I wanted to write a history-oriented column celebrating 75 years of friendship between the American Jewish community and Israel since May 14, 1948. We should say “God bless America” for its generosity, and “God bless American Jewry” for decades of political, financial and moral support.
But this moment is bittersweet. I worry about the next 75 years, especially with so many up-and-coming American Jewish leaders trashing Israel, defying the American Jewish majority proud of the Jewish state.
Two years ago in May, when Hamas unleashed a more lethal barrage than last week’s 1478 Islamic Jihad rockets, many young rabbis, Jewish studies professors and Israel studies professors blasted Israel, not its attackers. Natan Sharansky and I labeled these Jewish Bash-Israel-Firsters as “Un-Jews” in Tablet. These smug intellectuals are not ex-Jews or anti-Jews. They are not what the writer Howard Jacobson calls “as-a-Jew” Jews, only asserting their Jewishness to justify their anti-Zionism.
These are full-time Jews, on the Jewish dole, from within the heart of the American Jewish community, trying to undo the core consensus that has united Jews since 1948, linking the fates of Israel, Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish people.
The un-Jewish anti-Zionist Jews
Neither of us regrets one word of that article, and we feel very confident challenging this shift among certain American Jewish elites. But the article now needs a follow-up exposing “Un-Jews, Inc.” Follow the money. Unravel the growing institutional spaghetti connecting explicitly anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace with other organizations, like the Association for Jewish Studies, which have been hijacked by un-Jews – and often silence Zionists.
We’ve been told to “calm down,” for calling out these professorial un-Jews. I’ve been told to “shut up” when I challenge rabbinic seminaries of Zionist denominations for ordaining rabbinical anti-Zionists. Such dismissals often come from people who criticize Israel willy-nilly, insisting that criticism reflects true friendship – how come our challenges to them aren’t seen as friendly gestures?
Beyond the blatant hypocrisy, let’s overlook the condescension of dismissing a former prisoner of Zion, who is shocked to see the antisemitic anti-Zionism he assumed was the Soviet dictatorship’s perversion, imported into America and other democracies, then validated by some Jews.
We weren’t hysterical then, or now. We didn’t demonize those who simply criticize Israel. But it is quite rational to draw clear redlines around those who, in their desperate need to be accepted by the far Left, use sloppy, ahistorical and unfair language to stereotype Israel as racist, colonialist, imperialist, and the new trendy favorite, Jewish supremacist. They attack what Israel is – not what it does.
When the most successful vote-getter in American Jewish history, Bernie Sanders, allows Rashida Tlaib to host a “Nakba” event on Capitol Hill, he spearheads this pile-on. Calling Israel’s very existence a “catastrophe” says there are no good Israelis, all are guilty – and all should be targeted by rockets and terrorists, no matter how many anti-Bibi Saturday night protests they attend.
These traitors don’t really threaten us in Israel, even as rockets barrage our homeland. Nor do they threaten Israeli kids, who know how to defend themselves – and do it gracefully, courageously. But these rabbis and academics, propped up by their Jewish studies PhDs, named professorships and Jewish communal positions, threaten the next generation of American Jews. Feeling out-virtued, too many progressive Zionists respond to young doubters so apologetically, with such intellectual and emotional acrobatics, it’s embarrassing to watch.
No country is perfect. And healthy democracies must learn from thoughtful critics. But when some Jews with little historical sense, sitting on plush campuses, repudiate Israel or Zionism or the American Jewish consensus recognizing Zionism’s centrality to Judaism, I don’t ask “what’s wrong with us?” – I ask “what’s wrong with them?”
MY SON Yoni had a commander who has a theory for dealing with crazy Israeli neighbors – which applies to anti-Israel delegitimizers, Left and Right. The first time, he says, “be polite, ask what the problem is,” see if it’s solvable. The second time, he advises, “hold your ground, defend yourself – start yelling and don’t stop till you’ve out crazied-them.”
It’s a fascinating approach to modern Zionist education. We need students sophisticated enough to outflank and outtalk our critics – but proud enough to punch out our foes, too. No, I don’t want them acting on those emotions and turning violent. But I want them to learn how to recognize enemies from within and from without – be they peers or professors – and understand that self-respect involves righteous indignation and self-defense, not sniveling and surrender.
I remain struck by Ruth Wisse’s challenge, in Sapir in 2021, that “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.”
Think of the spinelessness it takes to applaud your own people’s haters, to give them a Senate committee platform, a professorial stage, an op-ed embrace, a rabbinic hechsher (mark of approval). Think of the cowardice it takes for donors to underwrite such initiatives, for parents, alumni, administrators, and congregational leaders to tolerate such blubbering, or for students to succumb to it.
I keep meeting the Silenced American Majority who don’t and won’t: Remember that 83% of American Jews tell pollsters that they support Israel proudly. But I wonder where these renegade leaders will lead the community.May Prof. Wisse’s insight be a warning that mobilizes – not an epitaph.
The writer is an American presidential historian and, most recently, the editor of the three-volume set Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People.