Thursday, December 30, 2010

1968: Destruction in Chicago and the Birth of West Bank Settlements - Part 2

The formula, "Israel needs our sympathy because they live in a tough neighborhood" is now standard rhetoric for Israeli Prime Ministers and the U.S. administration. I did a Google search for: Israel "tough neighborhood" and got back over 28,000 hits.

The story of mass Jewish migration to America is one that is, by now, 2, 3 or more generations removed from the present. The story of the old life in Europe  has been romanticized in literature and musicals. The harsh story of the early years in America have been sanitized in museums and stories. But the collapse of the formerly Jewish neighborhoods in several U.S. cities shaped the lives of a whole generation of people who are alive and active today. They left an unhealed scar on the psyche of American Jews.

As an American-Israeli, I find it curious that America's cities erupted simultaneously with the birth of  West Bank settlements. Martin Luther King's assassination at the beginning of April 1968 triggered these riots. At the same time, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, student of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, spiritual father of West Bank settlements (whom I wrote about here) moved into the West Bank Palestinian city of Hebron to celebrate Passover. For the past 42 years, Hebron has been one of the focal points of state-sponsored settler violence against Palestinians and emblematic of Israel's program for the West Bank including constant violence, intimidation, vastly unequal control of resources, curfews,  occasional extra-judicial killings and impunity for Jewish thugs. Rabbi and Mrs. Levinger set the tone for Hebron and for the entire movement.

It's baffling to me how liberal American including the Jews who supported desegregation and equal rights for all American continue to support these policies against Israel's non-Jews.

I am suggesting that while Jews overwhelmingly moved into more affluent neighborhoods, they carried with them the fear of "white flight." Israel occupied the space in the American Jewish psyche of a "safe haven" and simultaneously, of a dangerous place that needs our protection.

Israel occupies the "tough neighborhood" that America's Jews left behind. Therefore, so the thinking goes, it's up to us to support those Jews who were left behind in the neighborhood.

Beryl Satter's book is so valuable because, by re-examining the American Jewish narrative about white flight, we can also begin to re-think American Jewish attitudes towards Israel.


  1. That was an amazing coincidence. Think of this: the "settlements" erupted coincidentally just after the Six Days War. But to be serious, since Rabbi Levinger entered Hebron only on Pesach that year, which fell on April 13th, and MLK was assassinated on Aril 6th, your whole theory falls.

  2. YMedad -
    Thanks for checking the calendar...Levinger, being a good Jew, surely started his Pessach planning right after Purim, so I think we've got the dates covered.
    Seriously, how do you explain that American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal on domestic issues, opposing racial discrimination in the South yet have turned a blind eye to Israel's discriminatory policies?

  3. A better question, Michael, how do you explain your liberalism in light of your support for the discriminatory policies of the Palestinian Authority?

    Why specifically do you support the creation of an oppressive regime that would imprison the likes of Walid Husayin for running an atheist blog?

    How do you reconcile your supposed commitment to religious freedom with unthinking advocacy to grant full state powers to a political entity that does not respect human rights? Including religious freedom.

  4. Daniel, I am not going to get into a moral calculus of which regime, Israel or Palestine is the more repressive towards dissident voices. I teach values as absolute and independent of others' conduct. Following the logic of your comment, how many news stories of misconduct in the African-American community would it take for you to deny that community full civil rights in America?

    American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal despite supposedly rational arguments to the contrary, but that has not - historically - carried over to their stance on Israel. It's exciting to see that beginning to change.