Shmuley Boteach

Visible, loud, committed, unified

US Jewry, cowed by hostility to Israel, has lowered its profile for too long and at far too high a price

I am in Chicago attending a conference of the Jewish National Fund, the organization that has, among other goals, planted millions of trees throughout Israel, built reservoirs, and improved the lives of Israel’s citizens while contributing to environmental awareness and conservation. This is the last place I expected to be confronted by a gauntlet of Israel haters. Yet, there they were, marching with signs with lies about Israel and shouting anti-Israel slogans.

Their goal was to intimidate participants in the conference, but I waded into their picket line on my way into the hotel. It did not take long to find out their true sentiments when one man began to insult me and another called me a “child killer.” When I mentioned that Jews were being stabbed every day, another protester said, no, it is the Israelis who are killing Palestinians and planting knives on them and calling them terrorists. I tried to ask if he believed that Israel even existed as a State in his eyes and did not get an answer. The video of my encounter already has tens of thousands of views on Facebook.

I’ve always found it peculiar that the loudest advocates for the Palestinians never engage in positive campaigns to improve the lives of Palestinians. They don’t lobby for aid to help them; they lobby to cut aid to Israel. If they cared about Palestinian welfare rather than hating Jews, they would not be demonstrating against an organization that plants trees in Israel; they would be marching in front of the Syrian Embassy to protest the Assad regime’s atrocities that have left thousands of Palestinians dead and thousands more as refugees.

One would think they would abandon the strategy devoted to denigrating Israel and the Jewish people because it has failed and alienated most Americans from sympathizing with the Palestinians. Their hatred is so strong, however, they persist in vilifying the one country in the Middle East that gives Palestinians citizenship and equal rights under the law.

These “human rights advocates” who deny Israel’s right to exist – yes, they’re Israel deniers – fail to recognize the political reality that Israel is a permanent fixture in the Middle East. The protesters I encountered in Chicago advocating the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign will not succeed. Moreover, they are doing a disservice to the Palestinians who are genuinely interested in coexistence by reinforcing the belief of many Israelis that peace cannot be achieved with people who are driven by hatred.

That fear of pure evil also explains why so many Jews objected when the Obama administration capitulated to the genocidal regime in Iran.

Seeing Israel under attack from the media, the international community, the UN, the administration and the Israel deniers has understandably depressed many Jews who feel helpless against this onslaught. But we cannot give in to these feelings; after all, we are the people of hope – even Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, means “The Hope” — and Jews have survived centuries of persecution because of our faith. But how do we energize Jews who are demoralized by recent events?

We should learn from Martin Luther King, who was not content to be silent in the face of oppression, and did not believe quiet diplomacy or polite debate would bring about the revolutionary change needed to fulfill his hopes for the future. No, Dr. King believed it was necessary to shame the racists and expose them for the bigots that they were by marching into their segregated towns. He did not call for blacks to meet with their members of Congress to ask for their civil rights; he mobilized hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to march on the Capitol and demand their rights.

AIPAC is one of the most important institutions in the pro-Israel community and their leaders put up a noble fight against impossible odds when they lobbied Congress to prevent the catastrophic Iran nuclear deal from going forward without strengthening it first to protect America’s vital interests, including the security of Israel and our Arab allies. The individual meetings with members of Congress, even those attended by dozens of pro-Israel activists, were necessary but insufficient to achieve the objective.

AIPAC’s dedicated staff and members failed because they were not backed by public pressure of the kind Dr. King mounted. At AIPAC’s Policy Conference, 15,000 Americans devoted to America’s security should have walked out of the Washington convention center down to the capital to demand that Congress vote to stop the Iran deal. And AIPAC should not have been alone in marshaling the troops. Every Jewish organization, synagogue and non-Jewish ally should have bussed in thousands more activists to join the march to demonstrate by the strength of our numbers, the power of our oratory and the justness of our cause that we will not be silent when America’s interests are threatened.

For too long we have left the playing field to our enemies. This is especially true on college campuses where the Israel deniers promoting the anti-Semitic BDS campaign demand the right to express their hatred but deny the rest of us the same freedom of speech. Students for Justice in Palestine are poisoning campuses across the country with their attacks on the Jewish right to self-determination in their homeland. They have no interest in peace or the welfare of the Palestinians; their goal is the destruction of Israel, so it is not surprising that they are apologists for the terrorists now on the rampage. As columnist Bassam Tawil observed, they are “targeting Jews for being Jews” and “the terrorists and their apologists do not distinguish between a Jew living in the city of Beersheba, and a Jew from a West Bank settlement” because “these Jews are all ‘settlers’ living in ‘occupied territories.’”

Students must stand up to these campus bigots. By confronting them, their hatred will be revealed. This was done several years ago when the Palestine Solidarity Movement, a precursor of the SJP, held a conference at Duke. Pro-Israel students challenged the PSM’s organizers to sign a statement agreeing that they support a two-state solution, oppose terror and support Israel’s right to exist. They refused to sign the pledge, exposing their radicalism.

We need a fundamental recalibration of our approach to fighting the delegitimization of Israel. We cannot play the “court Jew” out of fear of repercussions from government officials, and we cannot restrict ourselves to polite entreaties behind closed doors. We certainly cannot continue to fear losing our access to top officials by refraining from pressuring them on Israel. Our community must be visible, loud, committed and unified as it was in 1987 when 250,000 people stood in the shadow of the Capital and demanded freedom for Soviet Jews. Mobilizing the masses may not always result in victory, but it will galvanize American Jewry, give them pride, and remind our elected officials that we learned the lessons of history and will not let them forget the price of silence and inaction in the face of anti-Semitism.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.