Center Field: The new Jews of silence

Of course, when I’m rude enough to ask, you’ll condemn the rocket fire – but where were you? Where are you, really?

Shattered glass covers shoes left on the seat of a car that was damaged after a rocket hit a house north of Tel Aviv, Israel March 25, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Shattered glass covers shoes left on the seat of a car that was damaged after a rocket hit a house north of Tel Aviv, Israel March 25, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Dear American Jews,
Since Saturday, we Israelis have heard lots of noise, amid a 700-rocket barrage. Sirens are wailing to warn us. Airplane engines are roaring to protect us. Hamas’s Kassams are kabooming to kill us. We’ve heard the piercing cries of people burying loved ones amid the war whoops of Palestinian thugs promising to destroy us. Israeli politicians prattle on, posturing instead of leading, while our brave soldier sons and daughters call from Gaza, reassuring us “we’ll be OK” as they prepare to fight, if necessary.
But, from you, my friends, we haven’t heard much.
Few of you bothered to reach out personally amid a barrage that no country fulfilling its primary function – protecting its citizens – would absorb passively: certainly not America, under any president. And be honest: which five-letter word still triggers more bile in your stomach: T-r-u-m-p or H-a-m-a-s? This week, have you heard more, thought more – ultimately cared more – about the next Game of Thrones episode and the new Avengers: Endgame or the real violence menacing us in Israel?
Of course, when I’m rude enough to ask, you’ll condemn the rocket fire – but where were you? Where are you, really?
True, the main Jewish organizations supported Israel – but you rarely pay attention to them, so it’s disingenuous to get yourselves off the hook with their statements. And it would’ve been nice to hear one of their leaders – most of whom supported the Gaza disengagement back in 2005 – suggest: “Maybe we miscalculated” and “Maybe we need to rethink our instinctive two-state solution sloganeering: Might an Israeli withdrawal create yet another failed dictatorship?”
By the way, don’t worry. You’re in good company. Most Democratic presidential candidates were equally silent. Bernie Sanders called for “even-handedness,” while the obscure Mike Gravel tweeted: “Long live Palestine!”
By contrast, read President Donald Trump’s tweet: “We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens...” Even if you hate him, can’t you thank him for getting this one right? And note Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer declaring: “Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, stands strongly in support of our ally Israel and its right to protect its citizens from terror.” Don’t go and support presidential aspirants who are bullied by radicals parading as “progressives” into overlooking this consensus.
UNFORTUNATELY, as usual, destructive voices filled the vacuum you left. Bad enough were the “pray for both sides, just end this cycle of violence” types. I, too, mourn every casualty – without sinking into this relativist pit. These armchair amoralists, refusing to link Hamas’s antisemitic rhetoric with its anti-Israel obsession, can’t even blame our enemies when they bomb us 700 times. This moral equivalence is particularly hypocritical given the justified outrage against Trump’s “You also had some very fine people on both sides” remarks after Charlottesville.
It’s ironic. Trump’s remarks came amid a typically undisciplined wave of presidential rants, which also included his statement: “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups...” I wish these spineless seesawers could condemn Palestinian “criminals and thugs” as clearly.
Even worse are the Bash-Israel Firsters. Next summer – before anyone falls for the IfNotNow-Con pretending to want “honest” conversations about Israel at Ramah camps or on Birthright – remember INN’s tweet: “Israel must stop murdering Palestinian civilians. We stand with Gaza tonight and always.” Remember INN’s Facebook, ahem, analysis: “This latest flareup is the result of years of deliberate Israeli political decisions to keep Gaza on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.”
Somehow, INN resists an honest accounting acknowledging Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and Hamas’s violent coup, which – deliberately, systematically – turned Gaza into a theocratic dictatorship and one big missile launching pad.
Jewish Voice for Peace echoed INN’s ahistorical, condescending approach to Palestinians, absolving them of all responsibility, by tweeting: “Before there was Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, or any other boogeyman, there was Israeli ethnic cleansing, massacre, apartheid and land theft. That is… the root of the problem.”
MY FRIENDS, these Israel-haters don’t represent you. I read the polls. I know you. Most of you love Israel. But these “asaJews,” as the British novelist Howard Jacobson calls them, are drowning you out, pretending to speak “asaJew” for all Jews – or at least all young Jews.
I worry about your communal reputation. I fear the distortions twisting American Jewish politics as illiberal leftists hijack the debate via Twitterdumb and elsewhere, falsely boosting fanatics who think being loud means being representative. See the chaos that similar dynamics are causing within the Democratic Party – and threatening its chances in 2020.
Beyond politics, I worry about your souls. Silence, cowardice, indifference, distractions by trivialities – such toxins dissolve self-esteem, individually and communally.
You worry about how our actions make us look; I worry about how your inaction makes you feel. You like to tell us how often Israel disappoints you – once again, as with your inability to recognize the Iranian nuclear threat, you disappointed Israel.
To get past this impasse, Israel and American Jewry must improve their dialogue, listening to one another, not just talking at one another.
And you, American Jewry’s rank and file – including the overwhelming percentage, as reflected in most polls, of non-alienated, non-Israel-bashing young American Jews – must find your voice. Create new organizations with the word “youth” in the title to upstage the INNers, to marginalize the terrorist-lovers. And stop letting loud, shrill Israel-bashers drown you out: American Jewry’s too silent and too distracted, yet still patriotic truly moral majority.

The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.