I received an e-mail a little while ago from Salon's Glenn Greenwald that contained what I would call a leading question. Here is the e-mail (I'm preemptively -- now there's a word! -- posting this e-mail on my blog because Greenwald tends to post publicly e-mails he receives, at least from me):
Hi Jeffrey - I'm working on (yet another) piece about the CAP-anti-Semitism controversy. Could you confirm whether, when you joined the IDF, you took this standard oath:
"I swear and commit to pledge allegiance to the State of Israel its laws, and authorities, to accept upon myself unconditionally the authority of the Israel Defense Force, obey all the orders and instructions given by authorized commanders, devote all my energies, and even sacrifice my life for the protection of the homeland and liberty of Israel."
Much appreciated -
I love that "much appreciated"!
For those of you blessedly unaware of this latest controversy, CAP, the Center for American Progress, a liberal, Democratic-Party-oriented think tank in Washington, has been accused of anti-Semitism, or borderline anti-Semitism, or something having to do with Semitism, by various parties for sponsoring a blogger who used the term "Israel-Firster" to describe Americans of the Mosaic persuasion with whom he disagreed on America's Middle East policy.
The larger issue, the discussion of which was ignited by this Ben Smith piece, is whether or not CAP, and other like-minded Democratic Party institutions, are becoming anti-Israel, or at least pushing Democrats to lessen their support for a close Israel-U.S. relationship, but I'm not going to go into that right now.
I don't think CAP is anti-Semitic (it's pretty hostile to Israel, but it's not as if it has called for the Jewish state's destruction), but the term "Israel-Firster" is originally a neo-Nazi term (Willis Carto's fascist Liberty Lobby was a big proponent of its use, as is David Duke), and it is meant to raise questions about a Jewish person's willingness to be loyal to America (this is merely the local variant of an ancient anti-Semitic trope). CAP, to its credit, acknowledged the anti-Semitic nature of the term, and apologized. (I wrote about the controversy here.)
Obviously, use of the term "Israel-Firster" to describe someone with whom you disagree is not meant to open a discussion, or advance an argument, but to demonize your opponent. When Jews use it, as Joe Klein does, it is particularly unfortunate, because it is a term specifically designed to marginalize Jews in the American political discourse, and people like Joe Klein will eventually reap the whirlwind, in one form or another. The mainstreaming of hostility toward any group of Jews leads inevitably to the mainstreaming of hostility to Jews generally. And of course it's probably a sound idea for Jews to avoid using neo-Nazi-derived slurs to describe other Jews.
Anyway, I get the sense that Glenn Greenwald is trying to see whether I pass his version of a loyalty test. The question he raises is actually an interesting one in my case, though I'm sure he knows this, having obviously done his research by reading my book on the subject of my Israeli army service during the first Palestinian Uprising. For those of you haven't read the book (you can conveniently buy it right here!), the hyper-short version of the loyalty issue is this: As a teenager, I felt a bit like David Ben-Gurion (or Ari Ben-Canaan, more to the point) set adrift on Long Island. I thought, for various reasons I describe in the book, that Israel might have been meant to be my true home, so I moved there in my early 20s, only to learn that in Israel, I felt like George Washington. I realized, by the time I arrived at the central army intake base as a not-so-happy draftee, that I was irreducibly American, and this feeling was reinforced by my service at an Intifada prison, which I disliked very much, mainly because I thought the occupation (or more specifically, the settlement) of the West Bank and Gaza was counterproductive, brutal and generally un-Jewish.
So, the answer to Greenwald's question -- and usually I don't feel that participating in McCarthyite projects like his is a useful thing, but I'm open about all of this -- is, to the best of my ability to recollect, no, I didn't take that oath. I don't like swearing any oaths (there's a perpetual debate in some circles in Israel about whether a Jew should be asked to swear allegiance to any entity but God; this is another story, of course, though not entirely irrelevant, because I'm under the impression that this is one way Israeli soldiers can get out of taking an oath) and I thought -- I'll admit that the thought was more inchoate a quarter-century ago, when I had it, then the manner in which I'm characterizing it now -- that I shouldn't, as an American, swear to anything like this.
This doesn't mean that I didn't, as a soldier, refuse orders, except those orders I found to be illegal and/or immoral (there's a wider berth for this in the Israeli army -- or at least there was when I was there -- then you might think. An upside of the Israeli army is that it is basically improvisational; the downside is that it is basically improvisational). And what I remember is that I ducked the oath and no seemed to care (there was no pomp or circumstance associated with this, which is why I don't even remember at what point in the induction process this oath-taking was to have occurred. The only thing I remember clearly about those early days was that the army took very extensive pictures of your dental work, in case they had to identify your remains).