Sheep’s clothing

Sheep’s clothing

Most Jewish voters in the United States put concern for Israel at number four or five on their list of concerns when they go to the polls. They assume, not always with good reason, that a candidate with a sizeable Jewish constituency will espouse pro-Israel views.

Some Jewish voters, however, give priority to Israel-related issues. They listen to a candidate’s words about Israel and ignore most everything else, especially if “the other guy” in the contest does not use the “correct” code words when speaking of his or her support for Israel. It does not matter whether “the other guy” has a proven record of support for Israel. Use of the wrong words turns “the other guy” into “the enemy.”

This approach is understandable.

First, Israel faces a very real existential threat. Saying that it does not is a bald lie.

Second, these voters take seriously something most Jewish voters choose to ignore: As obstructionist as Israel at times appears to be in the peace process, the “moderate” Palestinians with whom it must negotiate time and again have demonstrated no interest in doing so. They mouth words of peace and rapprochement in English, but in Arabic they chant words of war and annihilation. The Jewish voters who put Israel first are not willing to flip a coin to decide in which language Palestinian truth resides.

Third, and perhaps most important, these voters rely on national organizations to tell them how to think.

We all do that, to some extent. Elections are not as simple as pushing a button or pulling down a lever or punching out a chad. The issues are complex and the language of politics is deceptive. There are people who devote their lives to piercing through the obfuscating fog that is political doublespeak.

They are the experts and we are not. Accepting their opinions uncritically is the easiest way to choose for whom to vote.

Organizations, however, can afford to be single-minded. Often, that is why they exist. AIPAC, for example, has as its sole mission the advancement of Israel’s security interests in the United States. A candidate’s position on education, or school tuition, or abortion, or health care is of no concern to AIPAC.

This is okay for AIPAC, but it is a very dangerous way for individual voters to approach important decisions, especially if they involve real life-and-death or bread-and-butter issues. We know this intellectually, but so many of us – left, right, center, it matters not a whit – ignore our intellect to go with our gut.

At least one such chicken is coming home to roost – and it is cackling a warning to us that is louder than a rooster crows at dawn.

One of the darlings of certain Jewish organizations and well-heeled individual pro-Israel supporters in the United States is the Dutch opposition political leader Geert Wilders, who heads the Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, or PVV), currently the third largest party in the Netherlands. What these organizations and individuals admire most about him is that he loves Israel (or so he says), and he hates Islam and Muslims, wants them out of Europe, and probably would shut them up behind some kind of Hadrian’s Wall if he could.

Transcribed texts of his inciteful (but rarely insightful) rhetoric usually go viral, thanks to the two groups to whom he appeals most: neo-Nazis and segments of American Jewry.

There are not so many Jews in the Netherlands that Wilders believes he can become the country’s prime minister by winning them over. (Jews make up fewer than two-tenths of one percent of the Dutch population of 16 million.) Wilders, however, is less interested in the Dutch Jewish vote than he is in the American Jewish money he can raise and the stamp of approval that gives him on our side of the Atlantic with evangelical Christian groups. He uses his “Love Israel/Hate Islam” rhetoric to obscure everything he truly stands for and he may yet succeed in keeping his Jewish backers ignorant of the truth until it is too late.

Suppressed truth, however, tends to emit faint SOS signals from behind its obscurant’s façade. Wilders and his PVV apparently are determined to ban both the kosher slaughter of meat and ritual circumcision in the Netherlands. As the Simon Wiesenthal Center notes, this “demonization of core Jewish rituals” traditionally presages a coming anti-Semitic storm that too often ends in expulsion or extermination.

The lower house of the Dutch parliament last year passed a PVV member’s bill to end sh’chitah in the country. (The Senate blocked the move.) Wilders strong-armed his faction on the bill’s behalf. A PVV lawmaker, Wim Kortenoeven, was quoted by JTA as saying that he “came under intense pressure from Wilders” to vote for the ban. He was the only PVV parliamentarian not to do so, but he since has resigned from the party.

Resigning with him was another PVV lawmaker, Marcial Hernandez, who said North Korea’s autocratic rulers “could learn something from Wilders” about strong-arm tactics, JTA reported.

On September 12, Dutch voters will elect a new parliament. If Wilders and the PVV hold on to their strong third-place position, or even move up the power ladder, American Jewish money will have helped them wage a successful campaign. If, once in power, Wilders and the PVV act to ban sh’chitah and b’rit milah, American Jewish money will have helped with that, as well.

Caring about Israel is one thing. Being deaf to what else a “pro-Israel” candidate may be saying, or doing, is quite another. There is a lesson here that Jewish voters in the United States need to learn before we go to the polls on November 6.

The lesson applies equally to Jewish support for the John Hagees of the Christian right.

Remember how the wolf dresses.