Responding to slights against American Jewry by Israeli politicians is irksome but necessary.
The latest insult came from Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The forum was a 20-minute interview with the English-language service of i24, an Israeli television news channel, in which Hotovely said that one of her goals is to “bring American Jews closer to Israel.”
This excerpt won’t help: “People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”
No, American Jews don’t face rocket fire. I lived and worked in Israel but would not dare suggest that I fully comprehend the psychic toll on the Israeli people of ever-present security concerns.
What American Jews and Israelis don’t understand about each other was the subject of a recent article I wrote about Atlanta’s Israeli community for this newspaper.
Tali Barel, a Haifa native who came to Atlanta more than a decade ago and now holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, said American Jews “don’t know the history of Israel, and we don’t know the history here.”
Hotovely should consider further study of American Jewish history before spouting off.
We remember with considerable pride and gratitude the sacrifices by the forebears who bequeathed us those “convenient lives,” who uprooted themselves and immigrated to a country where they could worship without oppression, a country whose constitution (however imperfectly) erected a wall between religion and government.
As to the crux of Hotovely’s ill-considered broadside, true, military service is not compulsory in the United States, as it is for most — but not all — men and women in Israel.
You would be wrong to expect that an Israeli criticizing the military service record of American Jews would herself have served in the Israel Defense Forces.
Hotovely did not serve in the IDF, but rather in the alternative Sherut Leumi program for girls from religious communities. She performed her national service as a museum tour guide in Jerusalem and, as an 18-year-old, an emissary of the Jewish Agency for Israel — in Atlanta.
Avi Gabbay, the chairman of the opposition Zionist Union coalition, called Hotovely’s comments “shameful and embarrassing” and sarcastically referred to her as “the great warrior, the moral sermonizer who spent her military service in Atlanta.”
During World War II, Jews were 3 percent of the U.S. population and were over-represented in the armed forces. The military no longer includes religious identification among its demographic data, but Jews today are believed to be underrepresented compared with their 2.3 percent of the U.S. population.
The American Jewish troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan may “only” number in the dozens, but is that enough Stars of David on gravestones to satisfy Hotovely?
Their names include Agami and Bernstein, Farkas and Green, Nuncio and Rosenberg, Shapiro and Taub, Yahudah and Zilberman. Hotovely might be interested to know that more than a dozen of the Jewish dead were Marines.
Hotovely owes an apology to the families of every one of those men and women. For good measure, she should extend that apology to the families of every Jew serving in the U.S. armed forces.
What’s particularly regrettable about Hotovely’s comment is that it repeats an anti-Semitic slander that dates to before World War I.
Indeed, Hotovely’s comments were heralded by neo-Nazis. “An Israeli diplomat just admitted a very inconvenient fact,” the anti-Semitic Daily Stormer website posted. “Few Jews living in the United States have ever served in the American military. Considering that America has been fighting all sorts of insane wars for Jews and Israel, this is not something they want people talking about.”
(Note: Less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population currently serves in the armed forces, and, all told, roughly 7 percent of American men and women are veterans.)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who found Hotovely worthy of such a prominent position, condemned her remarks, declaring, as he has after similar embarrassments, that Diaspora Jews “are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people.”
Hotovely told Israeli television Channel 1, “I apologize from the depths of my heart if someone was upset by my words.”
Israeli politicians have demonstrated an uncanny tendency to insult the same people whose support they want in lobbying Congress and financing various projects in their country.
This gets tiresome, and, at some point, enough has got to be enough.
Originally published at atlantajewishtimes.timesofisrael.com.