Tears and laughter

Joseph Aaron

Sometimes you gotta laugh, sometimes you gotta cry.

Spend your time reading news about Jews and you find yourself doing quite a bit of both.

It made me cry to read that one-third of Holocaust survivors in the United States continue to live at or below the poverty line. One third. That’s a lot of Jews, more to the point, that’s a lot of survivors of the Holocaust.

You know, as Jews we devote a lot of our attention to the Holocaust, vow to never let it happen again, do much so it does not happen again, sometimes are too quick to believe it is happening again, every time some wacko in Iran says something nuts or some wacko politician in Europe does better than expected in an election.

We devote a lot of effort to commemorating the Holocaust, remembering the Holocaust, learning about the Holocaust, reminding the world about the Holocaust. But somehow it seems we are not so diligent when it comes to the very people who actually were in the Holocaust, are survivors of the Holocaust.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how we as Jews can allow one-third of Holocaust survivors — the most precious of Jews, living in the United States, with its powerful, robust, caring, active, giving Jewish community — to live at or below the poverty line.

And yet the report by an organization called The Blue Card, which provides financial assistance to survivors, said that 61 percent of the 100,000 survivors in the United States live on less than $23,000 a year. The median income for individuals in the U.S. is about $31,000.

Blue Card said it sees requests for aid grow 20 percent annually. Three quarters of the approximately 3,000 survivors the group aids are older than 75, and it saw a 10 percent increase this year in aid requests for survivors battling cancer.

Holocaust survivors battling cancer needing to plead for money. Yes there are organizations that do help, but not enough of them, and those who do help are not able to do enough. It is to cry to think the American Jewish community can allow this situation to go on, is not doing everything it can to provide the 100,000 Holocaust survivors in this country with the means to live a dignified life, to have the medical care they need, whatever help they need. To my mind, there should be no higher item on the American Jewish agenda than doing something to change that.

It made me laugh to read that while white evangelicals overwhelmingly back Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, polls show that younger ones are less attached to Israel.

A poll released by the evangelical research firm LifeWay asked American evangelicals about their overall perception of Israel. Among people over 65, 76 percent said it was positive, compared with 58 percent among those ages 18 to 34. About 30 percent of the people in the younger group said they were “not sure,” nearly double the figure for the older group.

Falling support among U.S. evangelicals under 30 “ought to keep every Israeli awake at night,” said Yoav Fromer, who teaches politics at Tel Aviv University. Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest newspaper, he said: “Don’t let the vice president’s immaculate hair and white smile blind you: Pence is the old America. The more one looks at the breakdown of that support for Israel, the more one sees a troubling trend.”

I laugh because it is absurd that we count on the evangelicals at all, and now having sold our soul in doing so, we are faced with the fact that they likely will not be so for us in the future.

Not that they ever really were for us. Yes, they are very pro-Israel and yes, Trump moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem to please the evangelicals, but I’m afraid I can’t ignore, as much as right wing Jews wish to ignore, that the only reason they are so Zionist is because they believe for their big guy, a Jew named Jesus, to come back, all the Jews have to come back to Israel. Once we do, they believe that he will, at which point these great friends of ours will demand that we convert to Christianity or they will kill us.

Now you may say okay, but that’s off in the future, but now we see that the future shows that young evangelicals aren’t so into us. For some reason — I guess because Jews have allowed themselves to be so fooled that evangelicals ever were into us — that makes me laugh.

It makes me cry that the very basic belief that in this country, Israel must be a bipartisan, nonpartisan issue, something all Jews used to value, something all Jews recognized is of vital importance, appears to be out the window.

It’s always been that the one thing Republicans and Democrats agreed on was their support for Israel. But no more. A recent Pew study showed a wide gap between the parties with the share of Democrats who sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians falling fast, while Republican sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians is spiking.

The poll showed that partisan polarization around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is starker than ever in the United States. While 79 percent of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, that number is only 27 percent for Democrats. Twenty-five percent of Democrats sympathized more with the Palestinians, while only nine percent of Republicans did.

Since 2001, the share of Republicans who sympathize with Israel has increased from 50 percent to 79 percent. Over the same period, the share of Democrats sympathizing more with Israel has declined from 38 percent to 27 percent. As recently as two years ago, 43 percent of Democrats sympathized more with Israel.

Now, of course, I believe I know why this is so. Because Bibi forgot that an Israeli leader must not take sides in American politics. But that’s exactly what he did when he colluded with the Republicans to, behind the back of Obama, come to this country to stand before our Congress and urge it to oppose the Iran deal the president was proposing.

No matter how you feel about Obama or about the Iran deal, that was not the way to oppose him or it. That’s why we have Jewish organizations in this country. To advocate for Israel in this country, as Americans talking to both Democrats and Republicans to get them to support Israel. We do not have the prime minister of Israel insert himself smack dab in the middle of our politics and join with the Republicans to trash the Democratic president.

The price that we are paying for that is that bipartisan support for Israel is a thing of the past and that has ominous consequences for our future. “The numbers are worrying for anyone like me that cares about the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Dennis Ross, a former American peace negotiator for presidents of both parties, said. “Israel has been and must remain not a Democratic or Republican issue but an American issue.”

Finally something that made me both laugh and cry. It made me cry bitter tears that the government of Israel has announced it intends to send back 40,000 African refugees who came to Israel to escape persecution. One would think of all people who would understand and help, it would be the Jewish people, and of all countries, it would be Israel that would take them in, as so many countries have not taken in Jewish refugees fleeing from hell.

In the face of much criticism from parts of the Israeli public to his planned move and in the face of a letter from 750 American rabbis and cantors, from all denominations, urging him not to do what he plans to do, Bibi responded in a way that made me laugh.

Netanyahu said Israel would be complying with international law when it deports African migrants, his office in a statement saying Bibi would “only accept a process that fully complies with international law.”

So all of a sudden, Bibi is Mr. International Law, claiming he’s sending 40,000 refugees who escaped rape, torture, enslavement, war and human trafficking in their countries, back to hell, where they are very likely to be harassed, robbed, kidnapped or even murdered, because well, international law says he can.

But the very same day, Bibi also said Israel would retain control over Jerusalem’s holy sites in any peace deal.  “Our position is that Jerusalem should remain united under Israel’s sovereignty with complete religious rights for those of all faiths.”

By “holy sites,” Netanyahu was presumably referring to sites of religious significance in Jerusalem’s Old City, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and subsequently annexed. These include the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Please know that international law has never and does not now recognize Israel’s sovereignty over those sites, does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, and does not recognize Israel’s annexation of the Old City.

Look, you might not like that fact, but you can’t claim you are abiding with international law when you want to get rid of 40,000 human beings, but then thumb your nose at international law when it suits you. I’m fine with Israel saying it will keep control of the holy sites, and allow full access, and to hell with international law, as long as it also says that as a Jewish country, while international law might allow us to send those refugees back, we have no intention of using that as an excuse because we follow a higher law, Jewish law, which calls on us to protect and shelter them.

As the 750 American rabbis of all denominations said in their statement, “As a country founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those seeking asylum within its borders. We Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes.”

So Bibi, and so the state of Israel, is saying forget international law when it comes to Jerusalem, but claim you’re following international law when you are forcing 40,000 human beings to go back to the hell they fled.

As I say, on the one hand, you have to laugh. But the truth is reading that should make you want to cry.

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