No Holds Barred: IDF soldiers are heroes, but Israel needs many kinds of warriors

By narrowing down pro-Israel commitment only to military service, commentators run the risk of degrading the efforts of the Jewish people who fight for Israel in so many other ways.

Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate and major backer of pro-Israel causes. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate and major backer of pro-Israel causes.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This week Haaretz published a vicious column attacking Miriam Adelson as unqualified to voice support for Israel’s Nation-State Law. Considering few people on earth have done as much to support the State of Israel as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the premise of the article was mean-spirited and beneath the prestige of a credible publication.
As the world’s leading Jewish philanthropists, the Adelsons have donated more than $400 million to Birthright Israel, allowing them to help bring more than 600,000 young Jews to experience the magic of the world’s only Jewish state. They have built hospitals and clinics, medical schools and academies of entrepreneurship, and, as some of the largest donors to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, have shown unparalleled love and support for Israel’s soldiers. And they have donated $25m. to Yad Vashem so that our fallen six million are never forgotten.
Worse than the premise of the article, however, were its targets. The op-ed was primed not against Miriam and Sheldon, but against their children. The columnist built her case and based her very title on the Adelsons’ sons, whom she criticized for not having served in the Israeli army. That the columnist would ignore Miriam’s distinguished service as an officer in the IDF, or her eldest daughter and son-in-law’s service as IDF officers, and Sheldon’s service in the US Army, made it clear that this was an attack aimed squarely at their young sons, born in the United States.
I have spent the past 30 years working in, and writing for, the media and have ventured into the political realm, even running for the US Congress in 2012. I’ve read and witnessed decades of editorial critiques – even attacks. But amid all of the partisan broadsides and political mudslinging, I’ve observed an unspoken yet strictly observed rule that all honorable publications and political figures adhere to, and which only the most ignoble choose to ignore.
That rule is this: You can go after public personalities. They have, after all, chosen to introduce themselves into the public sphere, and in so doing have made themselves fair game for negative commentary. What you cannot do, however, is attack their children. As non-public figures, they have their right to privacy and are universally understood to be off-limits.
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are two of the proudest Jewish patriots alive. They’ve chosen to take leading roles in the Jewish world of philanthropy and American political support, and in doing so strode into the chronicles of public discussions
Their two young sons, however, are not the same. And for Haaretz to publish an op-ed attempting to shame them – or any other American Jewish youth for that matter – for not serving in the IDF shows nothing but the seething hatred the publication bears for the entire Adelson family and the paper’s willingness to flout all norms of decency in its tirades against them.
US President Donald Trump is arguably the most criticized man in American media history, and it’s overwhelmingly clear how much some American news outlets loathe him. They often launch assaults against Ivanka and Don Jr., since they’ve chosen to identify with their father’s political campaigns publicly. But even the most bitingly progressive media outlet would never consider publishing an op-ed attacking his son Barron. His privacy is respected, as was the privacy of president Barack Obama’s daughters and the children of any other public figures who have chosen to remain private.
Right-wing publications walked the same line in their decisions to level no criticism against Chelsea Clinton during her father’s presidential campaigns, which she didn’t work for in any public capacity. This changed only when Chelsea chose to go public and campaign for her mother.
Worse, however, than Haaretz’s attack against two sons who are not in the public eye is the blatant hypocrisy it so carelessly parades. Haaretz regularly publishes harsh attacks against Israel by writers such as Peter Beinart – even, ironically, multiple American-born criticisms of Israel’s Nation-State Law – without ever raising the question of whether or not the writers or their children served in the IDF.
For Haaretz, apparently, the standards are lowered for those who criticize Israel. If you love the Jewish state, like the Adelsons, and spend your fortune and political capital in advancing its interests, well, you and your kids better have all the credentials if you dare express an opinion.
EVEN IF we are to ignore this singular lowbrow taunt, we must be sure to rebuff its dangerous ideas.
After all, by narrowing down pro-Israel commitment only to military service, such commentators run the terrible risk of demeaning and degrading the efforts of the Jewish people who fight for Israel in so many other crucial ways.
Firstly, let me be clear. There is no one as brave as Israel’s soldiers, and they are rightly lauded as the Jewish people’s greatest heroes. My wife and I are unendingly proud of our children who chose to serve bravely in the IDF.
But every day I witness American, Australian and European Jews who fight for Israel with all their might, resources, names and reputations, and who put themselves on the line for Israel’s interests. No, this is not the same as a soldier who risks life and limb for a nation that just 70 years ago experienced a genocide. There are none like the IDF. But to say that their service does not matter at all, the way Haaretz has demeaned Diaspora Jewry, is to pretend that Israel does not need BDS fighters on campus, philanthropists who fund synagogues and schools, and rabbis and teachers who perpetuate Jewish identity and legacy.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe never wore an IDF uniform. But without him, Jews and Judaism around the world might have succumbed to an irreversible decline.
When I served as Chabad rabbi in Oxford, I fought with all my might for Israel and hosted six Israeli prime ministers to defend the state. One of the student presidents of my organization joined the cause, soon developing immense talents in articulately defending Israel. His name was Ron Dermer, and for years he helped to lead the efforts to protect the Jewish state at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. He would later go on to become one of the most distinguished ambassadors in Israel’s history, and will forever be remembered for how courageously he fought the disastrous Iran deal, despite an American administration intent on legitimizing Iran. Every day Dermer shows tremendous courage and eloquence on American TV in defense of Israel. He is a soldier of a different stripe, taking down Israel’s enemies in international media.
The same is true of the Chabad emissaries that I encounter all over the world – whether in Lyon or Turin, Nepal or Panama – who dedicate their lives to rekindling fractured Jewish communities in every corner of the globe, all while serving the needs of hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers who go on extended trips after the summation of their service. Will we, too, begin to discount their efforts, even as they fire up Jews with life and pride?
Should student activists who work tirelessly to protect the name of Israel, as it is smeared and maligned on their campuses, also be told that their efforts, too, just don’t make the cut?
I have two children who served in the IDF. As Americans, neither of them had to, but they chose to. I never gloated about their service. I never held it over other parents, or in any way implied that we were a more Jewish or Zionist family because of it. On the contrary, my other children who served as Chabad emissaries know that, in my eyes, their service of spreading Judaism was of vital importance.
We should inspire our children to always fight for Israel and the Jewish people. To demean the method in which they contribute – even as we laud the IDF as the most essential institution to Israel’s survival – is destructive and foolhardy.
Ultimately, the Jewish people need many kinds of warriors. The Lubavitcher Rebbe famously employed military terminology in his drive for Jewish outreach. “The soldiers,” as his young emissaries are called, were told to traverse the world in “mitzvah tanks” on “campaigns” of love and kindness. The Rebbe wasn’t just looking for catchy words. He used such terms because he knew the service of these young men and women in spreading the light of Judaism to millions of unaffiliated and secluded Jews was critical, for without it they would be lost. He wanted every Jewish warrior to have every bit as much grit, energy and discipline as those who so bravely defend Israel on the battlefield.
I have no problem acknowledging a hierarchy of service in which we laud the IDF soldiers as the top of the rung, since they risk their lives to keep Jews alive. I am currently writing a book on the Holocaust and understand that had we had an army, they could never have slaughtered us. But where is the wisdom in arrogantly assailing American Jewish college students for not serving, rather than expecting them to devote themselves to fighting the BDS haters on campus and promoting Israel as the majestic democracy it is?
It is, in conclusion, especially ironic that the Haaretz article was published in response to Miriam Adelson’s support for Israel’s Nation-State Law. Much of the controversy surrounding the law centered on the possibility that it might “alienate millions of Jews worldwide,” as Ronald Lauder put it in an op-ed published recently in The New York Times. Firstly, it should be mentioned that when you seek to shame and condemn Israel – as Lauder did publicly – it is very relevant whether or not you’ve lived and served there, and truly understand the challenges the country is facing.
More importantly, though, if there is anything that might alienate Diaspora Jews, it’s the false notion that if they don’t live and serve in Israel, they aren’t an integral part of it. Jews across the world cannot be made to feel any less responsible for the future of the Jewish people than do those who live in Israel. And, when an American Jewish couple courageously assume the responsibility to care for and defend the Jewish state, with all their resources and political capital engaged in the fight, they ought to be recognized as the Maccabees they are.
The writer, “America’s rabbi,” whom
The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.