Friday, January 2nd, 2009
James Besser in Washington
This is a really delicate question, so don’t get me wrong. But I can’t help thinking American Jewish groups are taking a certain satisfaction that the Gaza offensive and the predictable shift of world opinion against Israel are presenting them a problem they know how to deal with – unlike the financial carnage that is upending the Jewish world and threatening the survival of some venerable institutions.
Nobody’s happy about the danger Israel’s soldiers are facing or about the innocent victims of Palestinian rocket attacks inside Israel. Few hawks I’ve encountered take joy in the death of Palestinian civilians victimized by the Hamas terrorists who hide in their midst.
But an energized, mobilized American Jewish community may be feeling a certain sense of relief because the renewed war has returned them to familiar territory.
For six months, maybe more, Jewish groups large and small have started coming to terms with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the inevitable decline in their own fortunes. Endowments plunged with the stock market; big donors watched their own portfolios shrink by the day, leading to inevitable concerns about next year’s giving. The economists’ projections became more dire by the day; some even used the “D” word.
And all of this was before Bernard Madoff revealed what federal officials say was the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, with countless wealthy Jews his top victims, not to mention a number of Jewish organizations and charitable foundations.
It was a bleak time, with no end in sight, and Jewish leaders can be forgiven for feeling a little out of their element; this is something none of them had experienced, and there were no magic answers for a possible new era when Darwinian survival, not the endless outpouring of a prosperous and secure community, will shape the communal world.
Then along came the Gaza war, with Israel once again facing both military danger and the opprobrium of a world that cares not a whit about Israeli victims of Palestinian missiles but reacts instantly to any Israeli effort to stop the attacks.
That mean a return to familiar terrain: a massive rallying behind the Jewish state, a clear sense of mission, well-known adversaries (Hamas, an unbalanced United Nations, groups that say it’s all Israel’s fault). Even the debate with the Jewish left must be a relief to the mainstream groups — familiar arguments that fit like a comfortable old shoe).
I’m not suggesting Jewish leaders welcomed the carnage in Gaza. I am saying that there may be a palpable element of relief among Jewish activists who can again do what they know how to do, instead of focusing on a scary, economic crisis that puts the entire communal world in jeopardy.