Liberal U.S. Jews Sitting on Couches, Alone

Is there a way to prove to other Jews that we love Israel too, even though we disagree with its policy in Gaza?

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

“Who should we go out to dinner with?” my husband asks. We’ve both been working from our Manhattan apartment these last few days and it seems like we should introduce someone else to the mix, just for a few hours. “Eran?”

“No,” I say. “Have you seen his Facebook posts lately?” I add, scrolling through ardent “defense of Israel” posts.

“Maybe we don’t have to talk about politics,” my husband says.

“Yeah, right!” I say. “I can’t even text him without politics getting into it.”

Just that morning I asked Eran when in August he was flying to Israel for his annual summer vacation, and he went off about the “cowardly” airlines which had suspended their flights to Israel. “Now you know how Gazans feel, locked in, unable to go anywhere,” I wanted to respond, but I refrained, because I really didn’t want to get into it. What’s the point?

That’s how it’s going these days for liberal Zionists like us living in America. Judging from my Facebook page, there don’t seem to be that many of us – Israelis like my husband, people with Israeli passports like myself, or supporters of the State of Israel like my good friend Sara, who all love Israel but believe this incursion into Gaza is wrong. And that it will end badly.

Sara came over the other night, and the three of us sat in my living room discussing the situation in Israel, worrying about the death toll on both sides, Israel’s reputation in the world, and why we seemed to be the only Jews – connected, involved Jews, not your Hollywood-type-Jew-by-name, knee-jerk liberal – who don’t fall lockstep with everyone else’s gung-ho “finish the job in Gaza” jingoism.

I think maybe I should video this and make a Web series, à la Jerry’s Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee,” instead called, “Liberals Sitting on Couches Feeling Very Alone but Doing Nothing.”

What can we do? Attend a peace sit-in, like the one held at a mosque in Harlem on the 17 of Tammuz, the Jewish fast day? Go to the Jewish Community Center, where the Jewish Community Relations Council wants people to talk in “moderated, civil, context” to “deepen the discourse about Israel.” Is there a way to prove to other Jews that we love Israel too, even though we disagree with its policy?

We spend our days defending ourselves among Jews, defending Israel to others, and amid all these pleas we have no way to convey our deep, deep disappointment in our people.

Turns out this war in Gaza might do for me what I haven’t been able to do for myself for years: Get off of Facebook. My page is killing me.

As a former Orthodox Jew with mostly Jewish – although not all religious – friends, my feed is filled with Israeli and American pro-Israel supporters; some posted those pics of attractive Israeli girls holding a “death to Arabs” photo, although most are so-called centrists who feel Israel was attacked and is acting in self-defense. I understand where they’re coming from. I know the narrative. Why can’t they understand me?

I decided not to post anything conflict-related on Facebook. I put in this picture:

Fifteen people “liked” it. One former (yeshiva) classmate wrote, “Sure, keep sleeping, if you don’t have to run for sirens in Ashkelon or Tel Aviv in the middle of the night,” with no mention of Gazans. She, mind you, lives in Westchester.

Some days I want to go into every single person’s posts supporting Israel and write a comment from the other side. Just to show them there is another side. They’re operating in a Facebook echo chamber where it’s Jews vs. the World. Jews vs. the Media. Jews vs. Europe. But what about Jews like me? Where do we fit in?

I decide I have to post something – David Grossman’s article in the Times, Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic piece – since most of my liberal Jewish friends are silent on Facebook. They can’t handle the vitriol. (As a New York Times Motherlode blogger, I’m nearly inured to intense hostility; apparently the only topic hotter than the Middle East is parenting).

I post a video of ranting Joan Rivers’ defending Israel (“If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New Yawk, we would get rid o’ Jersey”) because I think it’s so fallacious, and so full of rage that quite frankly, it’s embarrassing, and I hope people would see how ridiculous they sound. But friends repost it without irony.

Joan Rivers is now the spokeswoman for the Jewish People. Jon Stewart is not (“Just mentioning Israel or questioning the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas,” he says, before his spoof chorus of Israel supporters shouts him down.)

My husband and I are defriended by one Israeli – well, the one who bothered to tell us she was doing it. Who knows how many more have gotten rid of us?

“I can’t talk to you until this conflict is over,” one relative writes me. I don’t know if she’s joking. Except I haven’t heard from her.

One of my Jewish writer groups becomes about responding to “anti-Israel commenters,” and not about writing.

I have to get off of Facebook. I feel so alone.

I remember feeling this way before Iraq. I did not believe there were WMDs. I did not think the invasion was a good idea. I did not want my boss at the Jewish paper – a super liberal guy – to write an editorial in favor of the war. He did.

I remember this feeling from the last Israeli incursion into Lebanon. It seemed like a bad idea, but saying so publicly seemed to be an even worse idea. For a few weeks, that is, until most other people came around.

“We just have to wait it out,” my husband says now, noting how history vindicates liberal positions. He doesn’t oppose rooting out Hamas, just the Israeli victim mentality that accompanies it. I know he feels even lonelier than I do, one of the last card-carrying Meretz Israelis left in America.

Will everyone else come around on this subject?

From the pictures of the recent pro-Israel rally at the United Nations, I doubt it. But I don’t need them to come around. I just wish I was allowed to express a different opinion without being called naïve, simple or a self-hating Jew.

All my life I was taught that the beauty of Judaism is that it’s vibrant, open to debating many different opinions. I wonder if that was ever true.

And in the end, I wonder if any of it matters – what we post on Facebook, what we comment on others’ posts, all our mindless social media chatter.

Some pundits say that the court of public opinion is the war. If so, we Jewish liberals are the casualties.

My husband and I go out to dinner alone.