A recent video has emerged on the Internet. It shows Jewish students from college campuses throughout America discussing the severe anti-Semitism they encounter on a daily basis at their schools, ranging from anti-Israel and racist comments to physical abuse. It is important to stress two major themes that emerge from the video. The first is that to most people throughout the world, Israel and Jews are seen as one and the same. There is no differentiating between them. If someone identifies as Jewish, then that person is viewed as personally responsible for the actions of the State of Israel. A second, more subtle point, is that Jews are virtually defenseless. Yes, there are occasionally a handful of apologetic Jewish protesters (and I use the word Jewish deliberately to describe the pro-Israel stance), but their voice is consistently overshadowed and defeated by the louder, stronger voices of pro-Palestinian protesters. The solution has been to downplay one’s Jewishness in order to prevent conflict, and to walk away.
If the situation on college campuses is any indication of the state of the country, it seems that American Jewry is in a bad position. I say this not because we Jews face great economic hardship. Our opportunities are not limited; our potential to excel and to succeed in this land lies in our own hands. And succeed we have. Jews permeate every echelon of life in the United States and serve in a wide range industries. One can scarcely open a newspaper or visit a major company without seeing the impact of an American Jew. Jewish individuals have reached unsurpassed levels of power. On one hand, Jews in America have fulfilled the ‘American dream’, yet on the other hand, there is so much hatred of our people. Our students are targeted, and our very beliefs are challenged on a daily basis. As Jews, we are not doing enough to defend ourselves. Why?
American Jews are deeply insecure, still wallowing in our ancient fear of being singled out on the basis of our religion and ethnicity. Historically speaking, American Jews have long grappled with the dilemma of maintaining a Jewish identity without allowing it to detract from their Americanness. Believing that these two ideals were incongruous, several prominent Jewish leaders in the twentieth century shockingly advocated hiding or eliminating one’s Jewish identity in favor of adopting an all-new, all-American image, marshalling under the slogan, “We are Jews in the synagogue and Americans everywhere else.” Attorneys Louis Marshall and Simon Wolf warned that “Jews ought never to articulate an identity that conflicted with the demands of American national culture.” Others, like Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, echoed President Howard Taft’s vision of joining the larger American race and becoming, “an amalgamated race… a different race from that of any one of the peoples from whom we come” instead of being Jewish. It seems that American Jews today have come to terms with both their Jewishness and their Americanness. True, society has become much more tolerant of others since the early 1900’s, yet still, the lingering fear of being singled out seems to have lived on. Hence the tendency to just walk away, to take off the kippa, to remove the Star of David necklace.
The more extreme approach to grappling with this problem is moving to the other side. It cannot be denied that the anti-Israeli side is winning over Jews. This summer’s war in Gaza, especially, has revealed a growing number of American Jews who no longer side exclusively with Israel. Citing lofty principles of morality and human rights, these individuals say that they cannot continue to condone Israel’s actions in the face of such violence and barbarity. While they may still support Israel, they feel uneasy and even ashamed of its behavior and they second-guess its activities. Even more difficult and disturbing for me to see, are the many “proud Jews” who openly voice support for Hamas and who have no reservations in critiquing Israel. Some even go so far as to denounce Israel’s right to exist and gladly wave Palestinian flags or carry signs proclaiming their unique status as Jewish and pro- Palestinian. I won’t claim that these Jews are motivated solely by fitting in with the “cool” crowd, trying to appease their fellow students and coworkers by adopting the popular opinion. Perhaps their actions are generated by a genuine discomfort and anguish over the situation. My heart also goes out to the innocent civilians and children who lost their lives in the conflict. I sympathize with them, and I understand the international outcry denouncing violence and Israel’s actions. I understand the desire to protest and to raise awareness of the situation. And this, in fact, is the second problem plaguing Jewish students on our campuses. If they themselves do not unequivocally support Israel, why should they defend her? Why not just back down and and hide away, fueling the fire of the protestors by supporting their cause? This is a point that must be addressed.
In order to defend Israel, there must first be an understanding that Jews cannot rise up against other Jews. When members of Neturei Karta openly cry for the destruction of the State of Israel and brandish Palestinian flags, the mainstream Jewish world treats them with disgust and views them as traitors to Judaism. There is an understanding that as much as one may disagree with the other, there is a limit to how far one’s actions can go. It seems very clear that a Jew who hugs Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - an individual who dreams of destroying some seven million fellow Jews- has crossed the line. Yet in our ever-increasing need to fit in with broader society, siding with Hamas has become almost de rigueur for Jews. It seems clear to me that the Jewish support for Hamas is merely a manifestation of the ultimate American Jewish goal: full or partial assimilation. When one’s Jewish identity is subservient to one’s American identity, one feels entitled to critique and decry the Jewish State of Israel because one is so far removed from the Jewish Zionist entity that they feel completely separate from it. Is it any wonder, then, that Jews don’t fight back?
This is precisely the problem. No other country in the world faces as much scrutiny and criticism as Israel. On a daily basis, no other country is subjected to as much hatred and discrimination as Israel is. This is why Israel needs us. In the face of so much dissent, Israel needs the worldwide Jewish community to support it unequivocally. Israel needs to know that regardless of what the world may think, we Jews will stand by it and defend it, thereby reciprocating what Israel does for the Jewish community worldwide. There is no need to enumerate here how much Israel has done on our behalf. But we must ask ourselves if we have done enough for Israel. The greatest action we can do is offer our shoulders for Israel to lean on, to give Israelis the security of knowing that they are not alone in an increasingly unfriendly world. We must never forget that we are Jews. Brothers cannot fight against brothers. Disagree with them? Perhaps. But never may we open our mouths against our family. We cannot be seen supporting our enemies and justifying resistance against our homeland.
We seem to have forgotten that Israel is not just some other country, like Syria or Ukraine that we have the luxury of lambasting and proclaiming opinions. Regarding Israel, we must stand together, united and strong with our brothers who give up their lives to defend us and to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. Much as Ahad Ha’am penned in his vision for a future State, Israel is the fundamental core of diaspora Jewish life. It is the key to Jewish existence; it is the prism that upholds and maintains all that is sacred to us. Israel is our home, and also our lifeblood. As our critics understand, it is us, and we are it. Either we must support Israel, or we must cease to be Jews.
We cannot take time to consider the consequences of our actions. We cannot live in fear of being targeted or protested against. We cannot stop and wonder if harboring a pro- Israel stance will exclude us from our friends and peers or if it will cast aspersions on our American identity. We must fight and defend ourselves together with the State of Israel. We must be proud of our State, and we must be willing to show our pride in everything we do, both by rallying on behalf of Israel and by interacting with our non-Jewish compatriots. Our brothers are calling. They need us, and it is time for us to answer their call. With this understanding, our students will get up, and proudly and vehemently defend Israel.