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Jewish nationalism lost in the election, Jewish humanism won

Jewish nationalism, in its belligerence and paranoia, is watching the world pass it by – and the overwhelming majority of Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere do not want that to happen to them.

The split between humanistic Judaism and nationalistic Judaism goes back a very long time, but in recent years, the complete takeover of both Israel and the Republican Party by nationalist radicals has obviously sharpened that split, nearly creating schism within Judaism. (By “Judaism,” I don’t mean just the religion but all of Jewish civilization.) Every Israeli election is a battle between these two opposing Jewish camps, but Tuesday was the first time a U.S. election divided American Jewry along the same lines.

This was the first U.S. presidential election in which one of the two parties took the Israeli right-wing line, attacking the other party for endangering Israel’s existence, and calling on American Jews (as well as Christians) to vote for it and donate money to it at least partly on that basis. This wasn’t a marginal, low-key theme, either; in heavily Jewish states, especially the swing state of Florida, the message was as bombastic as can be. Roughly 6.5 million American Jews had this message drummed into their skulls by the Republicans (who took their inspiration and much of their phrasing from the leader of world Jewish nationalism, Bibi Netanyahu): that voting for Obama meant “throwing Israel under the bus.” This was the first time Israel became a left/right issue in a presidential campaign, and the right flogged it with absolutely all their might.

The result: 70 percent of American Jewish voters rejected that message and voted Obama.

While not all the 70 percent are Jewish humanists – most of them voted for reasons having nothing to do with Judaism or Israel – it’s fair to say that all American Jewish humanists were among that 70 percent. None of those voters were Jewish nationalists – a nationalist being one who sees the world in terms of “us vs. them” – because the Republicans were talking the Jewish nationalists’ language on Israel, while Obama was the Jewish nationalists’ nemesis and had been ever since they found out his middle name.

So this election was a tremendous blow to the American Jewish right, which has just been getting stronger and more extreme in step with Israel and the Republicans. It’s a blow to AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby. It’s a blow, of course, to Netanyahu, particularly because of his unprecedented support for one of the candidates, who happened to lose. It’s a blow to the whole Israeli right.

And they’re all connected – the Republicans, the American Jewish right, the Israel lobby, Netanyahu, Likud-Beiteinu, the settlers, the rest of the Israeli right. Jewish nationalism, all of it, from the inner core to the outer shell, just experienced an earthquake, and there’s a lot of broken stuff lying around.

Who are the big winners? In America, I think of J Street, Peter Beinart. In Israel, we’ll have to see if a major candidate or party takes on Jewish nationalism’s defining project, the occupation, in the January 22 election. Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni are stirring,  people are trying to convince 89-year-old Shimon Peres to run (maybe run is not the right word). There seems to be an effort to form a kind of national salvation front to get rid of Bibi. I don’t know if it can win, but I do know Netanyahu’s stature at home, in the U.S. and among foreign leaders has been severely diminished by Obama’s victory.

Click here for more +972 coverage on the U.S. election

And while Bibi’s support for Romney will not lead Obama in the next four years to throw Israel under the bus or put out a contract on its prime minister, neither will Obama feel the need to give Israel or its prime minister any undeserved rewards like he did over and over in his first term. For instance, I seriously doubt that the U.S. will lobby in the UN against the upcoming Palestinian bid like it did in September of last year (and thank God for that). I expect a second-term Obama to be rather cool to Israel and altogether icy (though in a subtle way) to its prime minister, so long as that prime minister is Netanyahu. Lots of Israelis think a second-term U.S. president is going to let a foreign leader who depends on his support push him around in his first term, and even campaign for his opponent (!),  without teaching him a lesson. That strikes me as an improbable view.

I think the leader of Jewish nationalism in Israel and the Diaspora is heading for a rough time, and so is the rank and file. They’ve been moving further and further right – and America just moved decisively left. The Republicans’ only ally among the world’s ruling parties was Likud, and vice versa. Now the Republicans have gone down, and they took a piece of Likud’s leader with them.

The forces of Jewish nationalism threw everything they had at Obama, and he won 70 percent of the Jewish vote. In tandem, the forces of American nationalism threw everything it had at Obama, and he won the electoral vote 332-206 and the popular vote by 3 million.

For the last four years, or maybe since 9/11, it has been the Republicans and Israel against the rest of the world, and together they’ve grown more and more belligerent and paranoid. This week, America, including 70 percent of its Jews, rejected that mentality. And if America and 70 percent of its Jews rejected it, imagine what the rest of the world thinks.

Jewish nationalism, in its belligerence and paranoia, is watching the world pass it by – and the overwhelming majority of Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere do not want that to happen to them. This is why I think the Jewish future is a humanistic one. It’ll probably take longer to get to Israel, but sooner or later it should arrive.

Read more: Obama wins election, takes Jewish vote with him Obama’s victory and Israel: Five takeaways

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Danny

      The real danger for Likud is that the Republican party will decide that they’ve had enough of this gordian knot with Likud, that Likud is in fact a heavy liability for them (one that drags them further and further to the loony right), and that, to make the Republican party viable again in the eyes of Americans, the Likud and its proxy AIPAC will have to be dumped lock, stock and barrel. That is the real danger that I think is keeping Netanyahu awake at night. Let’s hope he has many, many sleepless nights ahead of him.

      Reply to Comment
    2. This article is based on the entirely false premise that Barack Obama isn’t already a right-wing Zionist fantasy come true. Obama has continued Hamas’ international isolation, promoted the strictest sanctions on Iran possible, given Israel unparalleled financial aid and military cooperation, and abandoned the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (which was not mentioned by him once in the Presidential foreign policy debate). Anyone whose head is not completely up their own ass is able to see quite clearly that Obama is a “true friend” to Zionist intransigence. So the idea that his reelection was in some way a rejection of AIPAC, Israel or Jewish nationalism generally is silly on its face. If anything, it was a rejection of right-wing absurdism about Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron Gross

      You’re totally wrong identifying nationalism with the Israeli right. The Zionist left is no less nationalistic than the right.

      That’s true for any reasonable definition of “nationalism”: loyalty to the nation (the people Israel), loyalty to the nation-state, interest in preserving the state as the state of the nation. On all of these, the Zionist left is, by liberal American standards, ultra-nationalist.

      Left-Zionist nationalism is most blatant in left-wing opposition to the settlers and in its support of a Palestinian state. The primary reasons are always nationalistic, not “humanistic” (universalist): we must withdraw from the territories to preserve a strong Jewish majority in the State of Israel, so that the Jews’ position as Staatvolk will be secure. You see this argument even from some of the dimmer bulbs on the left, like Avrum Burg, bless his heart.

      The Zionist left is ultra-nationalist. That’s one of the main reasons so many universalist or cosmopolitan liberals, including many Jews, oppose the Zionist left.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      Right.. This is why Obama and his Jewish proxies ran a campaign of trying to blur the differences between him and Romney on Israel. How many times was Israel mentioned by Obama during the foreign policy debate? I am sure this was because Obama’s quants determined that 70% of American Jews don’t care about Israel.

      Yes, the election of Obama is a blow to those that had Israel’s best interests at heart. No, you can’t derive your conclusions from this election.

      As for ‘Jewish humanism’, in Israel the term might make sense. In America the proper terminology for the same phenomenon is ‘assimilationism’, because that is precisely what it is – an abandonment of Judaism and of the Jewish people in an effort to assimilate into the undifferentiated mass of humanity. Considering a tradition of thousands of years of sustaining the Jewish people, I can see nothing less Jewish than this phenomenon.

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      • Danny

        “As for ‘Jewish humanism’, in Israel the term might make sense.”
        .
        Israel, in my view, represents a complete antithesis to everything even remotely associated with humanism. It is an ugly, despicable country – in much the same vain as the former South Africa – which shames Jews the world over with its warped, holocaust-obsessed, anti-Arab/Muslim actions and worldview. Israel is nothing short of a blight on world Jewry, one that many hope and pray either changes or disappears.
        .
        As for the “assimilated” Jews you so despise – they represent the humanist position that all people are equal, even if some of them do not belong to “God’s chosen people” (TM). Your contempt for the ‘undifferentiated masses’ exposes you as the Jewish supremacist you are. It is people like you that are partly to blame for some Jews not wanting anything to do with Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Hahaha. I love humanists. So much supposed love for humanity and so much rage and hatred at everything that makes us human.

          And your assimilated Jews, call them what you want, but their children may yet be humanists, but will not be Jews and their ancestors for thousands of years will have been suckers for maintaining their religion and traditions.

          If the belief that our passage from this world is not an outcome to be welcomed merrily makes me a Jewish supremacist, then I accept unreservedly and sit in good company.

          Those that take the opposite approach are more than welcome to do so, but they really shouldn’t be surprised when their opinion is disregarded on the matter.

          Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Your constant comparison of Israel with the old South Africa are spurious .
          Israel has no laws prohibiting any Israeli citizens from anything , or seperating them from each other or forcing them to do anything due to race ,creed or religion .
          Palestinians are not Israeli, and to boot wheather you like it or not, are dedicated to Israels destruction.
          Any country that can mantain itself so well , despite being surrounded by millions of Arab/Muslims dedicated to Israels destruction ,has to be admired .
          As far as the Holocaust is concerned , it was and still is the biggest crime agaist humanity ever commited . And the Arabs backed and supported the Axis powers in WW2

          Reply to Comment
        • Mitchell Cohen

          “As for the “assimilated” Jews you so despise – they represent the humanist position that all people are equal, even if some of them do not belong to “God’s chosen people” (TM).” [End of Danny] So why not chuck Judaism all together and become Unitarians? It would save us ALL a lot of pain….

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            He can’t say that because it would sound insensitive. He can only praise those that choose to pursue his ideal of a world which has abandoned all those pesky human rituals like traditions, cultures and traditions that get in the way of ‘progress’.

            I sometimes wonder how humanists and progressives decide on which cultures and religions they will disdain a priori and which must be ‘understood’ and not judged. It certainly doesn’t seem to be any objective criteria.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Larry, America did not move “decisively to the left.” Most of Obama’s swing wins were marginal. While it is true that the demographic which enabled his victory will continue to grow, his election was not ratification of his policies overall–I wish otherwise. The Republicans lost very few House seats, with no evidence that the Tea Party’s districts turned away from them. Republicans know that the demographics are moving against them; some don’t care, and these can obstruct for some time. Obama must impliment heath care to solidify his marginal victory, and the House has to approve budget allocations every two years. Immigration reform is a promise he must keep, but Republicans may not let him. The Tea Party logic of sacred duty is not yet undone.

      I believe you are correct that Bibi crossed a line this American cycle–which will make it easier for the White House to stand aloof from him. But Obama is very practical; he may see no benefit in “Palestinian Statehood” in words only and decide false hopes should not be encouraged.

      If Bibi’s posturing on Iran and Romney works against him in Israel, all to the good. But, as I keep saying here, do not expect America to save you. You must start that yourselves; then, I do believe, American dollars would come to assist.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Richard Witty

      Hard reality. More Jews voted republican in this election than in any in a very long time.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard Witty

      Another hard reality. Likud and Hamas are again conspiring to elect likud/israel beitanhu, in the form of raising defense issues to be the most prominent in the coming election, over social issues, economic issues, and reasonable development of international relations (including with Palestine).

      Screw the prospect of peer/participant role, back to fortress.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Susan

      I don’t see that humanism and nationalism have to be opposites. It is possible to be both at the same time.

      Danny, you have not read the part of the Talmud that says that all human beings are equal, not just God’s chosen people. It is right there in the Talmud.

      Reply to Comment

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