Romney in Israel (Conservative Money, Hollow Politics, and American Judaism)

Poor Sarah Silverman. But she must have known it was always going to be Mitt Romney whom Sheldon Adelson was going to scissor. He and his millionaire friends bundled Mitt up and took him to Jerusalem where Romney proved once again that he’ll say anything to anyone about everything –Iran, Jerusalem, and the superiority of Jewish culture.

What Romney really meant by this or that comment is hardly pertinent, because it wasn’t really him who was talking. Everyone with a brain in their head understands that this trip had nothing to do with Israel. Like the walls of Jerusalem, the country simply served as a quick backdrop. Romney seems to have left no impression in Israel. Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz that the only native or even secular Israelis at the Romney event in Jerusalem belonged to the press corps. According to one report, all he came up with at the fundraisers was 1 million dollars, which is really not a lot of money, and which he could have raised at home. But he made Sheldon Adelson happy and ginned up some Jewish and evangelical Christian support. In the end, the whole performance was empty and uninspiring. He said what he said, stepped on some toes, and went on to Poland.

I can’t see anything of any genuine interest as it relates to the U.S. elections. What isn’t fake is the terrible and very real damage done by Romney’s new freind Sheldon Adelson by turning Judaism and Israel into a conservative monopoly. I’m sure Sheldon Adelson is a great philanthropist, but he will have become the ugly face of the American Jewish community, with whom we are going to have to live. As Israel goes down the apartheid drain in the age of Bibi, Adelson represents the power and influence of money as he and the other billionaires and millionaires attempt to reposition the American Jewish community in their own image. And that is going to be the new Jewish culture, both in Israel and the United States, as it resembles more and more the empty core of Mitt Romney’s America –short term interest built upon foundations of nothing.

This stupid little spectacle matters, at some point or another, the image of a thing begins to define its root, or perhaps because the image constitutes the root. That’s what I think. At issue is who gets to control the face and is it just about money?  Once upon a time in America, it used to be rich liberal German Jews who funded new Jewish culture. Today the funding of new Jewish culture is dominated by the likes of Adelson or Roger Hertog over at the Tikvah Fund, or Mem Bernstein at Nextbook. I’m sure it’s all more complicated than that, but I think more liberal money has to step up to the plate, or we can kiss liberal Jewish culture and liberal Judaism goodbye.

(see the suite of stories about the Romney visit in the Washington Post at

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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