Goldblog, the democracy question
Menu JTA Search

Goldblog, the democracy question

At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg wonders what happens if settlement expansion gets Israel to that Jewish or Democracy? crossroads, and it chooses "Jewish". This chinstroke in particular has been swamping the Jewish internets:

Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel’s abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment. 

Lemme start by saying I dread Goldberg’s nightmare scenario as much as he does, as much as any of the folks who have been e-blasting this post around, although I don’t think it’s as inevitable as some of the eager purveyors of the "Even Jeffrey Goldberg!" subject lines seem to think.

But that’s another blog post for another day. My problem is more with the last clause, above:

I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment. 

First, it’s not an experiment. It no longer is, if it ever was. (I think a case can be made that Israel was an inevitable outcome of post-enlightenment nationalism, but again, another post for another day.) The "experiment" is over, the result is a living, breathing organism. Call it a Golem, call it the cutest little thing you ever saw, but we are past the experimental stage. Israel is. There is no rewind.

The formulation is especially weird coming from Goldberg, who has done a superb job of dismantling the insiduous constructs of Jewish exceptionalism peddled by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Walt and Mearsheimer.

We are a people. Our homeland is Israel. This is not an ideological postulation, it is a matter of practical fact. If there was a people called the Blogs, and they were scattered across the universe, and there was a planet called Blogostan where the language was Bloggish and the workweeks hewed to the Bloggish calendar, that planet, by default, would define the practices of the Bloggish Diaspora. Geez, walk into a Reform shul now and dredge up footage of Reform services a half century ago, and compare, and go on, tell me there hasn’t been a radical shift, and it hasn’t emanated from Israel — and this despite the discrimination the Reform suffer in Israel. And the same, moreso, in Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox shuls. (I attended a Reconstructionist service a few years ago, and I loved it — the Hebrew pronunciation was so Israeli.)

In considering identity, there are no more powerful magnets than place, language and sovereignty. Like it, hate it, indifferent to it, it’s what it is: Israel, as soon as it came into existence (and even before) became the natural Jewish nexus.

I’m not sure why Jews have this surprised "Oh, we’re a people!" reflex every ten years or so, where we realize that in terms of social and collective behavior, we really are not that much different from the Irish, the Italians, the Greeks. And judging from the experiences of those diasporas, it’s fairly safe to predict that if Israel loses the "democratic" descriptor, Jews will not walk away en masse.

I remember particularly how Greeks behaved during the junta, and during the 1974 Cypriot war (and the almost Greco-Turkish war) that took place during the junta. (There’s a major Greek community in Montreal, where I grew up, and my father  — who spoke some Greek — had many casual interactions with them.)

This is what I recall: Diaspora Greeks repudiated the junta, sought its downfall; but when Greeks faced a Turkish military threat — even one engineered in part by junta machinations in Cyprus — they rallied as one behind Greece, however much they reviled its government of the day as illegitimate.

Now this is not always the template: There are times, when a homeland slides into autocracy, that Diasporas split into opposing factions — those who back the autocracy, those who oppose it and even seek to undermine it, but still seek to defend the homeland’s interests. Think of American Germans before World War II, split into proto-fascist Bundists and vehement opponents, think of how Croatian and Serbian Diasporas dealt with the Yugoslav wars, think also of how Irish Americans dealt with decades of IRA terrorism: Those who upheld it as legitimate resistance, and those who cultivated the moderates in the SDLP. (Sinn Fein, it is true, has emerged triumphant — but only after embracing to a substantial degree the SDLP’s moderation.)

So here’s what I think. Should it come to it, tfu tfu tfu, it shouldn’t happen in a million years, but should Israel cease to be a democracy, there will be American Jews — a minority — who will pretend that it is the most natural development in the world, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if every nation embraced neo-neo-fascism.

There will be an even smaller minority that will say, that’s it, enough with Israel, let’s try a purely Diaspora Judaism, and which will disappear after a decade or so because the notion of a Judaism without Israel, as long as Israel exists, is a nonsense. They will join those who assimilate, and who would have assimilated even if Israel were transformed into a utopia.

And there will be the majority that will back the factions — and lo, there will be multitudes — within Israel that will seek a return to liberal democracy. And the American Jewish majority will simultaneously pressure the autocrats in Israel to reverse course — think of the Irish American establishment and how it helped kick Sinn Fein’s ass until it came to the table.

And should Israel, while under the spell of this autocracy, actually come under a serious existential threat, these clever Jews will figure out a way to simultaneously protect the nation and unseat the government.

It’s been done, by other equally as clever folk, because these are behaviors typical of a Diaspora. Jews outside Israel are a Diaspora. Israel is their homeland.