Enemies and Wickedness

There’s been a very interesting back and forth between Allison Benedikt, author of a rambling but widely discussed piece on her disillusionment with Israel, and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. The most recent contribution to this exchange is here, and you can work your way backwards from there.

What struck me, though, was that Benedikt’s response to Goldberg’s criticism included two points that resonated quite nicely with my recent VC post “Enemies.”

First, I suggested that young Jewish leftists (like Benedikt) were abandoning Israel in part because “they can’t stand the idea of an enemy.” Benedikt didn’t say that, but she did offhandedly note that when she and her husband run their annual Passover Seder, “The wicked child bit is something I’ve deleted.” (In the traditional Seder, there is a discussion of four sons, including a wicked son.) There is obviously some connection between refusing to accept the idea of wickedness–why else would you entirely delete the wicked son?–and refusing to accept the idea of enemies.

Second, I suggested that “it’s a matter of heuristics: if you aren’t very learned on the Arab-Israeli conflict, do you take your cues from the Jewish community, which on the whole is highly supportive of Israel, or from the community of American leftists, which, unlike in the past, has made hostility to Israel a defining ideological issue? Which is your primary identity?” Here’s Benedikt: “Coming up against [my husband] John’s [very negative and persuasive to Benedikt] opinions on Israel was, in a way, as shocking for me as it was for him to get close to a family whose members all believed what he did on pretty much every major political issue of the day, except for this weird thing about Israel. Good, strong liberals except for this one weird thing…”

Put these two together and you find a strongly left-leaning young woman who is struggling to define a Jewish identity she can be content with, but who feels the need to jettison aspects of mainstream Judaism (wickedness, Israel, and, it seems to me, the idea that Israel’s problems are not just self-inflicted, but in large part a result of its enemies’ wickedness) when they conflict with her primary ideological identity.

It’s certainly not my business to tell someone how “Jewish” they should be. But it’s strange to see so many people suggesting that if Jewish communal values and priorities conflict with their own ideological vision, and they choose the latter over the former, that somehow the Jewish world has abandoned them rather than vice versa.

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