The overwhelming majority of my fellow Jewish Americans are Americans first, and Jews second. But not all. And apparently not Sen. Joe Lieberman.
For at the heart of Sen. Lieberman’s split with the Democratic Party, and his embrace of Sen. John McCain last night at the Republican convention, there is a single issue: the war in Iraq. And regardless of what he may tell others (or even himself), Sen. Lieberman’s passion for maintaining a US military presence in Iraq, and indeed expanding it throughout the Middle East, is predicated on one and only one goal: assuring the survival of Israel.
It is a goal that I share with Sen. Lieberman, as do a majority of our fellow Americans, Jewish or not, but it is a goal that cannot and should not comprise the centerpiece of US foreign policy, and that can never be achieved through the brutal application of American military force. Every Arab killed by an American or Israeli soldier—every house destroyed, every life left in tatters—makes it that much harder for Israel to achieve a permanent peace with her Arab neighbors, and makes the world that much more dangerous for Jews everywhere. Every threat the US makes against the sovereignty of an Islamic nation is understood on the Islamic streets as a threat made on behalf of “the Jewish state”… and in the case of Sen. Lieberman I’m afraid, that impression would be largely correct.
I’ve only had the opportunity to meet Sen. Lieberman briefly, and while I cannot say that I know him well, he seemed immediately familiar. He and I come from the same East Coast Jewish milieu, where he could have been the father of a childhood friend, or a distant uncle on the Connecticut side of my extended family. No, I cannot say that I know Joe Lieberman personally, but I’ve known many Joe Liebermans throughout my life, in Philadelphia and New York, on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, at the Florida retirement community where I visit my mother every February… even here in Seattle, where the familiar Ashkenazi Jew is almost as hard to come by as a good bagel.
These are my people, and I know what makes them tick. We are the post-Holocaust generation, a generation in which survivors guilt and the very real experience of genocidal anti-semitism drives even the most secular amongst us to recognize the absolute necessity of a Jewish homeland. It is this intimate knowledge of both ancient and modern history that drives even the most liberal, Jewish American bleeding hearts to sustain unwavering support for the state of Israel, even when we find ourselves genuinely outraged and disgusted by the policies of the Israeli government itself.
Likewise, Sen. Lieberman’s unwavering support for Israel, as misguided as his policies might be, is entirely understandable to a fellow Jew like me. But as a fellow American I find it an entirely inappropriate platform on which to prioritize the agenda of a US Senator.
Yes, Sen. Lieberman has betrayed the Democratic Party (for whatever that’s worth), but I believe that in embracing Sen. McCain and his belligerent hundred years war—in standing on the floor of the Republican convention and endorsing the pro-war Republican ticket for president—Sen. Lieberman has also betrayed the American people and his solemn oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic … without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…” I believe that Sen. Lieberman’s Israel-first AIPAC agenda has clouded his judgment (as it has that of many other old, Jewish men), driving him into the arms of a Republican party with which he is at odds on almost every other substantive policy issue.
And I believe that it is time for other American Jews to stand up and acknowledge Sen. Lieberman for what he is.