Jolie Bain Pillsbury

No Time to Abstain

I wake up every morning increasingly anxious about the waning support for Israel in America. Why? Because even though I have not personally experienced it yet, there is a rising tide of Jew-hatred, some of it violent, all of it loud, and much of it fodder for clickbait and front-page headlines.

The rabid anti-Zionism metastasizing on the left and persisting on the right, is already eroding the safety and security of Jews in Haredi neighborhoods and requiring a police presence and armed security in front of synagogues.  It is eroding the support of United States for Israel, not so much in the general population, but in Congress and the current Administration.

Sadly, the pernicious drum beat of anti-Zionism especially from the left, is influencing the political decisions of President Biden and even Senator Schumer. I am of the opinion that Israel must militarily destroy the capacity of Hamas in Gaza. I am dismayed by the wavering of support for this goal. Just yesterday, in what feels like a betrayal, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield abstained rather than vetoing a U. N. Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate cease-fire” not conditioned by the release of the hostages or any security guarantees for Israel.

This anxiety is leading me to be angry with my fellow American Jews if they are not fully supportive of Israel’s military objectives. Or if they still speak in the language of the progressive left that fosters anti-Zionism in its most virulent form. For example, I attended a panel discussion in a reform, non-traditional synagogue last week. The panel was moderated by a young rabbi.

During the evening the discussion turned to the Israeli war in Gaza and the violent and frequent assaults, physical and verbal of Haredi Jews here in America. During a pause in the discussion, the rabbi took the opportunity to share with the audience his interpretation of the meaning of the upcoming holiday of Passover.  His Passover message is that Jews are called to welcome the stranger since “we were once strangers in Egypt”. In his mind, this imperative requires Israel to “cease fire” in Gaza and for American Jews to refrain from “centering their own oppression” in response to the tidal wave of antisemitism.

Once I got over my anger at his lack of empathy and understanding for either the situation of Israelis or his fellow American Jews, I realized that he and I were now living in different worlds. Our realities had bifurcated on October 7th.  Having seen the burnt rubble, blood-stained floors and destruction of Kibbutz Be’eri and Nir Oz, I take very different lessons from Passover. It was the Israelis living in those Kibbutzes who welcomed Gazans into their homes and communities, only to have those very same Gazans come back the next day to burn, murder, rape and kidnap.

Because of this bifurcation of realities, my Passover lessons are very different from the young rabbi’s. My first Passover lesson is that just as pharaoh’s army was utterly destroyed so Hamas must be destroyed. My second lesson is that we Jews in America are vulnerable to the increasingly weaponized Jew-hatred on the left disguised as anti-Zionism. Passover occurred twelve generations after Joseph served the Pharaoh. Over those generations his influence that had shielded and sheltered the Jews in Egypt waned.

It is now approximately twelve generations since the establishment of this country. A country whose founding documents established the ideal of religious freedom. Over the two and half centuries since its founding, Jews have overcome much and flourished in this country.  However, the civil society norms against antisemitism are waning. Dismissing cavalierly what Haredi Jews experience daily increases the danger that this country will continue on this dangerous path.  The need to support and protect those who are experiencing antisemitism in all its forms is not inappropriately “centering Jewish oppression”. It is caring for one’s own community and fighting against the permissive attitude of the progressive left, in particular, towards Jew-hatred.

Natan Sharanksy recently said in an interview after the death of Alexei Navalny that “the main struggle in America is not between Republicans and Democrats…the main struggle is between the liberals and progressives”. I see and fear the growing acceptance of the poisonous progressive ideology that delegitimizes Israel and dismisses the fight against antisemitism in all its forms as inappropriately “centering Jewish oppression”.

This is not the time for the United States to abstain from votes that reinforce that delegitimization in the continuously and persistently anti-Israel environment of the UN. This is not the time for any of us to abstain from fighting Jew-hatred as hard as any other injustice and hatred that may exist. I see and fear these dangers.  Perhaps the rabbi did not. Two different realities, two different meanings attached to Passover. At our respective Seders in a few weeks, I expect his Passover lessons and mine will be very different this year.

About the Author
Jolie Bain Pillsbury, Ph D. Retired, residing in Arlington, Virginia. Public and private sector career focused on producing measurable results through the development of cross-sector collaborative leadership skills. Author of “The Theory of Aligned Contributions” and “Results Based Facilitation: Books 1 & 2.
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