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Will There Be Peace in the Near East?



              Yesterday my wife and I took a little ride around Vermont and New Hampshire and in a traffic circle outside a college town we were briefly slowed because there was a peace-in-Gaza demonstration with people waving flags and holding placards as the cars sped past.

              Two of the demonstrators were also holding signs which identified groups that were sponsoring the event, both of which were Jewish groups, one group advocating for an end to the violence in Gaza, the other group calling for an independent Palestinian state.

              I keep hearing and reading about how the Jewish community, which votes overwhelmingly for the blue team, is now fed up with Biden’s lack of response to what’s happening in Gaza, particularly his willingness to appease Netanyahu and just blink when it comes to the wholesale massacre of Palestinian civilians by the IDF.

              When did this political divergence between American and Israeli Jews first begin to emerge? Would a ceasefire and recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza close the gap? After 75 years since Israel became independent in 1948. Will we ever see an end to the continuous violence which explodes intermittently in the Near East?

              Before attempting to answer those three questions, a few points about Israel and the American Jewish diaspora need to be said.

              As of 2022, the number of Jews living in Israel and the number living in the United States are basically the same – 7.5 million in each nation-state. Until the 1980’s, these two populations hardly differed in many respects. Both traced their origins and culture to Eastern Europe, largely in what had been the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, predominantly Poland and Ukraine. The two communities were also religious in belief but secular in outlook and political concerns. Finally, both populations had long histories of being persecuted minorities, circumstances which disappeared both in Israel and the United States.

              That was then, this is now. And now the two largest Jewish communities in the world have different outlooks and are following very different paths. In the United States, the Jewish community is overwhelmingly liberal, with three-quarters of American Jews voting for the Democratic Presidential candidate since 1968. In Israel, on the other hand, between the various stripes of Orthodoxy, the former Russian Jews, and the Sephardic immigrants from Arab states, the right-wing, Likud coalition which has governed or shared governing authority since 1977 is not some flash in the political pan.

              It also needs to be pointed out that while Israel still refers to itself as a ‘Zionist state,’ the word may harken back to a time when Jewish pioneers first migrated to a colony of the Ottoman Empire, but the political changes which have occurred in this region since the Ottomans collapsed during World War I makes the word almost meaningless in terms of understanding the events in this region over the part hundred years.

              Since Israel declared itself an independent nation in 1948, there have been four major military conflicts, along with near-endless offensive and defensive IDF skirmishes with various terrorist militia organizations, in particular Hezbollah and Hamas.

              If you were to ask the average Israeli which American President he or she liked the most, it wouldn’t be Truman or Trump. It would be Richard Nixon, whose decision to end the American arms boycott on Israel imposed in 1948, resulted in the shipment of F-4 Phantom jets to Israel and the defeat of the invading Syrian army in 1973.

              The point is that Israel’s Jewish population has been on a constant war footing for the past 75 years, and while I know countless American Jewish men, I can count the number of Jews who have ever been drafted or served in the United States military on one hand. And since those five fingers would require one finger to represent me, we’re talking about an American-Jewish community which differs from its Israeli counterpart in a very important way.

              Don’t get me wrong. Netanyahu is a master at defining his particular brand of political leadership by blaming someone other than himself for every problem which he refuses to fix. In that respect, either he’s learned from Trump or Trump has studied with him.

              As to whether we will ever see a cessation of violence and a real Near East peace, here’s my thought on that one, okay?

              In 1991, I drove from Paris to Madrid but went across the Pyrenees on a very back road just to avoid the traffic along the coast. At some point I realized I had crossed the border because the road signs were now in Spanish, not French.

              I got to Madrid, drove out to the airport at Barajas and grabbed a flight to Tel Aviv. When I arrived at the airport in Lod, I rented a car and drove up to Metula, which is the most northern point in Israel and has a great, open-air restaurant right on the border with Lebanon.

              I sat in the restaurant maybe 50 meters away from an IDF outpost manned by three soldiers with a 50-caliber machine gun pointed towards the frontier. Less than 24 hours previously I had crossed an international boundary over which two countries - France and Spain – had fought endless wars for more than 200 years and now didn’t even bother to mark the border line.

              Peace is possible anywhere and everywhere.

             

             

             

               

             

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