I’m surprising myself, mentioning Israel so soon after launching this blog. I swore that The View from the Hudson would be about more than that – and it will.
It’s just that I have recently finished listening to a fantastically provocative interview with the author Howard Jacobson on the Binah podcast. Binah is a production of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and it features prominent personalities who have spoken at the JCCSF. And prominent Jacobson is – he wrote the wonderful novel The Finkler Question, the most-recent winner of the Man Booker Prize.
In this interview – which absolutely worth a listen – Jacobson gets onto the topic of the public posture many Jews are taking in regards to Israel. He says that it seems like some people are discovering their Jewish selves almost in order to have more credibility when it comes to criticizing Israel. People can have any opinion they want, Jacobson says, but “Who’s asking”?
In the US and the UK, they have television shows in which famous people research their ancestry – one is called “Who Do You Think You Are”? Jacobson is particularly appalled at a routing that he’s noticed in relation to these shows in Britain. Often, the subject of the show discovers that they had a Jewish grandparent or aunt or uncle, then:
They shelp them to Auschwitz, they stand outside, and they cry out, cry out and they say how wonderful it is to be Jewish. That’s Monday night. Monday Night. By the middle of the week, they’ve done an interview for the Times or the Guardian saying they’ve always felt there was something that was not quite right and that there was always a kind of melancholy in them that couldn’t be explained … but also a cleverness, a sharpness of wit … and whenever they meet Jews they feel this affinity, this warm affinity and now they know they’re Jewish and it’s wonderful. That’s Wednesday. Saturday, they’re in Trafalgar Square carrying a banner saying, "We are all Hezzbolah."
It’s sometimes said of liberal Jews that they are liberal about everything but the plight of the Palestinians. That’s not quite fair. First, I know plenty of Jews who criticize Israel's dealings in the Gaza Strip and the lands which belonged to Jordan pre-1967, but manage to do it without holding a placard featuring the star of David and the swasticka with an equals sign between them.
After all, being a Zionist and agreeing with the current leadership of Israel are two completely different things. I fervently believe that it’s possible to hold both thoughts in one’s mind: Understanding the need for a Jewish state and compassion for human suffering.
Now I guess Jacobson could ask me that difficult question. “Who’s asking”?