I was sharing a ride with a Jewish colleague during the height of the 2nd Intifada in 2002 – a terror war against the Jewish state that would claim over 1100 Israeli lives – and discussing the increase of anti-Semitic acts around the world triggered by the conflict when she exclaimed, “Ariel Sharon is causing anti-Semitism.”
Of course, what she was talking about was the upsurge in anti-Semitic violence directed towards Jews in the European diaspora while Israel was fighting Operation Defensive Shield. My colleague eventually apologized for her remarks – as, perhaps, it occurred to her how insensitive she sounded – but that visual is still emblazoned in my mind: A Jew living quite comfortably in safety and affluence in the United States bemoaning the defensive actions of the world’s only Jewish state in a war against foes openly committed to her destruction.
I recalled that conversation when I first learned that Mick Davis, head of the UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), the leading fund-raising organization in Britain for Israel, said the following:
“I think the government of Israel …have to recognise that their actions directly impact on me as a Jew living in London. When they do good things it is good for me, when they do bad things, it’s bad for me.”
While it was heartening to see the support Jonathan Hoffman’s letter in the JC (lambasting Davis) received by at least some in the British Jewish community, the broader problem of diaspora Jewry’s “discomfort” when confronted with the messy business of defending Israel goes beyond Mick Davis. Davis represents a large number of Jews who, as Melanie Phillips, noted,
“…instead of truthfully identifying the cause of the conflict as Arab intransigence and… hatred…parrot the Israel-bashers’ false claim that the impasse is really Israel’s fault.”
The moral elitism that many well-meaning diaspora Jews feel represents a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that no amount of Israeli good will or sechel (intellect) – of which, such Jews see themselves as possessing in massive quantities – by Israel’s leaders can magically bring peace in the Middle East. For many well-off Jews outside of Israel, it has become un-PC to acknowledge [regarding Hamas, Hezbollah, and other radical Islamist groups] that we are dealing with a dramatically different culture than ours – an ideology that doesn’t share our views about tolerance, pluralism, and peace.
Beyond Davis, there is a broader point to be made about a Western Jewish world that has become (largely) so well-off – enjoys so much freedom, comfort, and safety in the nations where they reside, that they have lost the sense of what it means to have to struggle for your existence, to have to take up arms and fight for your life, your family, your community, your nation – for the right to live freely as Jews in a part of the world that is still hostile to such modest aims.
No matter how openly hostile Israel’s enemies are to her existence, no matter how serious and complex the myriad of threats that they face are, such a disconnect results in an inability to empathize with such fears – the very real concerns of Jews whose lives aren’t as easy as their own.
This dynamic – this glaring lack of empathy – was on full display when, during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, a press release was issued by the new left-wing Israel lobby group, J Street, scolding Israel for its behavior and claiming that:
“Only diplomacy and negotiations can end the rockets and terror.”
I was then, and remain to this day, truly baffled how any adult with even the most rudimentary understanding of the democratic world’s experience in the last century battling totalitarian and terrorist movements can seriously make such a claim. And – as a new Israeli who now must burden the real-world consequences of such facile notions about war, peace, diplomacy, and the right to self-defense – I nervously ponder the degree to which such ideas have planted roots and taken hold within diaspora Jewish communities across the world.
A Jewish writer, Jay Michaelson, wrote an essay for The Forward last year expressing his diminishing ”love” for Israel, and his increasing reluctance to mount a defense against her critics. Michaelson – mirroring in many ways the lament of Mick Davis – complained that defending Israel within his political circles had become an extremely risky endeavor. He said:
”In my social circles, supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid…the war in Iraq, or George Bush …It’s gotten so bad, I don’t mention Israel in certain conversations anymore, and no longer defend it when it’s lumped in with South Africa and China by my friends.”
Yet, he went on to admit that he knows it is:
”…a sign of weakness of will on my part…this is wrong of me, I know.”
He, remarkably, concluded by acknowledging:
“I still support the State of Israel, its right to exist and the rest. Most important, it is still, in part, my home…. But as an outsider, I no longer want to feel entangled by their decisions and implicated in their consequences. B’seder: It’s your choice to make… but count me out.”
As Jonathan Hoffman said:
“If Israel ’s policies make Davis uncomfortable at the golf club, let him acquire the knowledge and pride to defend a democracy under fire. If he is unwilling, he is not fit to be a communal leader and should resign.”
Mr. Davis, some things in life are worth fighting for – even if it means losing a bit of comfort and security.
Perhaps you need reminding that if, indeed, you lose friends as a result of such a principled stance, well, you may want to consider the possibility that such folks weren’t really your friends to begin with.