Thoughts on ‘Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me’ by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman

By Bert Stratton

Harvey Pekar became anti-Israel in 1967. Just when the Jews were no longer underdogs.  In Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, Harvey writes, “Like I said, everything really changed for me in 1967.”

I remember 1967 too — particularly pre-Six-Day War 1967 — when Jews didn’t say the word “Jew” much in public in Cleveland, and nobody wore a yarmulke in public (they wore fedoras over them), and Jews got their asses kicked regularly by Italians (at least in my neighborhood).

Pekar attributed his Zionist turnaround to New Left thinking.  He writes in the comic book, “[In the 1960s] I met a lot of leftists, New Leftists and Marxists, who were opposed to at least some of Israel’s policies. What they said had validity.”

It’s natural to empathize with the underdog, particularly natural for Jews.  Jews like the little guy.  (Not many Jews are over six feet.)  I understand.  Harvey, a file clerk, understood powerlessness and Jews. Part of his world-view was speak a few words of Yiddish, tell some jokes and get beat on.

There were no West Bank settlements prior to 1967, and the Arabs hated the Jews, nonetheless.  The Palestinians equated the Jews with the Turks, Crusaders and everybody else who “visited” the Middle East.

Modern Zionism started 115 years ago, but Jews have been in Israel for more than three-thousand years.  The Arabs — 700,000 of them approximately — got kicked out and/or fled Israel in 1948, when Israel became a modern state.

But where’s the statute of limitations?

We are all the descendants of thieves!  (That line is stolen from ecologist Garrett Hardin.) Let’s give Cleveland back to the American Indians.  Let’s start there. It has been only 216 years (Moses Cleaveland’s day) since the Indians ruled here.

In Europe after World War II, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Poles, ethnic Germans and other Europeans were forcibly repatriated. Few people talk about that.  What about the massive Pakistani (Moslem) and India (Hindu) population exchanges in 1947? That involved millions of displaced persons.

Israel has absorbed 800,000 Jews from Arab countries since the founding of Israel.  Many of these Jews were chased out of their homes.  Israel absorbed most of them.  The Arabs did not absorb the Palestinians who left Israel.

Pekar was against the West Bank settlements.  (So are a lot of people.) He was against the Israeli barrier wall/fence, built after the Second Intifada to protect Jews from suicide bombers who targeted Israeli pizza parlors and discos.

Pekar envisioned an underdog Jewish state. Maybe he was picturing socialists in dorky caps playing accordions around a kibbutz campfire.  No, not accordions.  Harvey was into jazz.

Israel can be the underdog again, though.  All it has to do is get blown up.  Some people will love that: The poor Jews, slaughtered again. So sad.

JT Waldman, co-author of Not the Israel, and Joyce Brabner, Pekar’s widow, are speaking on the comic book Wednesday night at Case Western Reserve.  I’m not going.  I read the book; I heard Harvey from the grave.  And I said, “Shut up, Harvey!”


Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy. He knows about the band biz and — check this out — the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klez Landlord. You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. His blog Klezmer Guy ( has a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets. Klezmer Guy was a reporter for Sun Newspapers. He has written for Rolling Stone, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Times. He won two Hopwood Awards.

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