We have to stay away from the Hagel debate

We have to stay away from the Hagel debate

My guess is that none of you have ever heard of Robert Leeds.

Robert is a 13-year-old former Angelino now living in Sacramento, California, who just celebrated his bar mitzvah. Given his understanding of the real meaning of this milestone in his life, he asked the guests not to give him gifts but to contribute to a fund he had established to buy an ambulance for Magen David Adom’s branch in Ashkelon. (Magen David Adom is Israel’s emergency ambulance service.)

In the speech at his party he said: “I realize that in life I have been very blessed. This is my bar mitzvah statement and the responsibility that I am taking on. It’s my hope to show Israel and the city of Ashkelon that I stand with them and that’s what becoming a man means to me.”

Nice story, is it not? A young man sets an example for all of us of what it means to really feel an obligation to your people and your community. But this is not the whole story.

Ashkelon is Sacramento’s 10th sister city abroad, which was approved at a stormy city council session in 2010 and only after the city approved its 9th sister-city relationship with Bethlehem in 2009. This was the only way that Ashkelon could have been approved, because the local Palestinian community was vehemently against a relationship with any city in Israel. Welcome to the new American reality.

In the Sacramento Bee, which carried the story, the talkbacks also are instructive. Two examples follow:

“A nice gesture, but someone should tell this kid we already send billions of dollars to support their war machine so they can tell us what our foreign policy should be.”

“We give Israel $8 million a day that we borrow from China. They use it to wage war against their neighbors, who hate us more each day we give $8 million to Israel.”

So we have to ask the question: Is America getting tired of its Jews? Is the country that has been the most hospitable to our people in the entire history of humankind tired of seeing the Jewish/Israeli issue on page one every day? By continually analyzing every single presidential appointment in terms of whether or not it is good for us and then acting accordingly, are we making friends or losing supporters? Is anyone asking those questions? Do we even want to know the answers?

This week President Obama did what many expected him to do and nominated former Sen. Charles Hagel, a decorated war veteran and generally well-respected legislator, to be his secretary of defense. For the last few weeks there has been editorial after editorial, op-ed after op-ed, discussing the potential of this appointment. The Wall Street Journal, AIPAC, and the ADL came out squarely against the appointment, citing what negative things will be in store for Israel if he is confirmed. JStreet, Tom Friedman, Roger Cohen, Peter Beinart and others of note came out in favor of the appointment and how it really will be good for Israel to have someone at Defense who looks at Israel honestly.

Does any of this activity help us when it comes to continued U.S. support for Israel, or does it hurt us? I think it hurts us, and that we should stay out of the debate altogether.

According to most analysts, the U.S. Congress does not support Israel because of the great personal love that each individual legislator has for Israel. Rather it is because in most cases there is a body of voters who support each legislator and who are both vocal about their concerns and prepared to put their financial resources behind candidates who respond to those concerns. If, heaven forbid, the body politic in the United States begins to fracture on the issue of support for Israel, we will see a concomitant reduction of support in Congress. We cannot afford that.

We already are seeing a splintering of support for Israel among American Jews. The fact that the president now gets mixed signals about Israel from different elements of the Jewish community, while providing him with continued significant support at the voting booth, most certainly makes him feel that as a second term president he need not worry too much about what we think or how we feel. Examining every one of his appointments with a fine-tooth comb and then taking the battle to the press simply is not the most productive tactic for a community that seems to have forgotten the potential risks of being a vocal minority during a period of an economic downturn.

Is America getting tired of its Jews and their problems? Not yet, and that may never happen. But there are worrying signs, both within and outside the Jewish community, that should give all of us pause. We who live in Israel cannot afford to lose our one friend in the world, even if that friend sometimes is not as friendly as we would like it to be.

Our political leaders here are doing enough damage to that relationship without our having to worry that the American Jewish community is adding fuel to the fire.

To repeat Robert Leeds’ words: “It’s my hope to show Israel and the city of Ashkelon that I stand with them and that’s what becoming a man means to me.” We here need the American Jewish community to stand with us, and to choose its battles intelligently.

Let the Senate confirmation process run its course and stay out of the fray. We have nothing at all to gain from getting further involved in this. Continuing this effort will be a lose-lose situation, no matter who wins.