Opinion

To Save Their Troubled Marriage, Israel and American Jews Should Consider a Trial Separation

Their romance was made in heaven but now they’re living in the past – and on borrowed time

FILE PHOTO; Woman with hand-lettered sign Jews Against Occupation of Palestine, 2015.
Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Can we talk?

Let’s pretend Israel and American Jewry are like a married couple. Ignore my gender assignments – he is Israel, she is American Jews – though I happen to think that in this case, they’re apt. No matter which side of the family you come from - or identify with – no one can deny that their union is in trouble and going from bad to worse.

For many years it seemed like a love story from a fairy tale. He was brave, brash and handsome, like Paul Newman. She was rich and smart, a Jewish American princess, and what she lacked in beauty she made up for in unbridled worship for the very ground he marched on. It took them awhile to warm to each other – they kept at arm’s length for their first 19 years – but after June 1967 they fell into each other’s arms like long lost lovers. It was a match made in Jewish heaven, people said, with pride or with enmity, but mostly with envy.

For 30-40 years they were one of the world’s foremost power couples. He was the knight who couldn’t bother to shine his armor; she was his Queen Esther in the king’s court. The dynamic duo put on a show like no one else: His every whim was her command, and both of them liked it that way. She knew that her attachment to him elevated her in the eyes of her peers. He knew that without her he’d have to stand in line in Washington like everyone else, instead of cruising on the fast lane to unparalleled power, money and influence.

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He’d always been cocky, with good reason, but over the years his attractive self-confidence morphed into obnoxious arrogance. Despite periodic failures and tragic accidents, 70 years of overall success went to his head. He turned holier than thou, rebuffed reproof, wallowed in victimhood, labeled his critics anti-Semites and was mortified when she, of all people, seemed to echo some of their sentiments. He wanted her to remain dutifully compliant, to do exactly as she’s told and to keep the checks coming, as always.

He couldn’t hide his disdain for her newfound independence. He rejected all her appeals and requests to change the fundamentals of their relationship. She demanded equality and recognition, but soon after he met her half way, he changed his mind and reneged. It’s not appropriate now, he told her: The status quo will do just fine.

Her liberal friends protested his crude behavior and he, in turn, reacted with scorn, finding new allies to take their place. He was increasingly seen in the bad company of his thuggish buddies, Viktor, Rodrigo, new-kid-on-the-block Jair and worst of all, Donald, the real estate tycoon. He can’t resist Donald. Donald showers him with gifts, promises the world and takes on his enemies, especially that constant complainer, Mahmoud, who doesn’t know how lucky he is to be locked in his basement.

She detests Donald. She thinks he is a bully, a racist and a closet anti-Semite. She can’t stand any of Donald’s friends, either, whether they are attracted to him by nature or are simply kowtowing to find his favor. Even though it’s been going on for at least two years, she can’t stand the fact that her own mate, the darling of her youth, is Donald’s best friend in the whole wide world, He lauds him at every opportunity as his best mate ever and tells the world that Donald is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Donald and my friends like me for what I am, he responds, and what’s more, they never complain. They can tell black from white, with no grey between them. They stand up for me. They’re more of a family to me than you can ever be, he once shouted. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when they badmouthed her hoity-toity values, he turned a deaf ear and pretended not to hear. When she raised the alarm, and even after her relatives were gunned down in Pittsburgh by a murderer who lived in Donald’s back yard, he said she was being hysterical.

He no longer bothers to keep up appearances. I don’t need you anymore, he tells her. To add chutzpah to the insult, he started going out in public with his Evangelical mistress, her long time nemesis, who he’d courted on the sly. He’s not ashamed to strut around town with his new lady; they are the new toast of the town now, while she stays home and sulks. My girlfriend does everything I ask her to, he explained. She’s intimate with Donald just like his wife once was with Barack and George and Bill. And she never complains of headaches. Some people say he promised his lady-love that he’d eventually convert and they’d be married, though that could be only a rumor, spread by his girlfriend.

His friends say it’s all her fault. She was a hippie in the 60’s but forgot to grow up. She’s turned into a tiresome knee-jerk liberal, supporting whatever noble cause comes her way, even those espoused by his worst enemies. She is hopelessly naive, clueless about the tough neighborhood he lives in and the rough and tumble ways needed to survive in it. After years of behaving like a good wife should, he tells his underlings, she’s turned shrill and demanding, nagging and complaining, expecting him to change instead of accepting him for what he is.

Her friends are having none of it. He’s like the proverbial wunderkid, they say: The wunder is gone, but the juvenile remains. He expects her undying devotion to remain intact, as if he hadn’t changed completely.  Sure, he’s still ingenious and enterprising and making a mint off his hi-tech investments, and he can still ward off house invaders like no one else, but he no longer aspires to be a model citizen, or champion of justice and human rights, as he was perceived before. Instead, he’s turned into a self-aggrandizing macho man who lashes out at anyone who dares question his behavior. He even has a special friend, Gilad, who prosecutes those whose criticism goes too far.

Both of them are living in the past. She dreams of the suntanned pioneer and dashing sabra dream-boy of her youth. He yearns for their days of yore, when she marveled at his every word and delighted in throwing money at his every whim. But those days are long gone, never to return. They were like ships passing in the night, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, heading for silence and darkness.

If there is a fleeting ray of light in the gathering clouds, it comes from the mutual recognition, after years of denial, that their marriage is on the rocks. Both are going through the motions of inviting intervention that might lead to reconciliation.  But it’s a pipe dream, because without changing fundamentals – which both are loath to do - they are bound to grow ever more estranged from each other.  

If all else fails, a trial separation might help. Instead of trying to resuscitate a marriage that’s on life support, a clean break could help them get over their past and deal with their present. He could hang out with his new friends and see where it gets him. She could finally devote her time and efforts to herself: Years of unselfish dedication to his needs made her neglect herself and her own core values.  Instead of catering to his whims, she could nurture her ties with those, including his own tenants, who share her views.

If it won’t help, at least it can't hurt. Israel and American Jews are living on borrowed time. Their relationship is based on memories of a glorious past, fear of an uncertain future and a firm but unfounded conviction that a break-up is unthinkable. If he gets into serious trouble, as he’s wont to do with alarming frequency, she’ll still be there for him, misgivings and all, but that will only postpone their inevitable crash. Their differences are irreconcilable. The end might be nigh. If they were a married couple, they would already be consulting with their lawyers and preparing to file for divorce.