Jewish Catastrophe, Jewish Disunity

“I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer…my heart bleeds, that you dear brothers and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all consuming lava.”

These words were spoken by one of the most fundamental Zionist revolutionaries in the history of Israel, lawyer and guerrilla warrior Ze’ev Jabotinsky, in his 1938 speech “Tisha B’Av.” He was addressing the Jewish diaspora in Poland and referring to the largely unforeseen coming of the Holocaust, yet his words ring as true today as they did then. A catastrophe is indeed coming closer: Britain’s Labour Party has engaged in openly antisemitic behavior to the point that some British Jews are considering moving to Israel, France has been peppered with murders of Jewish citizens, and antisemitic attacks on Jewish citizens of the United States have seen their largest increase in the previous year since 1979. The latter point has been made in striking detail with the recent shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With 11 people killed and six wounded, this would be a crucial opportunity for the Jewish people to express unity and solidarity with one another across nations and communities. However, discord has only increased, both within the State of Israel and across the Atlantic Ocean, between Israeli Jews and the Jewish Diaspora.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted an online condemnation of the shooting, lamenting the loss of life at a synagogue even if it was not on Israeli soil. However, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau demurred on this point in his equally heartfelt condemnation, refusing to call the Tree of Life congregation a synagogue. Given that Israel’s two Chief Rabbis oversee all religious matters, such as marriage and burial ceremonies, within the country and only acknowledge Orthodox Judaism as a legitimate form thereof, the status of Tree of Life as a synagogue affiliated with Conservative Judaism (a more moderate denomination that allows some reinterpretation of the Torah beyond its more literal readings) explains Lau’s hesitation. Despite restraining himself and clarifying that he considered the victims of the shooting as Jewish as anyone under his jurisdiction, Lau caused widespread outrage in the global Jewish community for alienating a group of Jews simply for attending the wrong type of synagogue. The disparity between Netanyahu’s swift statement and Lau’s insensitive gaffe also exacerbated the situation.

American Jews, being more directly affected by the massacre than their Israeli brethren, have bristled at attempts to heal tensions within the global Jewish community. This is largely because of the alliance between President Donald Trump and the Israeli government, the former only being supported by 23% of American Jews. For example, Israeli Minister of the Diaspora Naftali Bennett flew to Pittsburgh on the day of the shooting to mourn alongside survivors of the attack, only to be lambasted by Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson as “racist” and being comparable to the shooter himself. Jewish Voice for Peace is the fastest-growing Jewish organization  in the United States, dedicated to supporting boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions against the State of Israel and any organizations connected to it financially. Part of this goal is to break the link between the United States, including its Jewish citizens and public servants, and Israel. The condemnation of the Israeli Minister of the Diaspora, whose job it is to unify the Jews of the world, as racist and comparison of him to an antisemitic killer serves to unmistakably divide the global Jewish people. Vilkomerson’s condemnation is especially beyond the pale because Bennett has vocally opposed a recent law that he feared would alienate the non-Jewish, Arabic-speaking religious minority in Israel known as the Druze. Given that their presence in Syria as well as Israel endangers the Druze people’s safety due to the ongoing Syrian civil war, Bennett’s concern is well-meant and discredits accusations of racism against him.

With current events being as they are, one might ask why the quote above comes from Ze’ev Jabotinsky, neither a contemporary public figure nor an American Jew. In fact, not only did he predict the Holocaust before it happened, Jabotinsky even formulated a plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler,  which he proposed to representatives of the British government after World War II began. Because the British were in control of what is now the State of Israel, Jabotinsky was beholden to their decisions and was not able to implement his plan. His revolutionary tactics and ideology were always seen as divisive in the Jewish community, much like the Jewish people of today often disagree on matters of internal and external politics.

A core Jewish value is Ahavat Israel, or love for one’s fellow Jews. It is precisely this love, the love of the Jewish people for one another, that is so crucial in times of struggle and sorrow. Though Adolf Hitler was not assassinated through a coordinated Jewish effort, the next threat to the Jewish people will be more easily conquered through the shared value of loving and supporting everyone within the Jewish community. It is mutual solidarity between all Jews that will serve as protection from future attacks.

About the Author
Daniel Yeluashvili is a political science student at San Francisco State University with regular involvement in various social causes. He is a donor to the ACLU, NAACP, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.