Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lemon and the Left

Recently I attended the International Film Festival in Chicago and viewed an Israeli film entitled “The Lemon Tree”. (Not recommended.) I also just returned from Santiago, Chili where, among other things I visited the home of the late socialist, intellectual and statesman, Pablo Neruda. Both events, although ostensibly unrelated and separated by two weeks, impacted on me greatly, especially now during this election season.

Frankly, for the past several months, ever since the election season began to heat up I’ve been struggling with my conscience. For me, a capitalist and one deeply passionate about Israel’s future, McCain seems to be the logical candidate, as Bush appeared to be when he ran against Gore and Kerry in 2000 and 2004. One can never know how things would be today had Gore or Kerry been elected, and no one is satisfied with the current state of affairs. On the other hand, Obama apart from his charisma and gifted articulation happens to be exceptionally bright, promising change and offering hope for a better future.

And so I struggle and waffle between the two candidates. McCain is assuring in that his record, experience and commitment to American ideals gives me a level of comfort that Israel is won’t be “sold down the river”. He is also a capitalist and certainly doesn’t believe in a redistribution of wealth. Obama on the other hand, while young, bright and charismatic hasn’t convinced me of his commitment to Israel. He is also a social democrat influenced and bedazzled by the European model and believes in a redistribution of wealth. But he is so, so bright that I want to believe that he knows what’s best and will lead us out of the current chaos that we find ourselves in.

Because of my commitment to Israel, and my sense of capitalism, it would seem a foregone conclusion that McCain would be my candidate of choice. However, by voting McCain and aligning with the Conservative Right I am somehow resisting an impulse deep, deep in my soul that reminds me of the need to listen to our great prophets of social justice like Isaiah and Amos, to name just a few. Their deep and abiding concern was the welfare of the poor, those on the margins who for whatever reason didn’t manage to live with the dignity so very basic to every human being. By voting McCain do I ignore the teachings of our prophets? Or, to put it another way, will voting for Obama align me with the teachings and underpinnings that made Judaism timely, throughout the ages?

Visiting the home of Neruda put this into partial focus. His passion for socialism was overpowering. Those with whom he associated, his prose, poetry and service to his country were awesome and inspiring. Understanding Neruda within the context of his people’s struggle gave me a greater appreciation for Obama’s message. But what about Israel?

Like so many of us, Israel is a burning passion which influences not only what I think, but what I do. So how could I possibly vote for Obama not being convinced that he has the best interests of Israel at heart? On the other hand, viewing the Israel film “Lemon Tree” caused me to reconsider the place Israel has occupied in those decisions which might impact on her future. The PLO couldn’t have produced such an effective piece of propaganda. If Israel could submit a self hating propaganda piece as “the Lemon Tree” to the world to watch as entertainment at her own expense, then why should I filter my politics through the prism of Zionism?

Perhaps I ought to cast my lot with the “Rabbis for Obama” and align with the Jewish liberal community who see their choice through the lens of our socially conscious prophets who cried out for social justice and compassion for those with less.

If it were only that simple. There is this small voice within me that won’t let me cast that vote without a struggle with my conscience. But does it really matter how I vote? Here in Illinois it is a foregone conclusion anyway!