Home for us for seven years and 14 winters was Minneapolis, Minn. As the director of its Jewish Federation, I took great pride in the Jewish community’s commitment to Jewish causes and Israel while maintaining respect for diversity of opinion. In fact, Minneapolis was a leader in responding to global Jewish needs, particularly in Israel, and has always been a leader in per capita giving to the United Jewish Appeal.
Among its Jewish native-born sons are the Coen brothers, whose film A Serious Man, about growing up in Jewish Minneapolis, really hit home in its quirkiness, which is the hallmark of their cinematic style. Ironically, Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays the beleaguered professor, portrays the cerebral gangster Arnold Rothstein in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
The Jewish school portrayed in the film was the Talmud Torah, which provided supplementary school education for most synagogues. Among one of its most illustrious graduates is Tom Friedman.
The multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and op-ed columnist of The New York Times, Friedman was the inaugural speaker for our first culminating event for the Minneapolis UJA Campaign and has been a fixture on talk shows and the speakers’ circuit.
According to Friedman’s view on the Middle East conflict, there is a consensus among American Jews and Israelis that there should be a two-state solution with security for two peoples a: Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The question is how to get there.
One may agree with his views, which have been harshly critical of the Netanyahu government, or not.
But he went “beyond the pale” in his recent column when he stated that Congress was “bought by the Israel lobby.” There are hundreds of congregational districts in our 50 states. That’s many Congressmen “bought.” We Jews are less than two percent of the population. The great majority of the remaining 98 percent are supporters of Israel, and their representatives know this. That’s many voters “bought.”
This calumny is reminiscent of the conspiracy theories directed against Jews that have fueled anti-Semitism through the millennia. This has been reinforced by the discredited “Israel Lobby” by Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, soul mates of Jimmy Carter. Besides, the right to petition representatives is the hallmark of our Constitution and democracy.
Why is Congress a steadfast supporter of Israel? Because Israel is the only multi-ethnic democracy in a sea of Arab autocracy or uncertainty. The hopes which Friedman and others have fantasized about the “Arab Spring” have morphed into, at best, great uncertainty, and “at worst,” a new wave of Islamic radicalism elected a la Hamas or Iran.
The fact that Israel’s democracy, even with its flaws, has withstood so many wars is a testament to its reliability and enduring bond with our own democracy. How much can the U.S. count on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, or other states in the region? It can’t. But the U.S. can certainly count on Israel.
More on this next week.