Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Why I Am Pro-Israeli

My father, Kenneth M. Wilson, was in the garment business. When I was little, he owned a sewing factory (Kenneth M. Wilson Co., Inc.) back in my hometown of Centerville, Tennessee. He had started there as a plant manager for the then owner (Breezy Winn, from Knoxville), and had somehow managed to buy it and run it and make good money with it while providing good by local standards livings for the people who worked for him (and who, by and large, adored him, and my mom and my brother, who ran the plant after my dad died)).

(How he came to end up in the sewing business is something I don't know and may never learn. He was a government inspector in sewing factories before and during WWII, but I never learned how he got into that. He's been dead since 1974, and there are fewer and fewer people around -- all his sibblings are gone -- who knew him at those times. Somehow, he made if from Jellico, Tennessee, a coal-mining town (at that time) on the Kentucky-Tennessee boarder, via Chattanooga, where his family moved, to Florida, where he met my mom (who was from Sand Mountain, in northeast Alabama, about sixty miles from Chattanooga) in Gainesville in 1946. They moved to Centerville in 1948, I believe, and he bought the factory there, I believe, in the year I was born (1956).)

Being in the rag business, he came to do business with quite a few Jewish folks. Particularly, one Larry Tannenbaum of New York. Somehow, Mr. Tannenbaum and my dad became great buds. I remember my folks going to NYC to visit them during the '64 Flushing Meadows World's Fair.

In June 1967, the Tannenbaums were visiting us in Centerville. At the time, Centerville was probably about 2000 people; the county it's the county seat of, probably had about 10,000 people. (I used to love it when I went off to the prestigious technological university in the northeast how people from places like Hicksville, New York (on Long Islang, population then (early 70s) about 50,000) would tell me they were from small towns.) As far as I know, at that time there had never been any Jewish residents of Hickman county, which is not the case these days. At that time, you could hear Church of Christ (Cambellite, not Congregationalist) ministers on the local radio station reminding everyone of how "the jay-ewes ka-yelled Jay-ezus." (I am not making this up. I heard it with my own ears on more than one occasion. I certainly heard the sentiment from more than a few white locals of whatever protestant persuasion (i.e. Church of Christ, Methodist, Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian, or Nazerene). And while the same locals didn't hold the Roman Catholic Church responsible for their savior's death, they certainly held the Catholic Church in the same contempt.)
So it was while the Tannenbaum's were visiting Centerville that the Six Day War broke out. I can remember Florence Tannenbaum shushing me ("zip your lip, Timmy") as she watched the debate of the U. N. Security Council, which was telecast live at that time (on more than one network, if I'm not mistaken).

It's not that Mr. or Mrs. Tannenbaum ever took me aside and explained to me what had happened just a little over twenty years previously as the world was by-and-large silent as the Nazis murdered millions -- millions, six million, do we all understand that? -- Jews. I was only ten at the time, and I doubt I would've understood. It was later in my life that I grasped that the existence of Israel was something that was very tentative, but very worthwhile. That there were enemies of Israel in the world, and that those enemies, were, by-and-large, nations that didn't share things that we Americans take for granted, particularly freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

The Israelis, on the other hand, embraced at least freedom of expression. Yes, the older I get, the more difficulty I have with any kind of political state based on a religious framework, but I also understand that Jewishness, the quality of being a Jew, does not equal Judaism, the religion of the Jews. Jewishness is like being an Arab; Judaism is like Islam. I don't claim to understand the interrelationships between Israeli political and legal structures and the rabbinical codes of Judaism. I know they're there, but I wouldn't begin to try to explain. I don't think, though, that the existence of that connection removes the legitimacy of the Israeli state.

Later that summer, we went with the Tannenbaum's to Expo '67 in Montreal. My mom and dad and I flew to NYC -- my first commercal flight, a Braniff (bright green, if I remember correctly) Boeing 727. We spent one or two nights there, before heading off to Montreal aboard the SS Shalom, Zim Lines, registry Israel. We were among the few goyem on the ship, which carried, if I recall correctly, about 950 people. So, the little hick kid with the Tennessee twang from Centerville was put in the midst of largely a huge number of New York Jews.

It was incredible. I learned not to ask for milk for dinner on Fridays, that getting a cheeseburger was problematic for some, that older women played something called Mah Jonng with funky tiles that weren't dominoes, that there was a dance called the Horah (or something) that you did to a tune called Hava Nagila (please forgive any spelling errors). They had a live show at the night of the halfway point called "A Salute to Israel" and another the night before getting back into NYC called "A Salute to America".

We went to the World's Fair in Montreal where we saw the US exhibit and the USSR exhibit (we cheated the long lines by sneaking in through an exit door from the restaurant) and the Canadian exhibit (and more, I'm sure), as well as took a tour of Montreal that included the Notre Dame in Montreal.

I know that the situation with the Palestinians sucks. If I could go back 120 years, I would plead with the founders of Zionism to reconsider what they were doing. I accept that most of the land occupied by Israel was gained fair-and-square by the rules of the time of either purchase or of war, but I also understand that that likely makes no more sense to a randomly selected Palestinian than Jews being a stateless people would've made sense to a randomly selected Jew. In either 1880 or 1918. Or 1945.

But do not pretend to me that the current Israelis are "terrorists" or "Nazis". For any faults that have occurred at the founding of the Israeli state (certainly there are issues involving terrorism at that time), they are not the faults of the current Israelis, even the government of Sharon. The current Israelis, even though drastically different in demographic from the US Jews like the Tannenbaums who were so wrapped up in the support of the Israeli state, are still my friends.

I have had Palestinian friends, too, but I regret that they, to a one, have bought hook, line, and sinker, the bogus, corrupt Arafat crew as their representative for their hopes and dreams. Regardless of the degree to which I respect those hopes and dreams, I can't support any kind of culture, society, or state that turns mass murder by suicide into a kind of cultural norm. To call that some kind of nobility is Orwellian doublethink. It should be denigrated, treated as disgusting, at every instance of its occurrence.