Editor's Notes: US Jews in trouble! What about Israeli Jews?

American Jews might reasonably say: Stop worrying about us, and start worrying about yourselves.

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
It might be considered commendably candid for the head of an organization that relies for its very existence on the support of American Jewry to tell the leaders of that community that they have no future. To do so on the eve of their annual leadership gathering is more dramatically outspoken still. And when that gathering has been completely remade, post-Hizbullah war, into a veritable solidarity-with-Israel event, with the domestic US Jewish agenda marginalized, images of Daniel and lions come inescapably to mind. So now that Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski has declared to The Jerusalem Post, ahead of this past week's United Jewish Communities' General Assembly, that "one day the penny will drop for American Jews and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the US due to assimilation and intermarriage," no one can ever question his candor. As for the wisdom and veracity of his remarks, however, and his proposed solution - "We have to get them to move to Israel" - well, all that most certainly is open to question, wonderful though a major upsurge in American aliya would be. There can be little doubt for those prepared to open their eyes that much of European Jewry is in real trouble. Intermarriage born of indifference is drastically reducing pure numbers in community after community across the continent. Those declines often stand in sharp contrast to rising Muslim numbers. In France, for instance, the Muslim populace now outnumbers the Jewish community seven or eight times over. This kind of shift can only have the most profound negative implications for the influence and well-being of the Jews in such countries (not to mention repercussions for the positions and policies of European governments when it comes to Israel). To take an unavoidable example from the United Kingdom, the mayor of London, the populist Ken Livingstone, has a track record of horribly offensive comments not only about Israel but about Jews. He notoriously likened a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard, and suggested that two Jewish property developers with whom he had a gripe ought to "go back and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs" (incidentally, the two, brothers Simon and David Reuben, were born in India, of Iraqi descent). It is hard to believe that a more numerous, robust and confident Jewish community, raising objections in a more sympathetic domestic environment, would not have prompted Livingstone to apologize for and moderate such utterances. But so cowed is the Anglo-Jewish leadership, so reluctant to rock the boat, that Livingstone sails serenely on, in the process normalizing what should be unacceptable rhetoric and attitudes. Few Diaspora communities buck the trend of declining numbers and thus declining influence. But the most obvious example of a major Jewish community where members can afford to feel relatively sanguine about their future is precisely the one targeted by Bielski. No, we didn't need Sacha Baron-Cohen's box-office-topping Borat to remind us that America is not free of instinctive, ignorant anti-Semitism. And no, we don't need expensive surveys to confirm that a proportion of the American public feels that Jews have undue influence on US foreign policy, and even that 9/11 and ongoing threats of terrorism stem from a misguided American alliance with our Jewish state. But relatively speaking - and I write this as a British-raised Jew who has spent a fair amount of time over the years on trips to the United States - American Jews get to live proud, open and unthreatened Jewish lives, and can afford to believe that they'll be able to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Bielski is not off the mark in warning of the deleterious, ultimately destructive, impact of assimilation. Indeed, the very tolerance of American society constitutes, paradoxically, an invitation to relinquish the distinctive Jewish identity and melt in. But, relatively speaking again, his apocalyptic forecast for American Jews seems, how shall we say, a bit rich when you consider just how threatened Israel is looking right now. Bielski commendably worries about intermarriage eating into the core of American Jewry over the coming generations. But right now, back here, with our armed forces hierarchy still paralyzed in the aftermath of the war with Hizbullah, we're facing daily rocket attacks into the South from the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian public remains firmly rooted behind its terrorist government even at the cost of family-by-family financial ruin. As explosives pour into Gaza, every effort is being made to replicate the terrorist military capability in the West Bank as well. Three months after the end of the summer war that cost 160 Israeli lives, the Hizbullah enemy that was supposed to have been removed from the border, shorn of much of its weaponry and undermined as a political force, is now back at the border collecting intelligence, rearming and challenging the Lebanese government for power. And behind this unmistakable strategic effort to weaken and ultimately destroy Israel stands Iran - now on the point of mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, according to its president. Another Israeli leader who has been speaking out with questionable candor is the new Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, whose Post interview last week about the need for Israeli readiness to use military force as "a last resort" to thwart Iran's drive to the bomb made headlines around the world. Less widely quoted was his stated concern that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be able to destroy Israel without even having to fire: "The danger isn't as much Ahmadinejad's deciding to launch an attack, but Israel's living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction," said Sneh. "I am afraid that under such a threat, most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. People are not enthusiastic about being scorched. I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs." Such anxieties have been aired by top Israelis in private conversations for some time now. Sneh is the first to have made them public. And they are real, indeed. How many Israelis with other citizenship options would choose to exercise them if Iran went nuclear? We've already seen the long lines outside European legations of Israelis seeking to acquire foreign passports "just in case." What would become of our national self-confidence and morale, hardly high in the aftermath of the summer's fighting, if the international business community reassessed Israel's perceived stability in the shadow of a nuclear Iran and our economy began to wither? LISTENING TO Bielski's warnings, in this context, American Jews might reasonably retort: Stop worrying about us, and start worrying about yourselves. Right now, they might add, you need us as much as you've ever done: to champion Israel's cause among opinion-shapers and decision-makers in the world's sole superpower - to win over politicians and to more widely explain the challenges and concerns Israel has proved strategically incapable of effectively articulating - as well as to directly bolster our tourism industry, provide the philanthropy that ameliorates some of our social inequities and much, much more. In a major address this week, even Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair was heard to assert that the war on terrorism would not be won so long as there was no peace between Israel and Palestine - for all the world as though Dhiren Barot, the London-raised Hindu convert to Islam who was jailed for life last week for planning a series of terror attacks, was motivated by a sense of grievance for the Palestinians. It is no coincidence but, rather, a consequence in good part of American Jewish activism, that the US, uniquely, has internalized the extent of the Islamic extremist threat. Better than almost every nation bar Israel, the US recognizes the degree to which the architects of Islamist terror, rather than reacting to grievance, abuse issues of conflict as pretexts to advance their expansionist agenda. Years ago, benefiting from the rich diversity of my own family, I had a series of discussions with an ultra-Orthodox first cousin about Israel's survival. While I talked brain-power, military innovation and courage, he looked at me pityingly and focused on the divine. Our continued existence in defiance of plain logic was the consequence, he argued simply, of having God on our side. That's well and good, but I tend to the view that God helps those who help themselves. Helping ourselves right now does not include destabilizing the one robust Diaspora Jewry with the desire and the capacity not only to steadfastly stand with Israel but to substantively advance its interests. Helping ourselves right now requires a little less redundant outspokenness abroad, and a little more quiet, strategic focus on the multiplying threats at home.