Rafael Medoff’s brilliant 2019 book The Jews Should Keep Quiet explores the sad tale of Franklin Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and the Holocaust. The book reveals how Rabbi Wise was hustled by his beloved president who, in fact, suppressed requests for Jewish immigration, limited rescue of Jewish refugees and did not bomb rail lines leading to Auschwitz. You learn how Rabbi Wise, the figurehead and leader of the American Jewish community in the 1930s and 1940s, had knowledge of the unfolding Holocaust including details from the November 1942 Reigner Telegram of over already two million slaughtered and the plans for the full annihilation of European Jewry….and he deferred to Roosevelt to keep quiet.
Democrat Roosevelt enjoyed the overwhelming support of American Jews. He was their progressive “God” leading the country out of the depression, creating social programs and eventually defeating the Nazis. Jews wanted to believe he was their friend. Although Jews like Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau were in Roosevelt’s inner circles, imbedded in his Cabinet were powerful anti-Semites. Bottom line: American Jews were duped, ineffective and watched as their brethren went like sheep to the slaughter.
A syntactical flip of Medoff’s book title asks, “Should Jews be quiet?” It raises the troubling question about how American Jews and Jewish organizations should deal with the Iranian nuclear threat looming in front of us. Eighty years after Hitler’s Wannsee Conference “final solution,” the Iranian leaders also pledge destruction of the Jews …and America too! Fortunately, Israel is now the national homeland of the Jewish people, and it is a powerful country. And it is America’s staunchest democratic partner in the Middle East. But Israel is also the target for a second Holocaust and now we have to acknowledge the danger and rise to face the menace.
We are again led by a Democratic president. While Biden may have some good intentions towards Israel, he is surrounded by influencers possessing a terrible track record on Israel. The three-decade-long Iranian march to nuclear weapons potency demonstrates their seriousness. The Obama-created and Trump-abandoned flawed JCPOA pathway to legitimate nuclear weapons program has become a major focus for Biden. Unlike powerful Nazi Germany, Iran is not a military peer of America, and its shrunken economy has a GDP smaller than many American states. Yet, the countdown to military-grade uranium enrichment and a far-reaching missile arsenal is ticking while America is being played a geopolitical fool by the Iranians.
So, what are American Jews and American Jewish organizations doing? That is the sixty- four-shekel question. American Jews vote 70-30 for Democratic tickets and are strongly influenced by the woke-intersectional-social justice dogma. They were conned by Obama’s cool style, kvelled over his White House Channukah parties, and conveniently forgave his anti-Israel UN Resolution 2334 steel-in-the-ribs. Many of these Jews are now alarmed by the rise in antisemitism fearing they may be targeted, harassed or injured. While they condemn hateful anti-Semitism from the far-Right, they minimize the virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism coming from the far-Left, Muslims, and Blacks. They don’t connect it to the systemic anti-Zionism emanating from academia, media and high tech that masks the underlying anti-Semitism.
With the new Bennett-Lapid government beginning to craft a relationship with the still to be proven Biden Administration leadership, grassroots advocacy for Israel, especially from Jews, is critical. Netanyahu was criticized by some for end-running Obama when he spoke before Congress. Now, Israel with the American administration demands careful, long-range diplomacy. American media’s uneven reporting on Israel along partisan lines and a relentless biased global double standard must vigorously be called out. With all of these challenges, pro-Israel constituencies must not go wobbly facing down all these adversaries.
At what point does Biden’s raft of anti-Israel appointees and capitulations to Israel’s enemies become the wake-up moment? Maybe Jewish apathy with all the cultural assimilation nuance is an easy blame-game answer, but what can be said by the myriad Jewish organizations who somehow point their finger at the others? They find excuses to lay low hidden in their finely worded mission statements and they fear alienating politically sensitive donors. They stay in their well-defined charter “lanes” keeping their heads down not wanting to deal with blaring headlines of a potential Holocaust by an Iran led by a vicious killer new president Ebrahim Raisi.
During World War II, Hillel Kook (using the pseudonym Peter Bergson) who was originally from Russia and then Palestine came to America with Irgun activists to raise awareness about the plight of European Jews. In spite of not being supported by major progressive Jewish organizations, he brought important attention to the unfolding horror. Among other noteworthy programs, the Bergson Group organized the Rabbis’ March in 1943 with 500 rabbis walking to the Capitol and White House. He created the “Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe,” he conducted pageants in Madison Square Garden, and he undertook aggressive full-page advertising. Righteous Christians like Senator Guy Gillette, and Congressman Will Rogers, Jr took notice and joined in. It was a courageous and bold initiative, and it did save Jews.
Who now will be the Irgun Activist saying what needs to be said? What Jewish organizations will step out of their comfort zones like the Bergson Group. The stakes are too high for fearfulness, bureaucracy and not speaking truth to power. Others are watching us to see if we stand up for ourselves. If not us, then who? If not soon, then when?