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Voting and "the Israel issue"

I had the extreme pleasure of being hosted this past weekend by an older couple—a good friend’s grandparents—who found me confusing and, I hope, fairly enjoyable. I think they were a little perturbed when they found us lighting Shabbat candles in the kitchen, but were both surprised and pleased to learn that I’ve studied Yiddish. My grasp of the language is far from what I’d want, but I’ve put some time in learning both Yiddish songs and American Yiddish culture, so I can carry a conversation. I learned about the International Workers’ Organization, where one of my hosts studied Yiddish fiction. (“So it was like the Arbeiter Ring?” “Far to the left.” “Socialist?” “Worse!”)

I happened to learn about a segment of their family—not religious, but also not tapped into the same sort of secular Jewish culture that these staunch leftist Yiddishists were—that voted Republican. Because of “the Israel issue.” And, given that I had lit possibly the first Shabbat candles their kitchen had ever seen, and that I was wearing a Hagshimim shirt emblazoned with “I LOVE ISRAEL. I WANT PEACE,” they were curious to know my view on this. And my response is, it infuriates me.

I don’t believe in one-issue voting, actually. In a lot of ways, it bothers me. I almost decked a young man in a London bar who scoffed that the only reason I disliked George Bush was because of the Iraq War. Now, I happen to be someone who thinks the Bush administration lied about the casus belli and then mismanaged the thing right into the ground, but I’m also a domestic policy wonk, and I can talk your ear off about Congress’ prescription drug plan. My reasons for currently being nauseated by Republicans are quite diverse.

Of course, there are times when I, too, falter in this regard. I might not think Ron Paul was such a nut if he weren’t anti-choice. I can’t really reconcile the fiercely Libertarian message of ”The biggest threat to your privacy is the government” with the idea of “Dear women, we’d like to dictate exactly what you may and may not do—because we’re the government and we know better!” You might call this one-issue voting, although I wouldn’t vote for him anyway.

Further, voting because of “the Israel issue” strikes me as a singularly bizarre way to enter American politics. If you live here, and have no plans on moving there, then maybe your first and foremost concern will be who’s going to make sure that you can get affordable health insurance, access to free speech, money for college, a job, a home not invaded by local pollution, relief funds if a hurricane strikes, etc. I care about foreign policy, too, but I live here, and the here stuff is what most immediately affects me.

Look, like the tee-shirt says, I love Israel. I have gone many a round with some beloved and less-beloved lefties about why Israel is not always in the wrong, and has, you know, the right to exist. But I have also gone several rounds with American Jews who really believe that loving Israel—the modern nation, not the messianic dream—means supporting it unconditionally. And I think that’s a load of crap.

For me, the beauty of discovering politics was about realizing that I am actually affected by these things, and the realization grows stronger all the time. I love Israel and am affected by it, but in a different—and frankly, more removed way—than I am affected by environmental deregulation that lets arsenic get into the tap water. And so my political concerns for Israel are definitely present—I would never vote for a candidate who outright declared Israel the enemy of America—but I see them in the context of larger, more immediate concerns.

There’s a lot of other things mixed in here that I’m not going to talk about—everything from the flaws of the Jewish Emancipations in Europe to the nuances of modern Zionism. It’s an interesting topic and surely one that we’ll see crop up again—and again and again—as the clock ticks down to election ’08. It’s good, I think, to bring this issue out in the open and discuss it like adults, avoiding wherever possible delegitimizing the opinions of those who disagree with us. But I’d still rather fight about healthcare.

–Mel Weiss