The first time I went to Israel, which was 1967, as I walked along the boardwalk in Tel Aviv, I thought I was in Miami Beach. Most of the adults were speaking Yiddish, not Hebrew, and they looked exactly like the Jews in Southern Florida who had moved down to Miami from The Bronx.
This was before Miami Beach became a hip and cool destination for the rich and famous. It was also when Israel’s population was overwhelmingly comprised of immigrants from Eastern Europe who came out of an Ashkenazi culture heavily influenced by Socialist beliefs.
That was then, this is now. And the Israel whose military is waging a scorched earth strategy in Gaza bears little, if any resemblance to the Israel which appeared in 1948.
Not only does the country now contain an intense community of ultra-orthodox Jews, who didn’t even recognize the political existence of the Jewish state in 1948, but between the religious groups, the Sephardic population from the Arab states of origin and the Russian immigrants, the liberal, Socialist-infused population which created Eretz Israel is no longer a majority of the country’s national count, which is the reason that an ultra-nationalist, right-wing coalition governs the Jewish State.
On the other hand, the current narrative of Israel as creating genocide both within and without the country’s original borders is simply not true. Nearly 20% of the legal residents in Israel happen to be Arabs, and with the exception of not being required to serve in the IDF, this population enjoys the same political ‘rights’ as everyone else.
Again, I don’t mean to split hairs, but there is an immense social and cultural difference between the non-Orthodox American Jewish community and the non-Orthodox Jewish population in Israel, and any attempt to link these two populations together in a reaction to the current situation in Gaza is a big mistake.
Unfortunately, we can’t hold a discussion about anything having to do with Gaza without first acknowledging that Gaza now contains more than one million residents who lived on the West Bank for generations, and only came to Gaza recently as the wave of Jewish settlements forced them out.
At the same time, to refer to the uprooted Palestinians as representing some kind of nationhood displaced by Israeli bulldozers is to apply a definition of political statehood to an area which has never been a nation-state at all.