Friday, August 7, 2009

A Traitor Among Us

For the next three months I will be living on kibbutz with fifteen others, nine guys, six girls, half of whom have completed college. Our garin [group] is fairly old by the standards of Garin Tzabar, as the secular groups are largely composed of 18 year olds fresh from American public high school. The extra years translate into a fairly mature vibe in our garin: we josh around with the best of them but also maintain a disciplined approach to preparing our bodies and minds for the army. The extra years and college degrees also add to the diversity of our garin. Several of us speak a second or third language, have lived or traveled across Europe or the Middle East, or bring other unusual experiences to the table. The religious nature of our garin adds yet another element to the group heterogeneity. Within the broad confines of religious Judaism, every member of our Garin has their own spiritual biography. Many are ba'alei teshuva, religious Jews who came to their faith from a secular background. Others were raised within a religious home. Some have even studied, like me, in a yeshiva in Israel.

In short, there are stories a plenty I could share about any of the fifteen characters that make up my garin. Only one, however, is going to earn some words in this brief writeup. The reason is obvious enough, just check out what two bloggers had to say about the decision of this particular member of my garin to move to Israel:

That kid is a traitor and should be stripped of his U.S. citizenship...The loyalties of such people should be known and whenever they seek to advocate on behalf of Israel from the speaking position of an American then it should be stated that they are not Americans are should not lecture us. (see here)

To me, Tzvi is more of a traitor than anything else. And a quitter to boot. He ups and leaves his country to fight for a taliban-like military in Israel (given what most “elite” units are engaged in) without a thought for the people who made the recommendations to get him into West Point (one has too get at least two recommendations to get in – and they have to be convincing). Does it mean he has been lying to his officers and classmates all this time about where his patriotism lies?
(see here)

The enmity is aimed at my new friend Tsvi, who left behind a promising American military career as a West Point cadet to realize his dream of defending the state of Israel. Tsvi did not make the decision lightly and he remains attached to the values and peers he left behind in the US Army's premier officer academy. Anonymous bloggers tend to see the world in black and white. Tsvi's decision to switch his military ties to Israel strikes a few online loudmouths as traitorous, even treasonous. After personally being selected and trained by the US Government for one year, how can this young American simply turn his back on his native country?

I have the dual advantage of knowing Tsvi and of having made a similar decision to seek my fortune in Israel rather than pursue the future in the US security and foreign policy community that is almost expected of graduates of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Like Tsvi, I understand that coming to Israel is about realizing my potential rather than rejecting the land of my birth, a country I continue to admire deeply. It is simply naive to accuse Tsvi, myself and everyone in our garin of traitorous loyalties to the United States. We have mixed identities, like everyone else, and as we unravel our dreams it is asinine to expect us to dance to the tune of some single-minded, self-appointed interpreter of American patriotism.

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