Titans and Pygmies

Cowardice asks - is it safe? Prudence asks - is it wise? Vanity asks - is it popular? But conscience asks - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a stand... — Martin Luther King

The Jewish omnipotence and unity exist only in the imagination of antisemites. Since biblical times, Jewish history has been full of fierce disputes over belief and existence, civil schisms, and leaders’ struggle for power. Talmudists believe that the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion from Israel are consequences of division and mutual hatred among Jews. Against this backdrop, the painful and dangerous conflict between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the majority in the American Senate, Chuck Schumer, does not seem unique.

In the name of a higher goal

In 1972, a fierce dispute arose between brothers Benjamin and Yoni Netanyahu for the first time. Both served as officers in an elite unit of the Israeli army when terrorists hijacked a plane arriving from Belgium and demanded the release of 315 Palestinian criminals held in Israeli prisons. Otherwise, they threatened to blow up the plane with passengers and crew.

While the defense minister negotiated, Israelis prepared to rescue the hostages. Benjamin participated in the assault with his unit. His older brother said he would also participate; he had more experience. An ironclad rule of the Israeli army states that if one brother goes on a particularly dangerous mission, the other cannot participate. Benjamin insisted: “These are my soldiers.” Yoni did not back down. At 17, he wrote to a friend: “Life is worth nothing without a purpose. And if I have to sacrifice my life for the sake of the goal, I will do it.”

Commander Ehud Barak decided to leave Benjamin for the assault. The hostages were rescued, and Benjamin received his first combat injury, one of many during his military service. Yoni died in 1976 during a similar operation in Uganda.

The example and memory of his brother largely determined Benjamin’s life path. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, a professor and researcher of the Jewish “Golden Age” in Spain and the history of Zionism, had a significant influence on him. His grandfather was a rabbi and Zionist. Benjamin was born into a secular family, but from childhood, he respected the religion and traditions of his people.

The family lived in America for several years, where his father taught at a college, and the children attended school. Yoni and Benjamin were disappointed with the environment of young Jewish liberals, members of reform synagogues, and the superficial interests of their peers. After finishing school, Benjamin returned to Israel and began his military service. He participated in numerous battles and special operations. After completing his military service, he returned to the United States, where he studied at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, interrupting his studies when Israel was at war.

From an early age, Benjamin defined the goal of his life – to serve his country, its development, and security, to prevent the recurrence of the Holocaust.

He is well-educated, deeply knowledgeable about history, possesses immense political experience, and is a brilliant orator. He admires Churchill, having read everything written by him and about him. He highly values Kissinger’s advice: “In public life, we live off the intellectual capital accumulated in the past.”

His worldview was greatly influenced by Rabbi Schneerson, whom he considers the greatest thinker of modern times. He met the rabbi at the Lubavitch synagogue in Brooklyn when he was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the UN. “You have come to the house of lies,” the rabbi said about the UN… Remember that even in complete darkness, if you light one candle, its light will be visible from afar. You will light the candle of truth about the people of Israel.” The rabbi constantly sent messages to Netanyahu. After his first speech at the UN, the rabbi said, “You have given us much ‘nachas’ (joy) with your speech. With God’s will, you will continue on this path.”

Even back then, Israel was the main target of prejudice and constant attacks. Netanyahu didn’t mince his words: “We must make a choice. We can turn this organization (the UN) into a parody, a parliamentary farce in Damascus, Tripoli, or Tehran… Or we can say, ‘Gentlemen, leave your fanaticism at the entrance.'” Today, this speech would be even more relevant and justified than it was 40 years ago.

Netanyahu’s political and diplomatic career is well-known; he has weathered all sorts of storms, experiencing phenomenal successes and recognition, as well as defeats and condemnations. He took over the Likud party in 1993. In 1996, he was elected prime minister, the youngest in the country’s history to hold this position and the first born in Israel. During this time, terrorist attacks were a daily threat. The Prime Minister relied not only on bolstering security but also engaged in active negotiations with Arafat. Netanyahu spearheaded a broad shift towards a free market and vigorously promoted scientific and technological development.

Netanyahu’s relations with American leaders have been mixed and contradictory. Mainly very friendly with Congress, the Pentagon, and intelligence services, but complex and even marked by mutual antipathy with Obama and Biden. Trump provided strong political support to Israel, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the country, and moved the American embassy to the city. The relationship between the two leaders was productive and trusting.

Current relations between the two countries are at their lowest point since the establishment of the Jewish state. This concerns the creation of a Palestinian state, territorial concessions, and today – the US position on the actions of the Israeli army in Gaza after October 7th. Fearing re-election, Biden is forced to yield to the left wing of his party and pressure from the streets, openly expressing a negative attitude towards Netanyahu’s government. The Jewish News Syndicate writes: “Biden’s betrayal of Israel at the UN is a victory for Hamas.” The Zionist Organization of America evaluates the current policy in a similar vein.

Many years ago, Netanyahu said, “We cannot give up territories, closing our eyes and hoping for the best. We did so in Lebanon and got thousands of rockets. We did the same in Gaza and got Hamas… We want real recognition of the Jewish state and firm security.” For open enemies of Israel, as well as for leaders of the free world, these conditions seem excessive and unacceptable. All that is needed to end the war is to free the hostages and remove Hamas from power. But all protests and demands are directed solely against Israel.

At present, Israel is experiencing the most difficult time in its history. Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted sharply, and this cannot be explained solely by the rise of global antisemitism and the efforts of Obama and Biden, clearly encouraging the failure of his government.

As always, the main concern for a politician is internal problems. The majority of Israelis support the Prime Minister’s and his government’s efforts to destroy Hamas, prevent the creation of a terrorist enclave on the border. But there are radical contradictions between the authorities and the atmosphere in society. Netanyahu’s coalition with the ultra-Orthodox has sparked protests from those who do not recognize their right not to serve in the army and live off government subsidies. However, if these conditions were to change, the Haredim would leave the government, and the Prime Minister would lose the support of the majority in parliament.

Netanyahu, not timing his actions and failing to garner public support, embarked on a judicial reform. He knows that every move of his is under close and biased scrutiny but has repeatedly made unacceptable blunders given his position. And, of course, the incomprehensible failure of the army and intelligence services on October 7th, the inability to achieve a swift victory over Hamas and free the hostages, the dramatic loss of Israel’s diplomatic successes, isolation, and global hostility.

To many, far from Israeli realities, it seems that they know better what is good or bad for the country. Many think that things would be better without Netanyahu. But no matter how events unfold, the sharpness of threats and external pressures will not diminish, and concessions only inspire enemies.

In the Bible and Jewish history, there are no flawless heroes. Everyone made mistakes and miscalculations, faced external enemies and internal opponents, creating no fewer problems. Netanyahu is no exception. But in the new history, he will take his place alongside Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir.

Between two chairs

Senator Chuck Schumer often reminds that his last name means “guardian” in Hebrew. Being a Jew in the highest position in American history, Schumer emphasizes that his main responsibility is America and New York, but he also sees himself as a defender of the Jewish state. Henry Kissinger, when meeting Golda Meir, expressed a similar thought more explicitly, prioritizing: “I am first and foremost an American, then a Secretary of State, and only then a Jew.”

The position of a diaspora Jew in power or close to it, be it as the court Jew in the service of a dictator or a democrat whose majority of voters are not Jews, is predetermined. One has to make a choice; as the saying goes, you can’t sit on two chairs for long, especially in politics.

America, like any other country, acts primarily in its own interests, and these interests do not always coincide with the expectations of even the closest friends and allies.

Jews in positions of power, wielding influence, are always under suspicion of dual loyalty. Or, even more dangerously, of serving their fellow believers, Zionism, Israel, or the global backstage. Therefore, they have had to, as they do to this day, be holier than the Pope, constantly proving their state patriotism and freedom from national prejudices. Sometimes this takes pathological forms, like with George Soros and Bernie Sanders, openly supporting enemies of Israel and antisemites. Such thinking and behavior can be seen among liberal Jews, useful idiots, whose concerns and worries are related to the whole world but not to the imminent threats to Jews. Even after October 7th, amid the current global spree of antisemitism, liberal Jews still try to please their haters.

Schumer is undoubtedly clever, experienced, and understands everything. He is a great master of PR; it is said that the most dangerous place is between him and a television camera. Critics of Schumer try to argue that his last name, in translation, doesn’t mean “guardian” but “good for nothing.” This is a very low-level criticism, poor self-defense, whatever linguistic etymology says, Schumer is very efficient and influential. He has done a lot of good for New York, but as a rule, his initiatives and efforts are aimed at projects with broad public resonance and media interest.

Once, when he was still a young politician, Schumer participated with a shovel in hand in landscaping a playground in Prospect Park, near the house where he lives. My acquaintance, Schumer’s neighbor, struck up a conversation with him, and he seriously asked her if she would help him when he runs for president.

I met him 30 years ago when I went with fear and curiosity on assignment from the editorial office to some gay event. It was terribly hot, Schumer was in a suit and tie, and I asked him why he needed it. “They will be a significant political force,” Schumer enlightened me. Another time at the National Art Club, I told him that almost 90% of “Russians” voted for him. This did not impress him: “But you have very few votes, most are not citizens.” I know an immigrant who survived the Holocaust, who has been writing and calling Schumer’s office for 25 years, asking for a meeting in hopes of getting help with solving a bureaucratic problem, but there is no PR here, and he has not been answered once.

Another matter is Schumer’s fight with Trump, the attack on Netanyahu, here all attention is ensured, everything is well calculated and not dangerous. After the famous speech in the Senate, where Schumer essentially demanded Netanyahu’s resignation and a state coup, many Jews considered him a traitor. But in today’s atmosphere, the language of high politics has become so enriched with invectives, insults, and threats that radical assessments in any form do not make any special impression. Swearing won’t help the cause.

You can look at the situation differently, from the standpoint of real politics. The Economist, not a friend of Israel, published an article “Israel Alone” and placed a crooked Israeli flag blowing in the desert on the cover. The UN, almost all countries in the world, condemn Israel for measures against terrorists. The positions of the authorities coincide with the moods on the streets. A rare case where ultra-rightists have joined with ultra-leftists.

Even in America, anti-Israeli demonstrations are more numerous than pro-Israeli ones. Associations of national minorities, cultural figures, educational institutions, mainstream media consider it a priority task to condemn and stop Israel. The position of reformist synagogues differs little. And Schumer’s party, for which 70% of Jews vote faithfully, is increasingly sliding into blatant anti-Semitism, openly expressed by its aggressive left wing.

Schumer, undoubtedly, under colossal pressure from his party and the president, if he took a different position, he would be brought down, no merits will save him. 10 years ago, he was re-elected with a majority of 71%, in 2022 only 56, if the elections were held today, support would decrease even more. Activists with an aggressive anti-Zionist position, which covers hatred for Jews and the Jewish state, will most likely take his place. Even “The New York Times,” a Democratic propaganda organ, acknowledges: “People say Zionist when in reality they mean Jew… The cry for the liberation of Palestine is a threat to Jews.” (Michelle Goldberg.)

Schumer faced a difficult choice, and he made it like most Jews throughout history, tempted by power and hopes of changing fate. Was there a state necessity in this, did Schumer need to speak out in such a way in the name of higher interests, singing along with the chorus? Definitely, there was no necessity; the world sees that the US has changed its attitude toward Israel, as evidenced by public opinion polls, the US position at the UN, and statements by the president and secretary of state. But Schumer needed to show that he belongs among his own, that national identity does not define his position. Congressman from New York, Jew Gerald Nadler supported Schumer and stated that Netanyahu has become an obstacle to peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. His colleague Joan Schakowsky, a Jew who has joined progressives, expressed herself in the same spirit. Perhaps such Jews consider themselves people of strong will and civic duty. But such deals with conscience make them weak and dependent and never rid them of the distrust and contempt of those they try to please. Such position has a multifaceted meaning. But in any context, it is a place where a Jew finds himself trying to reconcile the irreconcilable with conscience and moral duty.

Non-Jewish Republicans in Congress do not have such concerns, and their position is determined not by expediency but by conscience and reason. Mitch McConnell said, “The Democratic Party has no anti-Bibi problem. It has an anti-Israel problem… The most influential Democrat in Congress has stabbed the Jewish state in the back.”

Schumer met with 82 leaders of leading Jewish organizations. Most of them are liberals and think and act similarly to Schumer. The leadership of reformist synagogues is even more critical of the policy of the Jewish state. Essentially, Israel has only one staunch defender – the Zionist Organization of America. Those gathered asked polite questions, even ZOA President Mort Klein spoke very softly. They are all united by the fear that an anti-Semite will come to Schumer’s place. And it’s better not to quarrel with an influential politician.

Chuck Schumer was a successful politician. He skillfully cared for his reputation, did not compromise himself with scandals, corruption, nepotism, without which the complex life of a prominent politician rarely passes. But his shameful speech in the Senate will forever remain evidence of his choice and tragedy. He will leave a memory in Jewish history among a long list of court Jews, hostages of his status and compromises with conscience. The famous novel by Leon Feuchtwanger, “Jew Suss,” gives a vivid and convincing idea of what this memory will be like. Few envy it.

Rebellious and Stubborn

The conflict between an American Jewish senator and an Israeli politician is not a collision of personal worldviews but a reflection of polarization in the Jewish community, as evident in Israel as in diaspora. Israelis see the impossibility of peace, but living indefinitely in conditions of terror and global hostility is also impossible. The diaspora, in turn, faces a dead-end dilemma: to remain Jews, to maintain a spiritual connection with the Jewish state, or to go all the way down the path of assimilation and submission to the demands of place and time. A harsh, uncompromising discussion is underway not only among political leaders but encompasses the entire global Jewish community, whose fate is closely tied to the present and future of Israel.

A typical American Jewish liberal wonders: why can I criticize my own country but not criticize Israel? Because Israel has thousands of times more critics than defenders without you, because Israel lives under constant existential threat, surrounded by irrational fanatics, because during the war against fascism, allies didn’t particularly think about the enemy’s casualties during carpet and atomic bombings, because anti-Semitism in the current global chaos has taken on planetary proportions, because the lessons of the Holocaust have proven to be short-lived and have little impact on public consciousness and behavior.

For many Jews, criticizing Israel is a surrogate for psychotherapy; lecturing from afar on how to think, live, and fight is a more attractive and soothing activity than living under rocket attacks, with terrorist neighbors, and seeking ways to combat the growing threat of anti-Semitism in the country and the world. Criticizing Israel is the easiest way for a Jew to earn approval and recognition. And today, sometimes it’s even necessary, as in the Soviet Union, to keep your job and security.

As on the eve of World War II, hopes for Jewish unity are not justified. Current threats have not unified but further divided the Jews. Despite the unique circumstances, historical parallels are evident.

The Bible calls the Jews a stiff-necked people – willful, stubborn, disobedient to prophets and leaders, often even to the will of God. And the Lord said to Moses, “I see this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 32:9); “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go among you for a moment, I might destroy you… I will consider what I should do with you.” (Exodus 33:5). Clearly, not a praise to the chosen people, but the national character has changed little over the years and trials.

Jews have carried the faith in the Torah through millennia, but even ultra-Orthodox, Talmudists, and Kabbalists have never ceased to engage in uncompromising disputes. The 12 tribes of Israel often found no common ground and warred with each other. The Bible is full of evidence that even family relationships often became fields of fierce conflicts.

Zealots actively participated in political life, resolutely fought against apostasy and cooperation with bearers of other beliefs and faiths, Pharisees demanded adherence to the letter of the Law and tradition and were alienated from the realities of life, dedicating themselves to preparing for a life beyond, Sadducees considered themselves elite and were open and receptive to other cultures and beliefs, Essenes wanted nothing to do with anyone and withdrew from Jerusalem into the desert, where they awaited the coming of the Messiah.

According to historical sources, in Judea on the eve of the destruction of the Temple, there were up to 30 sects and factions. Some were willing to collaborate with the Romans, but most rejected the occupation.

The famous military commander and historian Josephus in “The Jewish War” and “Jewish Antiquities” presented the history of his people, full of endless internal conflicts that influenced the fate of Israel no less than foreign invasions. In his youth, he joined the Pharisees, but under the influence of Greek and Roman culture, he converted and faithfully served the Roman emperors.

Jewish history has always had many schools, directions, interpretations with their leaders and authorities. It can be said that democracy, pluralism of opinions, and readiness for discussion have always been inherent in the Jewish way of life and thinking. Along with conditions conducive to the intellectual development of the nation, this led to deadlock disagreements about who should be considered a Jew, whose concepts are closer to the essence of Judaism, what benefits and harms Jews and Israel.

Not only persecution and discrimination, but also overcoming the trait of sedentarism, expanding civil rights, educational and cultural horizons led to assimilation, loss of national identity, departure from religion and traditions for a significant part of Jews. Jewish elites emerged, striving to become part of the ruling elite, court Jews, self-loathing Jews, and anti-Semitic Jews… Reformist, reconstructivist, humanistic, progressive, and other movements began to resemble more liberal-Christian ideology than Judaism.

This was fully manifested in pre-war Europe. Many Jews actively participated in revolutions, hoping that this would bring an end to millennia of persecution and establish social equality. Secular Jews believed that anti-Semitism was over, that they had gained equality, and felt like full citizens, patriots of their country.

Otto Weininger, a talented Jewish author, published an anti-Semitic satire, accusing Jews of provincial backwardness and ignorance, condemning their beliefs and moral qualities. Philosopher Theodor Lessing in 1930 published the book “Jewish Self-Hatred,” in which he showed the origins of such thinking: fear, self-defense, desire to raise their status, to show the overcoming of national prejudices. Amos Elon in the remarkable book “The Pity of It All” showed the tragic turn from hopes and illusions to reality when the Jewish Renaissance in Europe ended with the arrival of the fascists and the Holocaust.

Jews in power often became persecutors of Jews, especially religious ones. In the Soviet Union, the Anti-Zionist Committee was led by Major General, twice Hero of the Soviet Union David Abramovich Dragunsky. Many prominent Jews were active participants in anti-Israel campaigns. With the collapse of the USSR, many of them ended up in Israel and America and could share their instructive experience with new fighters against Zionism and critics of Israel.

In the current atmosphere, one remembers an anecdote from Soviet times: an old Jew reads an anti-Semitic newspaper. Another Jew asks why. – “Because everything around is awful, and here I read how powerful and united we are, and my mood improves.”