Following the horrific massacre at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, many of my American Jewish friends asked me about the response of fellow Israelis to this heinous terror attack. Here are some of the rather candid exchanges we had.
Q Naftali Bennet, who – apart from being Israel’s Minister of Education – is also the Minister for the Diaspora Affairs, came to Pittsburgh to show Israeli solidarity with the community. Isn’t that an act of hypocrisy? After all, Robert Bowers “went in” the synagogue as an act against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which, he believed, was helping bring “bad” immigrants to America. And isn’t Bennet one of the fiercest opponents of the idea that Israel should absorb its African immigrants instead of expelling them?
A I wish someone else would have gone instead, perhaps President Reuven Rivlin, who better represents the brighter sides of Israelis today. But let’s keep our criticism of Bennet for later times (he is leading us towards a one, bi-national state, in case you forgot, where Israel either loses its Jewish character or its democracy). Let’s ignore the bad choice and focus on what’s important now: to convey to the Jews of Pittsburgh and America the deep compassion and solidarity of their Israeli brothers and sisters.
Q What is your reaction to Chief Rabbi David Lau’s refusal to call the place of the massacre a synagogue, because of its Reform affiliation, instead calling it “a place with a profound Jewish flavor?”
A This is outrageous. Israelis don’t even start to understand how humiliating and offending this remark is to most of American Jews. There is a saying, phrased, I believe, by Prof. Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University, that “Israelis don’t go to the synagogue, but the synagogue they don’t go to is an Orthodox one.” Two out of every three American Jews, on the contrary, do go to a synagogue, and in the majority of cases it is either a Reform or a Conservative one. The indifference of Israel to this led Ronald Lauder, of all people, a staunch supporter of Israel, to write an oped piece in the New York Times titled Israel, This Is Not Who We Are. Israel will lose the next generations of Jews if this indifference continues.
Q Wasn’t the harsh rhetoric of President Trump conducive to the recent wave of violence?
A Please, don’t drag me there. I’d rather embrace the cautious advice of Shmuel Rosner: Cry, Don’t Politicize.
Q Are you dodging the question because you Israelis are the number one cheerleaders of President Trump? Didn’t Ambassador Dermer say that antisemitism comes from the extreme right as well as from the extreme left, thus echoing Trump’s remarks after Charlottesville?
A I insist on sticking to Rosner’s wise advice. Don’t politicize. But since you asked, Dermer – and Netanyahu – made the support of Israel a partisan one. When the dust settles, let’s talk about how to reverse this dangerous course.
Q How can we adopt the Israeli resilience?
A You don’t really want to go there. Israelis pay a heavy psychological price for being hardened by decades of terror. Few days ago, I went with friends to Sarona, a bustling dining and shopping compound in Tel Aviv. As we sat down, we casually reminded each other that that was the exact place where in June 2016 two Palestinian terrorists, disguised as innocent clients, opened fire, killing four and wounding seven. I looked around and mapped the area, designing where I’ll take shelter if attacked, and then indulged in the happiness of reuniting with friends. No, you don’t want to live like that.
Q What can we do, then?
A Why don’t you start with gun control?
Q Easier said than done. NFL, you know; the second amendment.
A I looked at your second amendment. The right to bear arms was explained by the Framers of the Constitution by the need for “(A) well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” Is Robert Bowers and his likes part of a “well regulated militia?” Paradoxically, you see in the streets of Israel more guns – even automatic rifles – than you see in America. But they are carried by well trained and disciplined soldiers, who would never consider to use them for wrong purposes.
Q We’ll see. Maybe if the House is taken by Democrats next week.
A Let the best party win.