It was one of those encounters that had happened to me so many times on book tour in America: the car ride back to my hotel from the Jewish Community Center after a few hours of lecturing, answering questions and signing books. Usually, the drivers in these short rides were enthusiastic volunteers who were fans and /or members of the book committee that had invited me in the first place.
This ride was no different. Slim, pretty, with expensive diamond rings, driving the latest hybrid, my driver spoke to me knowledgeably about my books and about her community. She expected to be book committee chairwoman in the coming year, she said proudly. And she was on her way to Israel in the next two weeks – her first visit — to see Israeli daycare centers for which she had been actively fundraising.
I smiled at her, grateful for the lift, and the enthusiasm. We talked for a few minutes about the security situation in Israel. And I casually remarked that we were really, really lucky that Netanyhu had been reelected and was in charge to handle the situation, rather than some clueless member of the Israeli Left. “At least now they aren’t able to blow up buses the way they were when ‘Peace Now’-ers were in power. You know, I and my family were at the Park Hotel in 2002. Abd El-Basset Oudeh drove from Tul Karem into Netanya because the Oslo Accords prevented Israel from putting up sufficient checkpoints. At least now it’s one man, one knife, that you can see coming.”
I said it completely off the cuff, almost as a sigh, not seeing anything at all controversial in such a statement, the truth of which would be clearly obvious to every average Israeli, who have abandoned the Israeli Left in droves.
She was silent for a moment, then shook her head. “He [Netanyahu] shouldn’t have come to America. He shouldn’t have addressed Congress. It polarized American Jews, politicizing the support for Israel,” she said emphatically.
“I think it’s been politicized for a long time,” I answered drily. “Democrats voted for Obama. Republicans didn’t.”
That seemed to surprise her. “So, Israelis don’t like Obama?”
“They hate his guts.”
She shrugged. “Yes, I can understand that. What do you think happened to him?” She seemed honestly bewildered.
“Nothing happened to him. Anyone who did the slightest bit of research understood that he had been a member of an anti-Semitic church for twenty-five years; a church that gave an award to Louis Farrakhan.”
I could have gone on, and on, and on, listing all the anti-Israel aides and advisors Obama had surrounded himself with pre-election, his Muslim roots, but I figured: why bother? Obama, after almost eight years in office in which he’d cozied up to Turkey’s Erdogan, snubbed Israel in horrendous ways according to her former Ambassador Michael Oren, refused to fight ISIS, pushed through the horrible nuclear accord with Iran that endangered Israel’s very existence, had pretty much proved on his own merits where he stood. At least to people like me.
If I’d had any doubts, her reaction put them to rest. She had been one of the 70 percent of American Jews to vote Democrat and elect Obama. Twice.
“You know, American Jews vote for the things that are important to them. Those are not always the same things that are important to Israelis.”
I looked surreptitiously at my watch, calculating how much more time we would be locked into this conversation. Too long to say nothing. So I ventured mildly: “What is important to you?”
“Well, women’s rights, reproductive rights. The environment. And fighting the evangelicals.”
I suddenly remembered something my Harvard-educated son recently told me: “Many American Jews will blindly follow any agenda created by the Liberal establishment because it makes them feel virtuous and like part of the in-crowd.”
“So,” I said unwisely, my temperature rising, “let me get this straight. You’re worried about abortions, climate change and being converted to Christianity?” I didn’t let her answer. “And those things are more vital, more important to you, than whether Israel’s greatest enemy gets an atom bomb to blow the next six million Jews off the face of the earth?”
“Obama said he got the best deal possible!”
“And what do you say about those videos of Planned Parenthood selling baby parts?”
“They were obviously doctored by the Republicans,” she almost shouted, no longer a fan.
Just at that moment, the hotel loomed into view. I thanked her for the ride, opening the door and stepping out as swiftly as possible. Before I closed the door, I turned back and looked at her.
“Please,” I begged her. “Don’t vote for Hillary.”
It was the last straw. “She’s better than Trump!”
“I don’t think so,” I told her with full confidence.
She rolled her eyes. I rolled mine.
And then the door slammed shut, and she disappeared in one direction, and I in another.