Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joy, Mixed With a Little Sadness

Several weeks ago I predicted that Barack Obama would win in a landslide. He didn't win by double digits, but he defeated John McCain handily.

What does that say about us Americans?

Pundits and talking-heads are now analyzing the results of the election. Republican conservatives blame the party for straying from its Reaganesque principles (they forgot Reagan's spending.) Republican moderates blame everything but themselves: the economy, a protracted and unpopular war, the financial crisis, the unpopularity of George W. Bush, as if president had belonged to another party. Democrats, needless to say, add to this litany the magic of the candidate himself, and the brilliance of his political campaign.

All Americans, with the exception, perhaps, of the loonies of the extreme right, understand the significance of this day. Even Republicans -- goodness, even Charles Krauthammer, who looked on television last night as if he had been staring into Mordor for 48 hours -- "gets it."

And what is the "it" that they get? Most importantly, the greatness of this country -- the first non third-world country -- that has made a black man the head of state. And not because he is black, for Obama is not of the "generation of the aggrieved;" he is no Jesse Jackson, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Oh, sure, there are many blacks who voted to him out of racial-cultural loyalty without knowing much about his policies. But that is not what got him elected by 52% of the vote. He was elected because, in being black, he also transcended his blackness and his whiteness. He won because, darn it, he is an AMERICAN first, and a colored man second. He never hid hid blackness, nor his whiteness. Nor did he run on them. He convinced Americans that he would work tirelessly for them. And Americans came to believe him.

What elected Barack Obama was a truly rainbow coalition of races and ethnicities, including -- God bless us -- the Jews. All of us are the children of hope; the children of "Yes, we can."

What allowed millions of Americans to say, "I never thought in my lifetime that I would see this day" -= against all the cynics, pundits, and pessimists (count me in all three of those categories) -- was the realization of that hope. Call it sentimentalism, call it nostalgia, call it Hollywood, call it Jimmy Stewart, call it whatever you like.

I call it America.

But I am not only an American. I am also an Israeli Jew. And here is my sadness.

You see, many Israelis still don't get it. Anybody who has been following the press coverage from Israel of the presidential election can see that. And I am not only talking about a soft porn writer like Naomi Ragen who exemplifies what Eliezer Berkowitz called "Hitler's Posthumous Victory," the destruction of the Jewish Soul. I refer to the so-called Israeli secular liberals. Only the day before yesterday the Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk could write in YNET that McCain would win the election, because John-Wayne Americans were incapable of electing a black man president! Kaniuk, who lived in American for ten years decades ago, combines European snobbism, Israeli arrogance, and Jewish bigotry to come up with that bizarre prediction.

What about columnist Amir Oren, writing in Haaretz, who called Obama "a Jimmy Carter with a suntan." Aside from the blatant racism of the remark, it is simply idiotic and way off the mark, but it speaks volumes about the sublimated hatred of moral exemplars like Carter and Obama in military types like Oren.

But why stop there? Headlines like, "The Victory of Minorities", not to mention the talkbacks, show that so many Israelis still don't get it. Hello, it was the majority that won, not the minorities. Unless we are all minorities on this bus.

Still, there is some signs that the message is starting to sink in. And if the message of Barack Obama is the "audacity of hope" -- and the phrase was coined by Rev. Wright, God bless him -- then maybe we have to give some time to the Israelis, mired deeply in their collective psychosis, to "get it". Already, the headlines in Israeli papers today are beginning to reflect the greatness of the hour. After the initial cynicism and condescension, the excitement is beginning to be felt.

And here is another hopeful statistic - for Judaism in America, anyway. According to exit polls, 78% of the Jews voted for Obama, even more than those who voted for Kerry in 2004. All the dirt, hatred, lies, money, poisonous emails, only strengthened the Jews for Obama -- because they saw through the Republican ads.

The vocal minority of rightwingers were crushed at the polls by the silent majority of Jews who climbed on the train of history and left the hatemongers at the station.

To that small but loudmouthed minority of Jewish zealots I say: you said that Obama was a radical, a leftist, an extreme Muslim, somebody who pals around with terrorists and anti-Semites, who will do what he can to appease Iran, and will be a dangerous enemy of Israel.

Well, he may or may not be those things -- but one thing he is for sure: the President of the United States, elected by an overwhelming majority.

I hope you sleep well at night. In Jerusalem, I, and my children and grandchildren, certainly will.

10 comments:

Uri said...

so... when will israel have its first palestinian prime minister?

exercising some optimism of the will, i predict 2037.

Anonymous said...

haha uri yes that is funny!

When indeed will Israel have its first Arab/Palestinian President!

Ye gods they haven't even recognized yet that racism or discrimination based on ethnicity is wrong in principle.

It could take a bit longer than 2037, humanity sadly being what it is.

Israel might collapse before it ever sees the day.

William Burns said...

First country outside of Africa, no. Haiti. Numerous other Latin American states.

Suha said...

The correct answer is: When Saudi Arabia has its first female King.

Tomer said...

I'm one israeli who cried when i heard the news. Out of happiness of course.

And thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

The first woman to become head of state in a presidential system comparable type was Chile in 2001. I know of no state that elects its head of state ,or head of government,directly other than that that has elected a woman or minority. (Perhaps Bolivia- but I'm not sure how Morales was elected).

itay said...

I don't see how Oren's remark was racist. The fact that he referred to Obama's skin color? What of it?
Also, how was it stupid? Isn't Obama much like Jimmy Carter? I for one don't see it as a bad thing - Carter brought us peach with Egypt, didn't he? But of course for Oren it would be negative. Still, stupid it is not.
Ragen's column was to be expected - as a orthodox jew you can't expect her to be open minded, and Kaniuk's was written in Cynicism I think, and I got the feeling that he wanted to "eat his hat" as he put it.
It is true that Israel would've probably voted for Mccain. But you can't judge it for that. A whole country living in post-traumatic stress, can you blame them for wanting what they know?

Moriah.maca said...

When is Germany going to have its first Chancellor of Turkish ancestry?
When will France, Britain, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc. have their first Arab, Muslim or Black Prime Minister?

When will Egypt have an elected Coptic Christian President?
When will Morocco, Iran or Tunisia have the first elected Jewish President? (There are still Jews in those countries).
When will the Palestinians have a Christian leader?

When will Israel have a religious Sefardi as Prime Minister? (It had a religious Sefardi President but he was run out of office after a prolonged press campaign in which he was accused of heinous crimes, but oddly, he has never actually been charged with any of them).

When will MERETZ have a Sefardi leader? When will KADIMA? (Labor actually did elect one, Amir Peretz, but Shimon Peres' brother compared him to 'Franco's fascist hordes who attacked the Spanish Republic', thus indicating that his term as head of Labor was illegitimate).

William Burns said...

3:20 anonymous

The last two elected presidents of Ireland have been women, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. Ireland has also had two presidents from the Protestant minority, Douglas Hyde and Erskine Childers, although I don't think Hyde,the first President, was actually elected. Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected President of Iceland in 1980.

Jerry Haber said...

Just one response to moriah.maca

It is rare for a minority candidate to become the head of a state in any state, with some exceptions.

But the rarity may be for roughly two different reasons.

The first reason is simply that, by virtue of being part of a minority, there are fewer people who will feel akin to the candidate. There may even be historical grievances that make things more difficult.

But another reason is that the basis for the state is such that it would be considered inappropriate for a member of a minority to be the head of state. This is particularly true of states whose basis is religious or ethnic.

Until Obama broke the barrier, few in the US thought that a black would be elected president. But nobody would have argued, at least not in teh 20th century, that it would be inappropriate for a black to be elected -- because of the state's foundation.

Even John Kennedy, whose Catholicism was considered an issue, would not have been barred from running on the grounds of religion. I don't mean "legally barred"; I mean that nobody would have raised the point that since the US was a Protestant nation by definition (it is not), then it would be inappropriate for him to run. And if somebody did, then that remark would have been itself considered inappropriate.

Israel, because it defines itself as a Jewish State, makes the question: "Can a non-Jew be prime minister of a Jewish state" appropriate, just as it is appropriate for a Muslim state.

To compare Israel with Sweden, Germany, or the US, then is intellectually dishonest. The question is not whether a minority member can become head of state -- but rather what is the underlying basis.

And in Israel, few people, even liberals, from my experience, would not find it odd if somebody said, "How can an Arab citizen be a prime minister of the Jewish state."

So Israel, then, takes its place in the family of nations alongside the religious autocracies on this point, and not alongside the western liberal democracies. Fair enough, but not for those who still wish to see Israel as a liberal democracy.

It is not.