Once again, a pigua shattered the beauty of a Jerusalem Shabbat. Loosely translated as “terrorist attack,” this ugly word in Hebrew packs a greater emotional punch, thanks to its meaning – and too-frequent use. Defined as a violent action by terrorists intended to cause pega – injury, calamity – pigua emphasizes the crime’s evil intentionality.
While reeling from hearing about seven people slaughtered in Neveh Ya’acov, including 14-year-old Asher Natan, we also heard about the father and son shot by a 13-year-old at Ir David, 2 kilometers from my home.
Compounding the dismay were videos of Palestinians celebrating these “victories” by singing, dancing and distributing candy. Clearly, not every Palestinian acts so despicably. I toast Fadi Dekidek, a Palestinian who was the first paramedic on the bloody scene in Neveh Ya’acov. I condemn the “price-tag” vengeance attacks against Palestinians by a few marginal Israelis.
Still, the Palestinian videos show that these were not a few outlaws’ fringe activities – these bloodthirsty partyers represent a dominant stream in Palestinian society. Those living so far away who are so quick to judge Israelis for not trusting Palestinian “peacemaking” postures should watch those videos and search for hard-to-find condemnations by other Palestinians.
FIVE YEARS ago, on October 27, 2018, a crazed individual murdered 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. This massacre inspired books, movies, memorials. Since then, Palestinian terrorists have murdered 63 people in dozens of attacks, amid hundreds of attempts. The victims are Jews and Arabs, Israelis and foreigners, one as young as four days old – Amiad Israel – delivered prematurely to save his pregnant mother, Shira Ish-Ran, 21 – and one as old as 89.
I understand how Pittsburgh traumatized American Jews and many caring Americans. It violated the fundamental assumption – the great historic gift – that Jews are safe in America. True, the murderer was one lunatic upstaged by millions of Americans, from the powerless to the powerful, who responded with love, warmth, hugs, vigils, indignation and protests. Nevertheless, I respect the fear, the pain, the psychological, ideological, and political disruption caused by that pigua – that intentional assault targeting innocent worshipers.
An empathy gap from the West to the East
Unfortunately, I often feel an empathy gap from West toward East. I don’t feel similar waves of understanding, outrage and support, particularly toward our little blue-and-white homeland. Headlines describe mysterious “SHOOTINGS” that “KILL 7” – as if there isn’t an ocean of incitement, networks of gunrunning, and cliques of manipulative handlers who trained the murderer to kill Jews “for Palestine.”
News analyses treat this rampage as a reaction to Israel’s new government, ignoring that this surge in violence began last Ramadan and that many Palestinian terrorists are constantly attempting murder, continuing their decades-long war against Israel’s existence. And, to my disgust, in too many centers of American Jewry, rabbis, professors, and other opinion-makers blame Palestinian violence on the victim, Israel.
SO FAR, these Jewish Blame-Israel-Firsters remain a minority. Most American Jews I know, meet and read about in surveys remain proud and protective of Israel. Therefore, although I resent the disproportionate attention the hypercritics command within the community and beyond, I resent even more their supersized self-righteousness and the feeble pushback they increasingly receive.
I share Prof. Ruth Wisse’s consternation – and fury – that, as she wrote in Sapir in 2021, “No other minority in America is ‘in sympathy’ with the war against its members – not African-Americans, Latinos, or Asians, not Native Americans or gays. Only the Jewish Left and their liberal fellow travelers capitulate in the old ways.”
“No other minority in America is ‘in sympathy’ with the war against its members – not African-Americans, Latinos, or Asians, not Native Americans or gays. Only the Jewish Left and their liberal fellow travelers capitulate in the old ways.”Prof. Ruth Wisse
This betrayal by these un-Jews – intellectuals and leaders, often on the Jewish dole, undoing the core Jewish consensus around Israel and Zionism – is even more outrageous because the forces gunning for Israel are not just anti-Jewish, not just anti-Zionist, but illiberal, anti-American, undemocratic and totalitarian.
Let me be clear. I seek vigorous debate regarding Israel, Israeli democracy, Israeli policies, Israel’s leaders and Israel’s attitudes and actions toward the Palestinians and others. Healthy identity Zionism requires a big tent like Abraham’s, open on all four sides – or we suffocate. But just as no tent can stand without its poles, no community can survive without some boundaries.
I attack those delegitimizers who repudiate what Israel is, not what Israel does. I condemn those demonizers who inject irrelevant race-based analogies and critiques of Western actions into Zionism’s unique story. And I challenge communal leaders, living off sacred Jewish dollars, to stop building relationships with Israel only through breast-beating without cheerleading, especially because there’s a bigger, more honest and far more inspiring story to tell.
It’s a story of how our youngest, newest martyr, Asher Natan, lived – not just how he died – loving Torah, loving life, perpetually smiling. It’s a story of our latest heroes, from the anonymous officer who shot the Ir David terrorist while absorbing life-threatening wounds, to this paramedic Fadi Dekidek who explains: “Jews save Arabs; Arabs save Jews,” while calling Magen David Adom “an example for the whole world.”
I hope this violence moves our government to slow down its bulldozing ways and keep us united. I hope it challenges the sky-is-falling gloom-and-doomers to protest without shouting loudly, hysterically, democratically, that Israeli democracy is over.
But I also hope this bloodstained moment, outside a synagogue, on Shabbat, 78 years after Auschwitz’s liberation, reminds those American Jews flirting with anti-Zionism to sift right from wrong. Israel is more humane and democratic than ever. We are all stronger, safer, better, with a robust, safe Israel. And we still all are one – Am Yisrael Chai.
The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and four on Zionism. He is the editor of the new three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People (www.theljp.org).