Israel's Greatest Enemy

By Alterman, Eric | Moment, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

Israel's Greatest Enemy


Alterman, Eric, Moment


The energetic debate over Israel American Jewry and the Holocaust that took place this spring was instructive in many respects. It began with the publication of Peter Beinart's essay in The New York Review of Books, in which he scorned the American Jewish establishment for its twin failures to defend democracy in Israel and engage young liberal Jews in the Zionist project. It then exploded like a landmine when Israel raided the humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and ended with an absurd coda when now-former Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas told Israelis to "go back" to Poland and Germany.

Many people have noted that Beinart's essay--while extremely well written--contained little new information. But it was also almost undeniably true. It bespeaks a narrative force-fed to millions of American Jews for decades. I had my bar mitzvah 37 years ago. Back then, if you had asked me to tell you the history of the Jewish people, I would have explained it roughly as follows: "Ever since the beginning of time, the goyim have been jealous of us and persecuted us because we are smarter than they are and good with money. No matter where we went or what we did the results were the same, culminating in bubkes about the concentration camps. Once the world heard about what Hitler did, they felt guilty and voted to give us Israel. But the Arabs never got the message, so we had to kick their asses in a few wars. Today, the rest of the world--except America--got tired of feeling guilty and went back to hating us and pretending that the Arabs are right and Israel is wrong. So we might as well do whatever we want because the world is going to hate us no matter what. That's what it's like to be a Jew."

A great deal has changed in the world in the 37 years since I killed with my haf-torah. But when I hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complain about the world's reaction to Israel's attack on the humanitarian flotilla--followed by the dittoheads of major Jewish organizations and the neocon punditocracy--I think, perhaps not so much. Neither Netanyahu nor his defense minister, Ehud Barak, has admitted any mistakes in the decisions and execution of a military raid that resulted not only in the killing of civilians but in a torrent of condemnation of Israel and the disruption of some of its most important strategic relationships, particularly the Turkish one.

But of course the raid was not only fatally botched in execution; it was crazy in conception. Israel had no reason to assume that the boats carried weaponry. …

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