I have to admit, there's not much that surprises me any more. I mean, you live through Clinton, and George W. Bush, and now Obama, and come out with your sanity relatively intact, but you're about as likely to be surprised – by anything – as a three-toed sloth. And, the very last place I would expect to be a source of surprise is my home town newspaper.
Now, let me set the context. My home town and its weekly paper – both of which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent – are both paragons of predictability. The town had a population of 4000-plus according to the 2000 census, and I don't expect it to have grown a whole lot since. And the paper? Well... if you have any experience with small-town newspapers, you know that they are basically a combination of pennysaver and bulletin board. I mean, a story about a guy pulling a stump out of his back yard can make the front page, OK? We're talking small here. Local news? No problem. County news (that's not as local as local news), mostly OK. State? A bit remote. National? N'existe pas. And this is all well and good; it serves an important purpose. It serves to bolster the image of the town as a real place, and its citizens as people who still count (despite Obama's statements to the contrary). And the “columns” that are included seem to be a more or less random selection from the offerings of what, I'm sure, is some sort of small town newspaper syndicate. And in general, the contents are no more controversial than how to raise prize-winning rhubarb.
With that as background, imagine my astonishment when I opened the latest issue to find a column entitled “Israel is a true friend to the United States”! Not only is this a national-level issue, but it has to do with foreign affairs! (Unheard of!) And it's controversial (or should be) to boot! (The dam's broke! Head for the hills!) Oh, the loss of innocence! The sleaze and ruination of the world has penetrated even unto the Norman Rockwell-esque provinces!
This column is by a guy named Dr. Robert L. Heichberger, who is apparently an academician of note in the New York State hinterlands. His thumbnail picture makes him look like a basically affable type – sort of a cross between Andy Griffith and Alfred E. Newman. But what's his point? Well, it's the same point (or lack thereof) that I discussed just the other day when I described Ed Koch's rant (“Mayoral Deficiency”, April 19). He cites “the recent fierce denunciation of Israel by the administration in Washington”, which has “ignited a fire storm in Congress”. And, he refers to “the administration's decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem”. And then – to add insult to injury! -- the president visited the Middle East last spring and did not make a stop in Israel – an act which Dr. H refers to as “a deliberate slap in the face of Jerusalem”. (I wasn't aware that Jerusalem had a face to slap – I've been there, and there was no city-level face in sight. But I digress.) Oh, and then he expresses a fear that “America's pro-Israel policy is changing”. Then comes a quote – attributed to Obama, who “appeared outraged at 'those horrible Israeli settlements'”. That's right! Obama called the settlements “horrible”. Well – I couldn't resist Googling this particular gem, and as it turns out the quote was not from Obama but from Dick Morris, who used the phrase (in an ironic way) in a 2 June 2009 column. In fact, in that same column, Morris also makes the very same “slap in the face” statement as Dr. H – but nearly two years earlier. The exact same words! Ah, ah, Dr. H – aren't we flirting a bit with plagarism here? And just down the page, he refers to “those terrible Israeli settlements” -- and this version does not Google.
And on top of all this, “the current administration in Washington is turning America against Israel”. How, pray tell? I don't recall Obama, in any speech given to date, counseling us to start disliking Israel; on the contrary, he goes out of his way to state that the “relationship” is as strong and enduring – and eternal – as ever.
But regardless of who said what and when, I make the same point I made re: Ed Koch. What “fierce denunciation”? What “fire storm”? What public condemnation? And what change in policy? None of these things has happened, and none is about to. It's all just a case of a kid running through the house yelling “Ma! He hit me!” when, in fact, nothing of the sort occurred. But as if that weren't enough, Dr. H then joins George Will in a bit of historical misrepresentation, as follows: “How many Americans understand that when Israel was founded in 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded, no Palestinian state destroyed?” Well... I guess, technically, there was no invasion, at least not at that exact moment – but there had, very definitely, been a place called Palestine, a “British mandate” since 1923. So is a “mandate” a state? Darned if I know. But it did have people living in it – approximately 1.6 million (so much for the myth of “a land without a people”). And was it destroyed? Well, it was replaced by Israel – at least the portion of the British mandate actually called “Palestine”, as opposed to the portion called “Transjordan”, which became Jordan. And if one wanted to quibble, one could contend that Palestine was indeed “invaded”, over a protracted period of time, by the Zionists... and that it was, for all intents and purposes, “destroyed” by the founding of the State of Israel. But Dr. H is apparently not interested in all of these subtleties. All he knows is that “Israel is a true friend” -- you know, the kind of friend that commits espionage against us, attacks our warships, and humiliates our leaders at every opportunity. Too bad Vlad the Impaler isn't still around – we could “friend” him too (on Facebook maybe, just to be safe).
So I have to put Dr. H in the same hysterical and possibly senile category as Ed Koch. But the real question is, how did any of this wind up in a small-town newspaper in upstate New York – especially one that, last time I checked, had a grand total of three Jewish families living there (none of which seemed militantly Zionist, as I recall)? Who makes that call? And why? Is it really all that important to win the hearts and minds of small-town America when it comes to the Israel question – especially when Israel already has a death grip on our foreign policy, our military, and our elected officials? And consider the timing – Koch one week, then this character the next. From the biggest to the smallest – they've got the waterfront covered. But really, they don't have to worry about Washington in the slightest, since that city is in their hands in every way. But small-town America? Maybe not quite such a cake walk. Of course, there are the Evangelicals – and my town had its share, but nowhere near to the extent of any place in the South – who are reliable, nay fanatical, supporters of Israel... so their loyalty is certainly not in question. But not everyone is an Evangelical – even in small towns. Maybe what they're afraid of is a new grass-roots movement – one even more radical than the “tea parties” -- called “why the hell are we still supporting Israel”? Now this would be something to be feared... because, in the long run, today's grass roots can turn into tomorrow's elected officials, and then some real damage can be done.
So am I saying that some vast Zionist conspiracy put Dr. H up to writing this column, and then proceeded to disseminate it even unto the fastnesses of very un-Jewish small town America? Not necessarily. But the timing is curious indeed. And the strength of the arguments – namely none whatsoever – is equally curious. This seems to reflect, as I've already implied, some sort of hysteria... some dark fear that the next pogrom is just around the corner. Or, if not an actual pogrom, then a massive wandering off the reservation on the part of ordinary Americans, who might just be tired of the con game Israel has been playing on them for.... well, two generations at least. Now, this is not to say, or even imply, that the Israel question has risen to the surface among ordinary conservatives or even “tea partiers”. As far as they're concerned, Israel is a sacred cow, and our support is never to be questioned. But who knows, maybe not everyone down at the grass roots feels that way. Maybe, on occasion, the scales fall from their eyes and they see the absurdity of the situation for what it is. And those may be the target audience for presentations like Dr. H's. No matter how small that hole in the dike is, is has to be patched at once! The slightest whisper of dissent has to be squelched! No one must dare breathe a word against Israel – not even in the “sanctity of the bedroom”, as LBJ so memorably put it (you notice he didn't mention who else was in the bed).
Now, before closing on this topic, I have to mention another factor that just might be entering into all of this. The liberals are always accusing the “tea partiers” and suchlike of “racism” because they are protesting Obama's policies, and Obama is “black” (although not “black” in the same way regular black Americans are “black”), therefore any protest of his policies is, by definition, racist. (And I guess blacks who protest his policies are “self-hating blacks” the way Jews who protest Israeli policies are “self-hating Jews”.) But the problem is not limited to white supremacists and their fellow travelers. The relations between blacks and Jews in America have been fraught with ambivalence almost from the beginning. On the one hand, Jews were the most steadfast and reliable – and most activist, among whites – supporters of civil rights. (It was all about "Go Down, Moses" and "let my people go" -- remember?) But on the other hand, the cultural experience of blacks with Jews included some very large and very negative factors -- Jewish slumlords and Jewish merchants (who were always being accused of hiking up prices, because there was little or no competition in those inner-city areas). And some of the more perceptive blacks might even have felt that Jewish support for civil rights – and also for black artists, etc. -- was a bit paternalistic and condescending at times. And of course, there is the stereotype – but very true nonetheless – of the black maid commuting out to Westchester County every morning to her job in a manor-like Jewish home. Not at all unfair – but certain to cause resentment, especially among a group with paranoid tendencies. Plus -- guess what! -- some of the more militant blacks wound up converting to Islam, of all things.
So the bottom line is that Jews have always been ambivalent about blacks, and vice versa. So now comes a black president, who has to deal with a Jewish country, namely Israel. Any chance that some of that same ambivalence and tension might come into play in this transaction? And how about the Israel lobby, which is, relatively, home-grown? “Oy, now we got a shvartzer in the White House.” That's both good news and bad news. Good, because blacks ought to be better able to emphasize with the perennial Jewish dilemma than white gentiles; bad because blacks occasionally get feisty and even violent, and start blaming Jews for things – as witness the riots in Brooklyn a few years back. So, while white gentile presidents – including Evangelicals – don't put the Israeli lobby on edge (except maybe aesthetically), it's possible that a black president might. Which means that the propaganda machine has to be shifted into higher gear than usual, including a trickle-down effect to small-town newspapers... just to make sure everyone is covered, and that everyone stays on board. Paranoid? Yes. Over-reacting? Absolutely. But when you're Israel, or an Israel supporter, and see the most trivial things as part of a life-and-death struggle, no precaution is too absurd to take.