Are Jews No Longer Allowed to Cheer?

By David Suissa

Jewish Journal

March 23, 2016


There’s a new Jewish sin in town – it’s not heckling or insulting or bullying.

It’s cheering.

Apparently, we’re no longer allowed to cheer, if who and what we’re cheering offends certain Jews, mostly liberal Jews.

I was there the other night at the Verizon Center when thousands of Jews at the AIPAC policy conference cheered Donald Trump’s full-throated defense of Israel, including his sharp criticism of President Barack Obama. These cheers have now become ground zero in an escalating backlash against the crowd’s reaction.

Even AIPAC itself felt a need to apologize, as new President Lillian Pinkus read a statement saying “we are disappointed that so many people applauded the sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”

Critics contend that the fact that so many Jews were cheering for a vulgarian who has violated so many lines of decency is a sign that these Jews are putting Israel above other Jewish values. They may harbor a mighty distaste for Trump, but they still cheered when he spoke against Obama and the deliberate “daylight” the president put between America and Israel; against the Iran nuclear deal which many see as an existential threat to Israel; and against Palestinian duplicity and the teaching of Jew-hatred in Palestinian society.

These Jews, of course, were doing what most Jews usually do at AIPAC conventions: they were cheering for any message they considered pro-Israel, whether the messenger was Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton.

Let's remember also that many of these same Jews used to cheer for the dream of Oslo and the dream of peaceful co-existence with Israel’s neighbors.

Those were the heady days before Israel got ambushed by reality, the reality of chronic Palestinian rejection and violence.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, backed by President Bill Clinton, made a generous offer to end the conflict and got rewarded with a Second Intifada that murdered over 1,000 Jews.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated all the Jews of Gaza and got rewarded with 15,000 Hamas terror rockets.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer and got rewarded with more Palestinian rejection and the continuous spreading of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism.

As this hard reality was shaping Israeli consciousness, the threats to Israel only increased. The Middle East exploded with even more radicalism and Islamic extremism. Now, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas, all committed to Israel’s destruction, surround the Jewish state, while an empowered and genocidal Iran proudly declares its intention to annihilate Israel.

Apparently, none of that context seems to matter to the critics of the AIPAC crowd that dared to cheer the pro-Israel message of Donald Trump. They can’t imagine that maybe an urgent and sincere desire to protect Israel against vicious enemies would be behind their enthusiastic response.

They can’t imagine that maybe these Jews were simply relieved to hear that a potential future president would have Israel’s back rather than be “neutral,” or that they were exercising their right to speak truth to power when they cheered the sharp criticism of President Obama.

What seems to matter most to these angst-ridden critics is, “What have we become?” In this view, the only possible reaction to seeing Jews cheer a pro-Israel message from Trump is: “How shameful! How partisan! How dare they!”

First, I must say that this whole notion of judging a cheering crowd seems a little precious, especially coming from a people that supposedly worships freedom of expression.

What’s next? Should we be offended by crowds who cheer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because Bibi has shown signs of racism and bigotry? Is this the new frontier of Jewish offense—who applauds and who doesn’t? From now on, should we be monitoring Jewish crowds to see who is applauding what and whom and how loudly?

Beyond that, what these critics seem to be missing is that the “new AIPAC” crowd hasn’t become more rowdy or more partisan. On that one night at least, it was simply more in tune with Israel.

It’s not a coincidence that over the past decade, the peace camp in Israel has shrunk. It has fallen victim to the harsh realities of its increasingly violent neighborhood and especially to the refusal of Palestinian leadership to recognize a Jewish sovereign state-- no matter where its borders are drawn. No amount of worshipping Jewish values can change the primitive reality of having next-door neighbors who want to kill your children rather than make peace.

It is reality that has moved to the right in Israel, not Israelis.

The crowd that cheered at AIPAC the other night did not cheer Trump, they cheered his defense of Israel. They did not suddenly become more “right wing” or more “partisan.” They did not suddenly become anti-peace or anti-Jewish values. They looked at the many threats to Israel’s survival and became more like Israelis.

If that makes them feel like cheering a pro-Israel message from a potential future president, even one we abhor, who are we to preach to them that they should shut up?