In a note to a German colleague written in 1922, Ze’ev Jabotinsky told his friend Richard Lichtheim, “I would like to see military training become as common among Jews as lighting Sabbath candles once was. It’s needed because the danger zone is rapidly spreading over the globe… Recently, when I was in Texas [for the Jewish National Fund] I witnessed a parade of the Klu Klux Klan. My Jewish friends looked out the window and spoke in frightened tones of the Russian Jews in Odessa years ago as they watched [them] march by.”
Proscriptive, if not prescient, Jabotinsky was writing a decade before the rise of the Nazi Party; two decades before the mass atrocities they committed against the Jews of Europe; almost three decades before the establishment of the State of Israel (wherein it would be prerequisite for all able-bodied adults to receive such military training); and almost a century before the modern day, when a scene similar to which Jabotinsky described occurring in 1922, took place in the streets of Virginia in 2018.
Surely the Jews in Charlottesville were watching and whispering in equal measure as unrobed but torch-clad supporters of the Nazi-inspired ‘alt-right’ – a savvy, palatable reboot of the KKK-– marched through the streets of their sleepy Southern town before murdering a young woman, plucked indiscriminately from a crowd of innocent bystanders. Because their immoveable ideology of racial and ethnic supremacy belies their true targets, predictably primary among them, the Jews. And as this movement grows in America, so too does the danger confronting the Jewy once thought to have found a secure and stable paradise in the “other Promised Land.” Because what is occurring in the U.S. at the present time, highlights the deeply cyclical nature of Jewish history.
Indeed, Jabotinsky’s letter embodies, in short measure, the quintessential, eternal ‘Problem’ of the Jewish people. That being, the need for a secure Jewish State. But it also speaks to fundamental Jewish ‘Question.’ That being, the security needs of the Jewish People.
With the establishment of Israel in the last century, the answer to these queries appeared answered. The Jewish state, its newly cast Israeli citizens, and even the Diaspora around the world, would be ensured, defended and protected by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This view, built upon the heroic, mythical actions of Israel’s military (alongside the Shin Bet, Mossad and an array of other Israeli security, intelligence, and counterterrorism agencies), who’s innovative, daring, and at times, almost unbelievable raids, rescues and retaliatory attacks against its many enemies – both foreign and domestic – became the stuff of legend. And for most Jews it made them feel, if not safe, then at least safer, both at home and overseas.
Even today, Israel often cites ‘the defense of the Jewish people’ when carrying out military actions against terrorists in Gaza, Judea or Samaria; when striking ISIS in the Sinai; when raiding Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad’s headquarters, safe houses and arms caches; and even when targeting high-ranking, enemy operatives just beyond, or far from, its borders. As the Jewish People Policy Institute wrote in its 2016 report on Jewish values and the use of force, “Israel sees itself as the protector of the World Jewry, solicited or not.”
But the reality is much different – and so too is some of the legend. Wherein the assassination of a local terrorist can reverberate through the global Islamist movement (as it had in 2008 when Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh’s car exploded in Syria); the death of a scientist can lessen the pace of a state-sponsored weapon’s programs (as it did in Iran when four nuclear experts were jettisoned by explosive attacks and drive-by shootings between 2010 and 2012); or the targeting of senior leadership can diminish the operational capacity of a sub-state military (as it did in 2010 with the demise of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, co-founder of Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in Dubai), it is the sad reality that today not all IDF actions are celebrated by Jews as they once were – in the Diaspora and among Israelis alike.
Indeed, the very operations, assassinations and other complex offensive and defensive actions Israel takes against its enemies in defense of itself and the Diaspora increasingly has the opposite intended effect on the fundamental legitimacy and necessity of these operations from the perspective of a great many (and growing) number of Jews. Today, those in the Diaspora often claim the actions of the IDF make them morally uncomfortable; forces them to respond to wild accusations and caustic charges of ‘war crimes’ and human rights abuses lobbied against the IDF by its detractors (including fellow Jews); or worse, make them targets for reprisal by those supporters of the Palestinian cause willing to use violence in the name of the future Palestinian state.
Despite choosing to remain in the Diaspora, these Jews are not unaware of the changes happening around them. This includes, much to the surprise of Israelis, those living in the United States. Daily reports of hate crimes against Jews are replete in the American media yet go mostly ignored by Israelis. The normalization of Swastikas on the walls and playgrounds of schools, the defacement of headstones at a Jewish cemeteries, the shouting of “dirty Jew” on the public transportation, the disruption of Jewish or pro-Israel events on campus, or worse, assaults, stabbings and even shootings at men wearing kipot or woman donning sheitels is occurring at a rate so rapid that reports of hate crimes against Jews in the U.S. during the first six months of 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, are equivalent all reported attacks from 2018. And there is little doubt among those in this field that the reported numbers are lower than the actual rate, as victims fear reprisal or public scrutiny, Jewish community institutions are reluctant to cause alarm among members, and local authorities do not categorize every anti-Semitic attack as a hate crime. Nonetheless, these ‘incidents’ (as law enforcement politely labels them) are beginning to feel a lot like those from the annals of Jewish history, or those in our current time in Jewish communities across Europe, Latin America, Israel and beyond.
As Bari Weiss wrote recently in the New York Times, “we are suffering from a widespread social health epidemic and it is rooted in the cheapening of Jewish blood. If hatred of Jews can be justified as a misunderstanding or ignored as a mistake or played down as a slip of the tongue or waved away as ‘just anti-Zionism,’ you can all but guarantee it will be.”
And it’s not just the American Jews taking note of this tumult. According to research conducted by the Hudson Institute in 2019, 59 percent of Americans see anti-Semitism as greater than just 15 years ago, and as many as 37 percent believe anti-Semitism is widespread across the U.S. It is therefore unsurprising that only half of Americans have a positive image of Israel, according to the same survey, an alarming trend at a time when the Jews residing in Israel’s most stalwart ally find themselves most in need of the defense once promised them by the establishment of the Jewish state. And yet the means of this defense have never been more criticized, condemned and censured by those whose interests it serves than at any time before.
Many American Jews have found refuge, sought or not, in a rising tide of far left progressive politics which, much like their compatriots in the far right who don preppy shirts and khaki pants to mask their irredeemable ideology, mask their own intentions by re-branding anti-Semitism with the ‘credible’ veneer of Boycott, Disinvest and Sanction (BDS); by claiming that anti-Israel sentiment should not be construed as anti-Semitism; or by endorsing a flimsy and unaccountable status of statehood for ‘Palestine,’ despite being led by a terrorist organization (and its associated corrupt political leadership) whose sole stated constitutional purpose is the total annihilation of the very people who reside in the territory intended for their future state.
The impact is palpable. According to the Hudson Institute, only half of all Americans see ‘anti-Israel’ as the ‘new anti-Semitism’, just 53 percent believe BDS is anti-Semitic, and only 48 percent believe the U.S. should do something to help end it. Alarmingly, these views are most prevalent among the next generation – Jews and non-Jews alike. Americans under 40 are decidedly shifting away from Israel. According to the same survey, just 42 percent of Americans under 40 have a positive view of Israel. Furthermore, only 46 percent attribute anti-Israel sentiment to anti-Semitism, just 45 percent view BDS as anti-Semitic, and a mere 39 percent believe the U.S. should intervene to stop it. And despite the fact approximately the same number (53 percent) see anti-Semitism as greater than just 15 years ago, the same percentage who perceive anti-Semitism as widespread (39 percent) believe it is only isolated in nature, thereby tempering the comparison.
This growing fission between old and young, as well as between Israelis and the Diaspora, only serves to ensure a frustratingly fragile future for the American Jewry. But if we are to believe that the strength of the Jewish community is equally reliant upon the Diaspora as it is the State of Israel and that the Jewish future is dependent upon the Diaspora’s roots in the communities within which it flourishes – and thereby influences, advocates and supports (by any range of measures) its brethren in Israel – then it is incumbent upon Israel to do for the American Jewry what they did for Israel in the years leading up to (and in many decades following) the establishment of the state.
Israel must empower the Diaspora to make their own deserts bloom again, as ours does now. Israel must embolden them to resist the false promises that one can separate anti-Semitism from anti-Israel sentiment. Israel must encourage them to be aggressive when meeting the security needs of their communities. And we must engage them to recognize, not ignore, the growing threat posed by anti-Semitism in the United States and ensure their present and future needs are met so that the Diaspora may again be as strong tomorrow as Israel is today.
Because when Israeli politicians, lay leaders and spiritual authorities call upon the Diaspora to make Aliyah – as Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin did in 2015 after a terrorist attack in France, or as Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay did after both the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in 2018 and the recent attack in Monsey, New York – we must consider what this really means for the Jewish people. We must consider the reality in which the Diaspora lives, to say nothing of the arduous personal, professional, and social disruption such an undertaking requires. We must consider the future of the Jewish people, not just in the panicked moments after Jews are targeted. And we must seriously consider the impact on the future of the state of Israel.
For as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton rightly noted at the 2017 Jerusalem Post Conference (much to the dismay of trope-totting anti-Semites who perceive all Jews as having ‘dual loyalty’), the inimitable relationship between Israel and Jewish communities across the world provides the state, “unique advantages that most countries don’t have when they’re trying to identify threats from overseas.”
After all, the miracle of Entebbe was not born solely from the leadership of the fabled Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, nor the heroic actions of the men who followed him, nor the willingness of the government to approve the risky operation. In fact, it was also born from Israel’s engagement and investment in the world beyond its borders. In particular, the work of one Yitzhak “Itche” Gadish, who had spent much of the 1960s in Uganda leading the international arm of Engineering Services, one of the nation’s largest firms of its time. Because it was Gadish who had in his possession the invaluable blueprints of the new airport at Entebbe where the 106 hostages were being held; because it was Gadish who had been responsible for building it. This opportunity, only a decade following the establishment of Israel, may have never been available to Gadish – and therefore to the IDF in its tireless pursuit to plan the most daring rescue in military history over a matter of few days – had Israelis not been actively engaged in supporting and investing in communities overseas.
From President Harry Truman’s long-time Jewish business partner who convinced him to meet Chaim Weissman and defy his own State Department in recognizing the state of Israel, to Henry Kissinger’s personal experience with the Holocaust and his hawkish advocacy on behalf of the Jewish state across Democratic and Republican administrations alike, to Jared Kushner’s Orthodox upbringing and its impact on the administration which recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, to the countless sayanim – most of whom are entirely unaware of their role in critical the security operations of the state – this “unique advantage” is increasingly imperiled by the growing unease of the Diaspora towards Israel occurring simultaneously alongside a rapidly rising rate of danger posed to them, particularly in the United States.
The message is clear.
The battlefield has changed, the enemy dons a new uniform, its tactics are increasingly complex and subtle in its subterfuge, albeit no less lethal as a measure of outcomes. As such, it will take more than then just the actions of our most elite soldiers, despite being hardly less necessary. Rather, the future of Jewish security will increasingly depend on the actions of Israel’s most elite diplomats, politicians, tech-entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, creative, thought, faith and lay leaders willing to adequately arm American Jews (and all of the Diaspora), with new tools to fight the rising tide of violence, vitriol and vicissitude which so voraciously impugns, inculpates and infringes upon the well-being of the global Jewry at the current time.
In 2019, the American Jewish Coalition reported 65 percent of American Jews believe they are less secure then even just one year. Because even American Jews – who represent just 0.2 percent of the U.S. population – bear the torch of our history, as a people distinct among even among the most distinct of nations, and it should come as no surprise that at some point the American Jewry would begin to feel like the minorities our parents or grandparents did. Although this sentiment is much harder to convey to the Israelis of today, a vast majority whom spent their life in, and as, “the majority,” it is a simple fact of our history that when we are not in our homeland, our homes will always remain among a greater number of strangers, however kind they may, or may have until now, be. And so the adequate defensive, and offensives, strategies are as necessary as they have always been. But this time it is Israel who is best suited to design, develop and deploy these strategies.
It is neither herein, nor my responsibility alone, to determine what these new strategies and weapons will be, or how they will be used in order to fight this new type of war. But it is my belief that if the task of carefully and calculatedly crafting them does not commence immediately – by way of recruiting the best and brightest among us, through fostering innovative collaboration, and (most importantly) engaging in the lengthy and often frustrating process of trial and error – then much like the generation past, the sounds of shattering of glass from synagogue windows and Jewish-owned or operated storefronts will be the alarm bells informing us it is already too late. And at that time Aliyah might be, the only option for the American Diaspora, resulting in a mass influx of Jews into Israel, arguably already under way from Europe, which will present an entirely new set of challenges for the Jewish state to confront, both at home and overseas. This point is important. Wherein making Aliyah is about who is and who is not is a ‘Jew’ according to the law of the nation, the mission that confronts us now is about what will be and what once was the shared destiny of the Jewish people, according to the history of humanity as whole.
The task is ours. The time was yesterday. There is nothing more pressing nor urgent. For as he penned in the final lines of his letter to his confidant, Jabotinsky remarked to Lichtman, “even our vegetarian friends must realize but now that we are faced with only two possibilities: either to forget about [a Jewish state] or to fight a war for it.” But just like Entebbe, we will only succeed by being determined, decisive, and most importantly, dedicated to investing in the world around us.
Because we never know who might hold the blueprints for our crucial operation this time around.