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We Need to Stay Away from the Hagel Debate By Sherwin Pomerantz

My guess is that none of you have ever heard of Robert Leeds.  Robert is a 13 year old former Angelino now living in Sacramento, California who just celebrated his bar mitzvah.  Given his understanding of the real meaning of this milestone in his life, he asked the guests not to give him gifts but to contribute to a fund he had established to buy an ambulance for the Ashkelon, Israel unit of Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency ambulance service.

In the speech at his party he said: “I realize that in life I have been very blessed.  This is my Bar Mitzvah statement and the responsibility that I am taking on.  It’s my hope to show Israel and the City of Ashkelon that I stand with them and that’s what becoming a man means to me.”

Nice story, is it not?  A young man sets an example for all of us of what it means to really feel an obligation to one’s people and one’s community.   But this is not the whole story.  Ashkelon is Sacramento’s 10th sister city abroad, which was approved at a stormy city council session in 2010 and only after the city approved its 9th sister city relationship with Bethlehem in 2009.  This was the only way that Ashkelon could have been approved as the local Palestinian community was vehemently against a relationship with any city in Israel.  Welcome to the new American reality.

In yesterday’s Sacramento Bee which carried the story, the talk backs are also instructive.  Two examples follow:

A nice gesture, but someone should tell this kid we already send billions of dollars to support their war machine so they can tell us what our foreign policy should be.

We give Israel $8 million a day that we borrow from China.  They use it to wage war against their neighbors, who hate us more each day we give $8 million to Israel.

So one needs to ask the question, is America getting tired of its Jews?  Is the country which has been the most hospitable to our people in the entire history of mankind tired of seeing the Jewish/Israeli issue on page one every day?  By continually analyzing every single presidential appointment as to whether or not it is good for us and then acting accordingly, are we making friends or losing supporters?  Is anyone asking those questions?  Do we even want to know the answers?

This week President Obama did what many expected him to do and nominated former Sen. Charles Hagel, a decorated war veteran and generally well-respect legislator, to be his Secretary of Defense.  For the last few weeks there has been editorial after editorial, op-ed after op-ed, discussing the potential of this appointment.  The Wall Street Journal, AIPAC and the ADL came out squarely against the appointment citing what negative things will be in store for Israel is he is confirmed.   JStreet, Tom Friedman, Roger Cohen, Peter Beinart and others of note came out in favor of the appointment and how it really will be good for Israel to have someone at Defense who looks at Israel honestly.  Does any of this activity help us regarding continued US support for Israel or does it hurt us?  I think it hurts us and that we should stay out of the debate altogether.

The support for Israel in the US Congress is, according to most analysts, not because of any great personal love that each individual legislator has for Israel.  Rather it is because, in most cases, there is a constituent body of voters who support each legislator and who are both vocal about their concerns and prepared to put their financial resources behind candidates who respond to those concerns.   If, heaven forbid, the body politic in the US begins to fracture on the issue of support for Israel, we will then see a concomitant reduction of support in the congress as well and we cannot afford that.

We are already seeing a splintering of support for Israel among American Jews.  The fact that the President now gets mixed signals about Israel from different elements of the Jewish community, while providing him with continued significant support at the voting booth, most certainly makes him feel that as a second term president he need not worry too much about what we think or how we feel.  Examining every one of his appointments with a fine tooth comb and then taking the battle to the press is simply not the most productive tactic of a community that seems to have forgotten the potential risks of being a vocal minority during a period of an economic downturn.

Is America getting tired of its Jews and their problems?  Not yet and it may never happen.  But there are worrying signs both within and outside the Jewish community that should give all of us pause.  We who live in Israel cannot afford to lose our one friend in the world, even if that friend is sometimes not as friendly as we would like.  Our political leaders here are doing enough damage to that relationship without our having to worry that the American Jewish community is adding fuel to the fire.

To reiterate Robert Leeds’ words:  “It’s my hope to show Israel and the City of Ashkelon that I stand with them and that’s what becoming a man means to me.”  We here need the American Jewish community to stand with us and choose its battles intelligently.  Let the Senate confirmation process run its course and stay out of the fray.  We have nothing at all to gain from getting further involved in this.  From this writer’s standpoint continuing this effort is a “lose-lose” situation regardless of how it turns out.

Sherwin Pomerantz is a 29 year resident of Israel, President of Atid EDI Ltd., an economic development consulting firm and a past national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

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Posted by on January 9, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition,Slider. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.