Daniel Gordis
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Say thank you – it’s the Jewish thing to do

Absent AIPAC’s work, Israeli citizens would have been butchered these past weeks, and Israeli cities would have gone up in flames. Strangely though, that seems to bother Israel’s alleged supporters who have their issues with AIPAC.

There were probably 1,000 people at today’s funeral for Yuval Hyman, z’l, killed outside Gaza by terrorists who had tunneled their way into the Jewish State. There were no dry eyes. No end to the devotion to the Jewish State and the Jewish people. And there was, I realized suddenly, also no fear.

Once or twice, I heard on some still un-silenced smartphone the Color Red alert going off. But no one so much as bothered to check where the rockets were headed. On the off chance that they were headed towards Mt. Herzl, they would almost certainly be shot down. Our soldiers are in grave danger, the funeral proved with horrific finality. But we, the citizens of Israel, are safe. And so we have been, from the very beginning, thanks largely the technological miracle called Iron Dome.

Why does Israel have Iron Dome? Some of it, of course, is Israeli ingenuity. Ever since the construction of the National Water Carrier, necessity has been the mother of Israeli invention. But Israel needed more than invention. It needed a tremendous amount of funding for a project that many believed could never work – and it got it from the United States. As Business Week recently noted, “A Congressional Research Service report in April said that the U.S. had provided more than $700 million to Israel for Iron Dome.” A new bill passed on July 15 will double the amount.

How did Israel come to get all that money? At the 2010 AIPAC conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu was clear. “I know these are tough economic times. So I want to thank the President and Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can defend itself by itself. I want to thank you all for supporting the Iron Dome missile defense system.” Back in the era of sequestration, there was worry aplenty about the impact of the fiscal crisis on the American government’s commitment to Israel’s security. So who got to work? As the Jerusalem Post reported, “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which opened its annual policy conference on Sunday, will take to Capitol Hill Tuesday for a morning of lobbying, including a push to provide Israel with … $211m in additional funding for the Iron Dome missile-defense system.” It’s really very simple. Absent AIPAC’s work, Israeli citizens would have been butchered these past weeks, and Israeli cities would have gone up in flames.

Strangely though, that seems to bother Israel’s alleged supporters who have their issues with AIPAC. A while back, Peter Beinart wrote in The Crisis of Zionism (page 189), “J-Street has raised large sums of money for members of Congress willing to speak their minds. But AIPAC and its allies have spent decades making friends on Capitol Hill and making politicians fear the consequences of not being AIPAC’s friend.”

When we Jerusalemites walked, but didn’t have to run, to the bomb shelter these past weeks, I was grateful for those decades that AIPAC has spent “making friends on Capitol Hill.” Was Beinart’s “having people speak their minds” going to keep my children safe?

Now, it will be said, “Of course Peter’s grateful that Israelis are safe. He, himself, was in Tel Aviv when the war began, so he must know how important Iron Dome is.”  But Peter’s not shy. Why, then, hasn’t he said, “Whatever issues I have with the American Jewish establishment, I know what hakarat ha-tov is – it’s the Jewish value of saying ‘thank you’ when thanks are in order. So thank you, AIPAC, for all the Jewish lives and Israeli cities you have saved.” Have you heard him say that? Neither have I.

What I did hear is this, on his Facebook page a few days ago:

What frightens me about the organized American Jewish community is that it has no independent standard at all. Whatever the Israeli government does is, by definition, moral. Whatever the Palestinians do is, by definition, immoral. … When Bibi renounced the two state solution, they said nothing. The more ghastly the photos from Gaza become, the more adamantly they insist that Israel bears no responsibility for them. Can anyone say, with confidence, that there is any action the Israeli government could take that American Jewish leaders would not seek to justify? I can’t, and that terrifies me.

If that is what terrifies Beinart on a week when rockets are flying and Israeli soldiers are dying at a horrific rate, he should come to some of our funerals. That would readjust his terror scale. And standing outside in a crowd of a thousand people as Hamas tries to shell us would remind him that someone else has done the work of making sure that our cities aren’t burning. Was there no room on his Facebook page for even a tepid thanks to those who have made us safe? Does Beinart not have it in him to say “thank you, AIPAC?”

I do. Thank you, AIPAC supporters, all across the country. Thank you, for what you have done, for what you have saved.

What about Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J-Street? Sadly, Jeremy is no happier with AIPAC than is Peter. “We see our communal institutions and our leaders regularly held hostage by a few large funders,” he said, “who urge them to stay silent and shut the door to debate.” I’m all in favor of debate, but I’m also in favor of honesty. Has Jeremy Ben-Ami acknowledged since this war began that had he shaped the views of Congress, Israel would be burning?

J-Street, its web site tells us, is the “home for Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Americans.” But we can’t make peace if we’re dead. Now that Iron Dome’s effectiveness has been so clearly demonstrated, have Jeremy or his Pro-Israel Americans found the time to express gratitude to the “communal institution” that’s saved Israel? If they have, I haven’t seen it. Have you?

I can virtually hear my grandmother. “When someone saves the lives of those you love, say thank you. It’s hakarat ha-tov. It’s what Jews do.”

Or, at least, it used to be. There will be plenty of time to second guess many of the thousands of decisions that Israel has taken in the past few weeks. But in the meantime, can we not just say “thank you?”

There’s a gentleman in my shul who in 1939, as a young boy, was put on a Kindertransport train, sent to freedom ahead of the impending Nazi invasion. Many of those Kindertransport children never saw their parents again; some eventually made their way to Palestine.

The Shabbat morning before last, we sang to him in shul, on the occasion of the birth of his first great-granddaughter.  And later that afternoon, when the sirens rang out, we ducked into the shelters. I thought of him then, as we waited in the shelter. Here we are, some 75 years later, and Jews are still fleeing enemies who hate us just because we’re Jews. We waited some more, and then we heard a boom. Then another. Iron Dome shooting the rockets out of the sky.

It’s devastating, I thought, that this gentleman’s great-granddaughter had to be whisked to safety, just like her great-grandfather had. With a difference, though. This time, there was someone to protect her. This time, the Jews have a state. This time, the Jews can defend themselves. And this time, some Americans cared, and did what they did to keep us safe.

So on her behalf, because she’s still far too young to speak, and on behalf of all of us, let it just be said, because it is the Jewish thing to do:

“Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”

About the Author
Daniel Gordis is Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. His book, "Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn" (Ecco/HarperCollins), won the 2016 Jewish Book Council "Book of the Year" award. His most recent book, "Impossible Takes Longer: 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders' Dreams?" was published in April.