Danube Holocaust memorial 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy: Habonim Dror)
Seventy years ago this week, Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor “a day which will live in infamy.” He was
right. The attack has remained, in the memories of Americans and of much
of the West, synonymous with unprovoked violence, gross American unpreparedness,
and ultimately, a devastating Japanese strategic mistake.
To a battered
Jewish world, though, that “day of infamy” may have been a blessing in a
For matters could have been much worse had the
Japanese not attacked. Absent that Japanese provocation, how much longer would
it have taken for the United States to enter the war? How much more of Europe
might Hitler have conquered had Japan not awakened the hibernating American
giant-to-be? How much stronger would his grip on North Africa have become? How
many more Jews would have been lost? Had he seized the Yishuv, could a Jewish
state ever have arisen? What was a “day of infamy” to many was a day of
salvation for others. The Japanese attack was both a horror and a relief. It
caused untold suffering, but may have saved the free world. There’s a lesson to
be learned from that – dangers come in many different forms – and so does
It’s become popular, these days, to warn that 2011 is looking
ever more like 1938. And to an extent, that’s true. There are, indeed, dangers,
and the similarities are eerie. Once again, the Jews – and this time, their
state – are singled out for opprobrium, and once again, the West pretends not to
notice. Israel is the only country on the planet about which there’s a debate
regarding its right to exist. The United States and Europe know what Iran is up
to and what its intentions are, but for years did virtually nothing. Neville
Chamberlain would have been proud.
Once again, fear and hatred of the
Jews comes from the most bizarre quarters. Even as Israel was battling the
second intifada, Europeans ranked North Korea and Israel as the two greatest
threats to world peace. Hamas runs one of the most misogynous regimes on the
planet, doing nothing, for example, to stop honor killings in which fathers
execute their adult daughters for alleged sexual improprieties – yet American
college students (including women, of course) urge international support for
Hamas – because the Jewish state simply must be stopped.
And as was the
case in the 1930s, resurgent nationalism fuels itself by lashing out at the Jew.
Iran shares no border with Israel, but urges its destruction. Even before the
Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis fared so well in Egypt’s recent elections, the
secular government rattled its sabers and hinted at the possibility of
terminating its peace with Israel.
Rebuffed by the EU, Turkey’s Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made exacerbating tensions with Israel a
cornerstone of his foreign policy. With Syria’s Bashar Assad ever more likely to
fall, when will conflict with Israel be his most logical next step, since hatred
of the Jew is one of the few things that can still unite Syrians?
Yes, there are
discomfiting parallels. Close to home and far away, real dangers lurk. But there
is also danger to the danger. Utterly convinced that the world is aligned
against us, it’s too easy to conclude that we have no choice but to man the
barricades and to fire away until we’re out of ammo. Then, we imagine, we’ll
deal with whatever’s left after the dust settles.
But while that sort of
Armageddon thinking may make for gripping Hollywood scenes, it does nothing to
promote wisdom. When Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) addresses an
American Jewish conference proclaiming “not one inch” and thousands of Jews leap
to their feet with calls of “Bachmann for President,” we’re in
Ariel Sharon did not say “not one inch.” Binyamin
Netanyahu does not say “not one inch.” Even Avigdor Lieberman, toiling
tirelessly to create a state in which few of us would want to live, does not say
“not one inch.” But people love a rallying cry, especially in the face of
danger. Bumper stickers, after all, are so much more appealing than
Michele Bachmann knows better than all of Israel’s leaders? So,
too, do the wildly cheering crowds at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel? Of course
there’s no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the present moment.
But “not one inch” as a policy means “war forever.” Yet that’s OK, isn’t it?
It’s fun to cheer Michele Bachmann in a New York hotel. So what if it means that
Israelis will continue to die, year after year, endlessly? What are we going to
cheer instead? Moderation? Thought?
That’s where 1938 will get you.
you know the world is one big danger, you just batten down the hatches and toss
thinking to the wind. European governments fund left-leaning
organizations that rightly worry us? Let’s create convoluted laws to tax the
funding into insignificance.
Let’s tamper with the Supreme Court (one of
Israel’s few well-functioning governmental bodies, whatever one might think of
some of its rulings) while we’re at it. It doesn’t matter that the
government’s recent slew of legislative innovations has horrified both centrist
Israelis and Zionist American Jews, or that it has elicited warnings from world
leaders. After all, these are dire times.
Who can afford the luxury of
worrying about Israel’s fragile democracy (how many Israeli immigrants came from
countries where democracy was well-established? – very few, of course) and how
easily the enterprise could topple. No – those are the concerns of yefei nefesh
– naïve “liberals” who care about silly things like values.
there are enemies out there... we have to get them before they get us.
do we? Despite all the similarities to 1938, let’s not lose sight of the
overwhelming differences. American Jews of 2011 are nothing like the timid,
intentionally invisible Jews of 1938. Millions of American Christians are
passionate, politically powerful supporters of Israel. Congressional
support is solid. The Jews are no longer landless and homeless, but sovereign.
Much of the West is even awakening (though admittedly too slowly) to the dangers
of Iran and radical Islam.
To be sure, we have enemies. And too many of
our friends are complacent, naïve and ignorant. But we’re not the forgotten,
powerless, ignored masses that we were 70 years ago.
Is this the moment
to abandon any semblance of moderation, to risk becoming our own worst enemies
by destroying from within what our foes would destroy from without? Last time
around, our enemies made terrible strategic mistakes that ultimately led to
their downfall. What if they do not do that this time? Are we determined to make
the mistakes for them? Daniel Gordis is president of the Shalem Foundation and
senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His latest book, S
How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End (Wiley), won the 2009
National Jewish Book Award. His next book,
The Promise of Israel: Why Its
Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength, will be published
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