When one of the world’s more influential economists, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, took pains on his recent visit here to dissociate himself personally from Israel’s obvious odiousness, I was hardly surprised. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what in Israeli statecraft incurred Krugman’s displeasure, but his annoyance seemed de rigueur.
Why? Because Krugman sounded so much like my own blood relations in Obamaland. It was from them that I gained incipient insight into Israel’s isolation – even within the Jewish context.
It began to dawn on me during the worst years of the second intifada, when buses here blew up, supermarkets were dangerous places, fast-food eateries became frequent targets and just going out meant you might be putting your life on the line. Most of my American family – comfortable, self-satisfied, assimilated and resplendent in impeccable liberal credentials – didn’t appear much perturbed about our well-being. Concerned inquiries usually came from non-Jewish friends.
But the very same kin were aghast to discover before the last American presidential election that we didn’t share their ebullient enthusiasm for Barack Obama. Indeed I quickly concluded that, even when severely goaded, it’s best not to exercise my freedom of speech. We, the uncool and benightedly reactionary Israeli branch of the clan, were anyhow already frowned upon, disapproved of and exceedingly close to familial excommunication.
I kept uncharacteristically mum when a once-favorite cousin fulminated in unambiguous rebuke: “You people liked Nixon. He was good for you but he was awful for us.”
I couldn’t decide whether she only addressed her provincial Israeli relatives or perhaps all Israelis collectively, but I was reminded of the Passover Haggada’s emblematic Wicked Son.
He’s the one who intones: “What is this service to you?” In other words, he detaches himself from the Jewish collective, relishing in the role of an objective observer, who standoffishly passes judgment on fellow Jews rather than identifying with them.
A younger cousin of mine glories in this role.
He got into Facebook fisticuffs with my daughter over his support for the Mavi Marmara thugs. My daughter retorted that not living here, in our shoes, and hardly knowing what he’s talking about, he mustn’t dispense unsolicited advice whose consequences he won’t have to bear. But the cousin immodestly insisted that he bases his opinions on “a good upbringing, years of education and a natural high level of judgment” (which presumably we lack).
Not living in Israel, he added, “is a conscious choice I make so as not to fall in line with the national psychosis Israelis suffer from, the psychosis that prevents many Israelis from rationally engaging in the world.”
After advising us to read and heed The New York Times, he went on to wish Israelis “liberation from oppression, both foreign and domestic, and from internal bonds created by historically justified but fundamentally self-destructive fears.”
EVINCING THE same smugness as my various cousins, Krugman probably agrees, though as a very fussed-over guest in our insular little land it would be a tad impolite to say so. Still, it’s inevitable that, having patted us on the back (for our economic resilience), he’d follow it up with a kick in the pants.
To maintain his reputation in the radical halls of American academe and left-leaning media (he is a New York Times columnist), Krugman must cleanse himself of anything which might hint at sympathy for a state that the more successful and affluent American Jews tend to consider a bothersome burden.
This isn’t calculatingly cynical. It’s almost knee-jerk.
Hence Krugman had to stress that his presence in Israel shouldn’t be taken as “an uncritical endorsement of everything the Israeli government does” and that “there is a lot that troubles” him about Israel’s “policy, both domestic and in the region.”
His Jewishness evidently entitles him to give us a piece of his mind because, like “many American Jews,” he’s troubled “in the way you are troubled when someone you love is behaving in a self-destructive way.”
Krugman then warned us against “a lot of people on the other side of the US spectrum who have a vision of the real America that does not include people like me and therefore does not ultimately include people like you either…. They may for tactical reasons endorse whatever the current Israeli government does, but in the end they are not on your side and in the end sometimes critical friends are.”
This is where it does get disingenuous. Jews, who haughtily disdain Jewish interests, resort to shared Jewish genes to caution us against conservative non-Jews, who support us warmly. Those who, like my cousin, lament Israel’s “fundamentally self-destructive fears,” play the anti-Semitic card when it suits them. Krugman intimated that the unidentified “people on the other side of the US spectrum” hate him and us for who we are.
Nevertheless, I’d rather take my chances with “the other side” than with Krugman and many of my ultra-“progressive” cousins. During most of Zionism’s history, it must be admitted, Zionists (and later Israelis) weren’t by-and-large American Jewry’s bon ton.
Save for an extraordinary honeymoon following the Six Day War, we impeded the American dream of certain Jews. If a terrible fate befalls us, “Jewish-Americans” will recall Krugman’s admonition that we “trouble” them. They’d congratulate themselves for not having, in my cousin’s words, succumbed to our “psychosis.” They’d perhaps shed compulsory tears, as they did for Europe’s butchered Jews post-Holocaust, but we mustn’t count on a massive portion of America’s Jewish mass – no more than Europe’s Jews could before and during World War II.
The Jewish-owned New York Times, by which my cousins swear and where Krugman publishes opeds, typifies that segment of US Jewry. During all of World War II it saw fit to publish only two lead editorials on Jewish issues. One, on January 22, 1942, was an acerbic attack on demands for all-Jewish military units under British auspices (which were eventually created as the Jewish Brigade). While the extermination of Jews continued unabated, the Times’s indignation was spent on preventing the formation of “a Zionist army.”
In February 1942 the rickety illegal immigrant ship Struma sank after the British refused to let refugees from Hitler’s hell enter this country. All but one of its 768 passengers perished.
The Times accorded it four bland paragraphs on an inside page. The New York Post and The Washington Post judged the horror deserved editorial condemnation.
Contrast that with the Times’s earlier frontpage treatment for the capsizing of another “illegal” vessel, the Patria, whose tragedy was caused by a miscalculated Hagana attempt to disable the ship’s engines so the British couldn’t remove it from Haifa Port.
The Times’s scale of values was unmistakable – a story that embarrassed the Zionists won pride of place; the one that highlighted Jewish misfortune and embarrassed Zionism’s foes was downplayed.
It’s still oppressively so nowadays.
The second of two parts.