I take this phenomenon of mistrust as indicative of a revisionist desire—namely, the desire to forget the fact that the construction of Israeli identity was an Ashkenazi ideal and so that the biblical lands promised by God were only obtained through the dreaming, or the will, of assimilated Jews from nation-state Europe. To press my argument even further into European territory, I will say that this desire to eradicate origins is an unconscious desire, a Freudian compulsion to rid the country of its Ashkenazi “father.” After all, how can “we,” Israelis, expect Ashkenazim to defend “us,” when so many of “them” so complacently went off to “their” slaughter in the Holocaust? How can “we” ever trust “them” with “our” survival? Israel is now trying to purge “itself” of this Ashkenazi “them”—this puny desexualized sect that delegitimates the country by reminding it of its paternity. To complete the purge, however, Israel must rid itself of its Ashkenazi legacy not just from within, but also from without, and wherever this legacy is found—and it just so happens that, today, the most prominent embodiment of this Ashkenazi “them” is American Jewry, whose population is roughly equivalent to that of Israeli Jewry but is of overwhelmingly European descent and still believes in peace and the rule of law. As long as this secular humanist spirit continues to exist in the world’s last major Jewish Diaspora, Israel must work against it. Only once it ceases to exist can Israel be definitively Israeli.
Perhaps the most contentious and unabating debate within “the Arab world” concerns “the Arab spring”—rather, it concerns whether most Arab countries even have four seasons, and not three (flooding, growing, and harvesting), or two (flood and drought). The only consensus might be that April and May are the months of the khamsin—not a Western wind of change, but an Eastern wind of heat and dust, which the Koran explains as a “scorching fire”; it’s no wonder that the phrase, “the Arab Spring,” was coined by American academics. That non-season lasted from 2010 to 2012, in the middle of which, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest a lack of affordable housing. It took about five minutes before the Israeli press called the protests a movement, and perhaps another five minutes before they dubbed it, with varying degrees of crassness, “the Israeli Spring.” This was the largest protest movement in Israeli history, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with Palestinians.
Seven springs later, Palestinians in Gaza prepared for the approach of the 70th anniversary of their statelessness by erecting a tent city near the border-fence. The usual protests succumbed to the unusual—to the desperate—call, for Gazans to storm the fence, and enter Israel, and reclaim the land that’d been seized from them by force. More than 100 were killed, and thousands were wounded, in what can only be described as an act of mass-martyrdom. Over the period of “secular difference” alone: April 20, four killed; April 27, four killed; April 29, three killed; May 5, six killed; May 6, three killed; May 11, one killed; then May 14, when 59 were killed and at least 2,700 wounded only 60 or so miles as the dove flies from where Jared, Ivanka, and the messianists from Texas were preaching in Jerusalem.
The official Israeli government spin was especially halfhearted: It began and ended with the insistence that Israel must defend its borders. If Gazans attempted to breach the border, with and even without the stated intent to do harm to citizens and/or property, Israel had no choice but to stop them. From there, the arguments turned to pointing out how all, or most, Palestinians killed had been members of Hamas (not true), before switching to non-sequitur claims about how few protests there’d been in the West Bank (Palestine), and assertions that this putatively muted response was because a significant faction of Palestinians in the West Bank (Palestine), and in Israel, supported the embassy move: Those who had families in the United States now had easier access to applying for a visa (not true).
A less parochial spin technique followed from this fragmentation of Palestinians into good Palestinians (West Bank/Palestine) and bad Palestinians (Gaza). It involved the partitioning of Palestinians, as a whole, from every other Arab nation and cause. Israeli government officials, and journalists, kept mentioning how friendly Israel had become with its neighbors since the advent of the Islamic State and its spread to Syria and the Sinai. Israel was buddies with the House of Saud! Israel had never been cozier with Jordan and Egypt! Everyone gets together and shares intelligence! We even have mutual flyover rights—sometimes!
The implication in all this was that even Israel’s former adversaries were in agreement: Palestinians were the exception. They were the holdouts, recalcitrant and irremediable. If they wanted to be left rotting atop history’s dung heap, so be it.
Underlying this propaganda was the sense that Israel was exasperated: It was inevitable that Gazans would charge the fence, and inevitable that Israel would shoot them. It was inevitable that videos and photos of the carnage would go online, and inevitable that the world would be outraged. But only Gazans are trapped in this life of no-choice, alternately neglected and manipulated by fellow Arabs, and prey to the death-drives provoked by total deprivation. Israel, however, had a season’s warning to prepare for all this, and to develop a plan to avoid or mitigate its traumas. Instead, it decided not to. Worse, it decided that it did not have to. Trump and his evangelicals would raise no cry, and it was their America, not Jewish America, that counted. This spring brought with it new definitions of “dispensation”: “exemption,” “immunity,” “impunity”—inaugurating a sort of shameless Sabbatical or Jubilee Year, as free of hope as it is of moral action.