Thursday, October 21, 2004

A week of politics on baynonim: Part 3
ISRAEL

Go to: Part 1.
Go to Part 2.
Go to: Other things to read if politics bore you to tears.

To review: This week I'm listing some of my reasons for turning against Bush, after voting for him in 2000. If you're a Kerry fan, you may add to the argument in the comment section (Please no "right ons." I haven't yet reconciled myself to Kerry. If you're a Kerry-supporter who can argue cogently on his behalf, please do so.)

On the other hand, if you're a Bush-supporter please use the comment section to tell me why I am wrong. Though the Kerry-admirers have done a very good job arguing for their man over the last two days, I'm still in the middle, and open to good arguments from all sides.

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Now for the red meat: Israel. It is an article of faith among the true believers that Bush is Israel's best friend since... since... has Israel ever had a best friend? None come to mind. Anyway, I don't buy it. Bush is not a firend. His motives are suspect, even creepy, and his actual record on Israel hardly sparkles.

Motivations: Bush, as we all know, is a born again Christain, and the born-againers, unfortunately, have this bizarre eschatological fantasy, in which Israel plays a staring role. Many evangelicals love Israel, but only because in their Biblical end-of-days scenario, the gathering of Jews in the Holy Land is necessary for the Second Coming. Inconveniently for the Jews, the story calls for them to either abandon their beliefs or be exterminated in time for the great rapture.

This raises a question we should ponder: What will born-againers like Bush do if Israel ever takes actions that undermine the biblical justification for its existence? Will the president's support for Israel continue if it becomes clear that Israel is not paving the way for rapture? Ultimately, if you don't love Israel for what it is, you can't be trusted to love it at all. If Bush the born-againer only supports Israel because he is looking forward to the rapture - and the eventual destruction of Judaism - we must disdain his support.

Record: I supported Bush in 2000, in part, because he promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. He hasn't delivered. Bush is also the first US president to call for the creation of a Palestinian state. He opposed Israel's security fence throughout 2003, threatening Israel's loan guarantees, and then suddenly supported it - coincidentally, at the start of the election year. For years, he refused to call Yasser Arafat a terrorist and insisted the Arafat remain the negotiating partner. And like most Americans, I am deeply concerned about Bush and Cheny's close personal relationship with Saudi Arabia.

During the second intafada, many felt that only strong American involvement would help reach a negotiated end to the misery. Bush refused. As president, George W. Bush hasn't even visited Israel. From this president we see only benign neglect, and benign neglect is not an act of friendship. His policy is an irrelevant mess of contradictions that leaves Israel in despair.

Now, will Kerry be any better? I honestly don't know. Like many in Israel, I want the US president to take a strong, and active role in Mideast politics. I want a man like Clinton, someone willing to risk his legacy trying to drag Arafat to the negotiating table, and all but force him to sign a deal. I want the president to use his bully pulpit to bring Israel's enemies into line. Benign neglect is not friendship. When a friend is in trouble, you roll up your sleeves and help. Bush hasn't.

Can Kerry do the job I want; the job I think is needed? Can he be a real friend to Israel? I don't know. Nothing in his record suggests he can, and his infatuation with the UN is troubling, even disturbing.

What to do? What to do?

Visitors to the blog are cordially invited to express their opinions in the comment section.

Comments:

Adam:

Your conflation of President Bush's faith with evangelical Christianity is intellectually sloppy, in a way that you wouldn't tolerate if the subject were Jewish.

Bush was born an Episcopalian and is now a Methodist, both classified as mainline Christian denominations. He did experience a religious awakening in mid-life. His faith is based on prayer and Bible study, but there's no evidence that he thinks overly much about eschatology. He seems very much rooted in this world, and his support for Israel is based partly on strategic considerations but mainly, I think, on shared values and goals. It has nothing to do with ideas about the end of days. That isn't true of some people who will vote for Bush, but who cares?  

All-

We must support conservative fiscal policy. It is a moral imperative as people and most especially as Jews. Why? If we have someone who lost their job, got behind on their rent and cannot feed their family, what are we to do? We MUST help them. We can argue about the type of help or how we go about helping them, but we must help them. Otherwise, what type of society do we live in? Anyone who would believe otherwise is at-best amoral and not someone with whom I would associate.

Okay, now that we agree on that, comes the arguement about how to help them. The liberal (in a fiscal sense) way would be to give them money (or job training or whatever) from the government. If the government needs money, tax the people who have it and give it away. The conservative (in a fiscal sense) way to do this would be through charities and non-government agencies. The idea is to pick a charity that you most closely identify with or support and give there - you can give to your synagogue, or the United Way, or the Federation, or whomever you want. The idea is that you have the choice. If the government does it, you don't get any choice. If you want to support cancer research and the government wants to help a group which you do not support - too bad. They have taken your money and you have no say.

Some liberal friends have said, "Do you really think people will give money to charities?" My answer is ABSOLUTELY. First, I believe in people. Second, if taxes were (lets stay for arguement) $1,000 less than they are today, then you would have the additional $1,000 to do with as you wish. I believe in people, I believe we can make a difference. Also, I don't believe the government puts the money where I would like it to go, so I see to it that I can put the money where I like most.

Anyway, I have a hard time with anyone who doesn't believe in people enough to trust that they will give to charities, but then wants to tax people to give to government to redistribute to whomever the government wants to without regard to how I want it spent.

That's my arguement. Sorry for the length and typeos.  

First Comment:
I think you're giving Bush the benefit of the doubt, though I acknowledge my argument could have been tighter. Bush's Christianity creeps me out, though.

Texas Mench:
You've abely described, what I consider one of a few essentail differences between Conservatives and Liberals: Conservatives trust people. Liberals do not. The evidence of the last 5000 years swings in the favor of the liberals, but I recognize that this supports their philosophy, not necessarily their policies.

All others
You do not have to sign up in order to post a comment. You can do it annonymously, without registering. There is no reason to mail your views to me (though I don't mind it at all.)  

JAH wrote:

Nothing Kerry has said reflects an infatuation with the UN. What he has said points out that in an international crisis like Terrorism or rogue nations with WMD, the efforts of the US to do something should be in concert with our friends and allies. That does not mean allowing the UN to take over our foreign policy.

His credibility as asupporter of Israel will stand him in good stead in negotiations. He is a firm believer in and comes from a personal heritage of using diplomacy to solve problems. I just do not see why you look at him as such a flawed man

I replied:

I don't think Kerry is flawed, he just has not closed the deal, imo.

(These comments were somehow lost. Stupid Blogger)

Posted by ADAM RAGIL  

This comment was also lost. Stupid blogger.

Michael wrote:

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Bush would, for the next year or two or even four, be better for Israel.

But Bush's domestic agenda seems to be to "starve the government" through tax cuts.

In the long run, a starved government is a government that will be tempted to skimp on:

1) aid to Israel
2) a military as big as we have now
3) homeland security to protect us against terrorists

-maybe not next year, maybe not even in the next four years, but certainly when Bush's successor takes office in 2009 (by which time the baby boomers start to retire, creating Social Security and Medicare bills that will endanger our fiscal stability even under the best of circumstances).

If Bush does not change his policies, four more years of Bush means a starved government, presiding over a nation too weak to resist terrorism, let alone help Israel resist terrorism.

By contrast, Kerry will be fiscally responsible- if not by his own weak will, then by the will of a Republican Congress that, freed from their sick desire to obey a president of their party at all costs, will begin to ACT LIKE REPUBLICANS and set the nation's fiscal house in order - which in turn means that whoever succeeds Kerry will be able to protect Israel and America to the best of his or her ability and will.

In the movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman that if she doesn't leave him and go away with Victor Lazlo, she might be happier in the short run, but she would nevertheless "regret it- not today, but soon and for the rest of your life."

Bush is Bogart - for another day or week or year, Jews might be happier with him.

But Kerry is Victor Lazlo- less dangerous in the long run.  

As a religious Jew, I have respect for religious Christians. I'm sorry if they creep you out. I have far more in common with most of them than I do with secularists of most stripes.

I'm constantly amazed that supporters of Israel can so easily dismiss many of Israel's strongest backers because their motives are based on their Christian beliefs. Is that an ulterior motive? Perhaps, but no more so than motives based on national interest, for example. We aren't so blessed with allies that we can spit on the most steadfast of them because we differ in eschatology, of all things.

Among any eclectic group of supporters of Israel, I expect most of them will have different motives for that support than you or I do. That's not a bad thing. I respect left-wing Zionists and consider them allies in defending Israel, even as we disagree vehemently. I give Christian Zionists the same respect.

In any case, on this count why would you prefer the Democratic party, whose rank and file overflows with Israel haters? Just because John Kerry has the same solid voting record as nearly every other member of congress? His pool of Democratic policy operatives is inherently front-loaded with Peace Now sympathizers; that's just who they tend to be (e.g. Sandy Berger). Would Kerry continue the isolation of Arafat? The pressure for democratic reform? etc.? Or would he defer to the State Department Arabists?  

Biur,

Why the venom for Peace Now? Didn't you say that you could respect people who love Israel for different reasons? Are you doubting that Peace Now loves Israel? Careful now. Don't fall into your own trap.

As for Adam's objection to the Christians I know where he is coming from. You missed the point in two ways.

First - Admiring Christians is dangerous to Judaism. As we become friendlier with them, we begin to think that they are an example of hos Jews should act. The Christian are stricter on homosexuals and on abortion, for example, than Judaism, yes Jews happily and blindly parrot Christian positions. It's almost like they feel they need to out-do the Christians in piety. That's bad for Judaism.

Second, read again what Adam wrote. He objects to Bush's support, not because Bush is Christian, but because Bush's support is based on a lie. If Bush likes Israel because he thinks Israel has a biblical role to play, what will he do when Israel refuses to play the part? Won't he become disilusioned? Might the support turn to anger if the Jewzs refuse to act in the way good Christians beleive they should? Will he blame the Jews for delaying the rapture? He might. Weirder things have happened. As ADam said, if these people can't love Israel for what it is, you can't trust them to love her at all. They can turn on us in an instant.

Fred Fried  

Biur - Do you respect religious Muslims, too?!? Of the 5 billion Muslins int he world maybe 2 billion have hurt Jews. Do you love and respect the other 3 billion?
Have you forgotten that the hand of the Christian drips with Jewish blood for 2000 years? Does Peace Now hate Israel in your brain? Didn't Bush make love to the state department all during his four years? didn't he make the middle east so much more dangerous and waste a ton of money and soldiers and time besides? Just some questions on your foolish post.  

Fred:

What venom? I just disagree with Peace Now and don't want them setting U.S. policy towards Israel. I don't know why everything I write has to be twisted.

I said I respect Christians, not that I aspire to emulate them. I am acutely aware of our differences. That shouldn't prevent us from cooperating where appropriate.

Adam decided by himself what the "true" basis of Bush's support for Israel is, and drew his own conclusions from that. That's not fair to Bush.

As I said, it's no different from any other "ulterior" motive for supporting Israel. If a liberal supports Israel because Israel is liberal, or a socialist because it's socialist, or a Jew because it supports Torah learning - any of them could be disillusioned and revert. What makes Bush - or any Christian - special?

I see no evidence that any Christian Zionists intend to "turn on" Israel under any circumstances, and no reason to suspect them more than any other Zionists. And, as I said, we can't afford to be choosy about our Zionists.


Anonymous:

5 billion Muslims? Out of 6.5 billion people in the world? Please. Try 1 billion (compared with about 2 billion Christians and 1 billion Hindus).

Yes, I do respect religious Muslims to the extent that they are not my enemy. The same goes for Christians - I don't particularly care for Christians who treat the Jews and Israel as their enemy. Why should I?

Unfortunately, today most Muslims do regard Jews and Israel as their enemies, and we have no choice but to relate to them in kind. This is not the case regarding most Christians today - certainly most American Christians - and I don't blame them for 2000 years of persecution any more than I want them to blame me for the events of 2000 years ago.

And Bush often bucked the advice of his State Department, on many issues, often including Israel and Iraq. Other times he went along with them. That's politics for you.


Baynonim,

I hope you're as disappointed as I am with the tone and namecalling in these comments...  

Biur,

I don't see any name-calling, and the tone is part of what makes blogging entertaining. If you are offended, write to me offline, and I will delete the comments that disturb you. In all, you fought your side well, so I see no reason to intervene.

Adam Ragil  

Adam Ragil, the regular man or so it always strikes me. :)

I freely admit that I have a problem with "friends" who seem to like me because of ulterior motives.

If I were worth $50 million I might wonder about the motives of some people and their friendship. Do they like me, would they like me without my money?

They are valid questions.  

Jack,

Exactly. Where will Israel's "friends" go when it becomes clear that the Jewish state has no interest in advancing their end-of-days fantasy? Christians tend not to like it when Jews interfere with their religious dreams. Will it happen again? I don't know, but as I said, it is worth pondering, and certainly worth remembering.  

Biur you suggested Kerry was unworthy of support because he was surrounded by Peace-Now people, though in practically the same breath you said expect supports of Israel to have eclectic views, but you respected them all.

So why aren't you respectful of Peace Now's support for Israel? Why do you welcome the support of people who are secretly hoping for rapture and the extermination of Judaism, but not the support of people who want Israel to enjoy peace and prosperity in the company of good neighbors?  

I have collected lots of testimonials from Jewish liberals who are voting for Bush. (Be sure to click back for the previous posts on the topic.) A lot of them talk about Bush and Israel.

This lays out what a Kerry presidency would mean for Israel. It's annotated too. Be sure to follow the last link to the essay by Charles Krauthammer.

This expands on the topic. (The authors don't know each other.) I haven't tried to annotate it yet, I just posted it tonight.  

I just want to say that the whole "fundamentalist apocalypse believers" bit is a crock. Bush is a Methodist. Yes, some of his base is as you described, but they do not make up the majority of fundamentalists, much less Christians. Most Americans are pro-Israel, because they understand who the terrorists are and what a democracy looks like. Americans also know Israel gets picked on by the UN and the EU and the Arab bloc and Americans root for the little guy, and they know the Pals are propped up by big bad guys (one less since we took down Saddam).

Bush has consistently defended Israel to the world. He withdrew the US from Durban in response to the America and Israel bashing there. He's invited Sharon to the WH numerous times, why should I care how often he's been to Israel? Meanwhile his support for a Pal state is contingent on them building a democratic state and he has refused to meet with Arafat. I watched the whole RNC convention, Israel was mentioned by 3-4 speakers, including Bush. How many times did Kerry mention Israel at the DNC? Zero.

Anyone as enamored of the UN as Kerry will sell Israel out.  

Here's a quote from William Safire 10/25:

"Kerry can legitimately point to dozens of pro-Israel votes. But the essence of his foreign policy - to rely on alliances with France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. to combat terror and enforce the peace - requires accommodation with the central demand of these Arab-influenced entities to lean heavily on Israel to make the very concessions Kerry now says he's against. No Kerry heat on Israel, no grand new global alliance."  

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