Distinct Lack of Jewish Outrage
By Jonathan S.
Jews have often been bashed for being too Israel-centric. But while there was a
great deal to be said for arguments that the organized Jewish world needed to
focus more on building up Jewish identity in America rather than live
vicariously through Israel’s achievements and struggles, I’m beginning to
think such criticism isn’t as valid as it once was.
the last several weeks, Israelis have endured a massive rocket barrage from
Gaza, the discovery of terror tunnels dug under their northern border by
Hezbollah terrorists and a spate of deadly shooting attacks on Jewish civilians.
Yet while hard-core pro-Israel activists follow these events closely, they
haven’t generated much interest—let alone outrage—from the broader Jewish
community, especially when compared to concerns about anti-Semitism in America.
are some obvious explanations for this.
of it has to do with a general numbness about such things that 70 years of
conflict has engendered among those who observe Israel’s struggles from afar.
Shootings, rockets and even the threat of an invasion by Hezbollah—Iran’s
terrorist auxiliary in Lebanon—can be viewed as part of a narrative about a
“cycle of violence” between Israel and its enemies that breeds a degree of
complacence, if not apathy, even about such terrible events.
also true that the policies of the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu are generally unpopular among American Jews, even if he still retains
broad support among Israelis, who appear likely to re-elect him next year. That
has created a dynamic whereby all Israeli security concerns—whether on the
strategic level, like the conventional and nuclear threats from Iran, or
everyday terrorism from Hamas in Gaza—can be discounted or even to some extent
ignored. For some critics of Israel, the strategic threats are seen as
exaggerated because they conflicted, as was the case with Iran, with the
position of popular U.S. politicians like President Barack Obama. Others see
routine Palestinian violence directed at Israeli civilians as understandable, if
not justified, because of their opposition to Jewish settlements in the West
it may also be more the result of a breakdown of a sense of Jewish peoplehood
and identity due to assimilation than political disagreements. For those
American Jews who are raised on universalist values, any sectarian or parochial
concern can be seen as inherently racist. If that’s how you look at it, then
you’re likely to view Israel’s troubles as either insignificant or
course, not all American Jews are apathetic. There are still many for whom
support for Israel is the primary or even exclusive focus for their activism and
even to some extent their identity. The same applies to some leading Jewish
organizations that remain committed to bolstering the U.S.-Israel alliance and
supporting the Jewish state in various ways.
the idea that American Jews were obsessed about Israel to the exclusion of other
concerns was always a myth. The energy and passion of pro-Israel activists often
gave politicians the misleading impression that the conflict in the Middle East
was the only thing Jews cared about it. But for most Jewish voters, the security
of the Jewish state has always ranked rather low on their list of vital issues,
if it made the list at all.
they may think of Israel, after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October,
American Jews are concentrating more on anti-Semitism. Though removed as we are
from the rising tide of Jew-hatred that has swept from the Middle East and
across Europe, there is no escaping the realization that even in a country where
Jews are completely accepted, as they are in the United States, anti-Semitism is
understandable that the most deadly attack on American Jews in the history of
the nation would concentrate our minds on threats to Jewish life here, whether
from extremists on the far-right or from the left. But even as we contemplate
that dismal reality—and spar about which form of anti-Semitism is more of a
threat—it is vital that we recognize that what happens in the Middle East is
an inevitable byproduct of the same hate that generates Jew-hatred on these
are those who argue that foes of Israel are solely motivated by anger about the
creation of a Jewish state in a region dominated by Islam, as well as by the
dispossession of those who fled the country in 1948 during the War of
Independence. They claim that the Palestinians have a genuine grievance rooted
in things Jews did to them, rather than anti-Semitic myths about Jewish
even a cursory examination of the arguments against Zionism shows that they are
part of the same mindset of delegitimization of Jewish rights. That is why the
Palestinian Arabs have consistently rejected every offer to share the country
from the 1930s to the offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinian
Authority in the last two decades. The rhetoric of even the moderate P.A. is
just as steeped in the language of demonization of Jews as that of right- or
left-wing anti-Semites in Europe or North America.
matter what you think about Netanyahu or settlements, it’s important to
remember that the Jews shot in the West Bank weren’t targeted because of their
politics, but because they were Jews. The same is true for the ongoing efforts
of Hamas and Hezbollah to threaten the existence of the one Jewish state on the
why stories about rockets, tunnels and especially murderous shootings of
Israelis deserve to be treated as more than just routine violence. It should
merit attention from Americans. Israeli Jews are just as deserving of the right
to live their lives in peace and security as Americans. And their enemies are
motivated by the same kind of intolerance for Jewish rights as those who target
Jews here. If you can’t work up any outrage about that, then you’re not
paying attention to the truth about anti-Semitism.