We Have To Fight For Ourselves

“I know how comfortable it is to curl up with a nice, fat book full of big words and think you’re going to solve all the problems in the universe. But you’re not, you know. A bit of action is required every now and then.”

Carol Beldon, “Mrs. Miniver”

During the last days of Chanukah, Partnership2Gether, the collaboration between the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and its Israeli partner city, Nahariya, held its annual steering committee meeting. We alternate sites, so this year we met in New Jersey. As we meet, we reflect on current programs and discuss how we will move forward in the next few years. We also socialize.

Programs developed and executed over the years have enriched both communities, in areas as far ranging as youth leadership and STEM to security and the arts. In fact, our partnership brought the practice of bloodless medicine to Israel; it first was introduced at the Western Galilee Hospital and now is part of the medical protocol throughout the nation.

All of this is wonderful, but the deeper purpose of the annual meeting is to bring Nahariyans and those in our area closer together, to eliminate any misconceptions or walls that may isolate us, given that we are a part of two allied but different nations. Agreement is nice, and we need it to green light a project, but it not the most important goal. Understanding, mutual respect, and the appreciation of each person and the character and needs of each community is what is important. And in many cases it leads to deep and lifelong friendships.

And so, in July 2014, when a 20-year-old man named Adar Barsano was killed during the Gaza war, when terrorists breached the Israeli border into Kibbutz Beeri and at the same time our steering committee was meeting in New Jersey, we had a personal and painful understanding of this horrific loss. Two of our committee members, who had watched Adar grow up, talked about their memories of Adar as a student, an athlete and part of their community. We did not grieve only as sympathetic Jews in the diaspora, or as non-Jewish Americans, but more like extended family. We may not have known Adar personally, but we did know Ilan and Rachel. Through our friendship with them and our relationship with the people of Nahariya, we commiserated on a much deeper level. So much so that even in the last few days, more than four years later, we talked about Adar during the committee meeting.

And it is tragic to realize that more than four years later, there is still fighting, missiles and now fire balloons coming from Gaza, terrorizing all Israelis who live in the south, who wonder each day if they will make it to a shelter in the few seconds they have before a missile explodes. Now Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, is digging tunnels in the north, using the southern tunnels dug from Gaza as models, looking to infiltrate and even take a community hostage. And the fact that Russia is giving Syria the S-300 antiaircraft system only further complicates Israel’s security.

Though the positive changes of the past two years on the diplomatic front are welcome, there is still a strong will to isolate Israel from the community of nations. As in earlier years, more United Nations resolutions were passed against Israel in 2018 than any other country and by a large margin. Standard U.N. fare, but there was one difference. This month, the United States offered a draft resolution to condemn Hamas. As Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “Peace must be built on truth…. Is the hatred toward Israel so strong that you’ll protect a terrorist organization doing harm to the Palestinian people?”

The U.S. resolution passed 87 to 57, with 33 abstentions, but it ultimately was defeated when the Palestinians engineered a two-thirds procedural vote. As frustrating as the loss is, the trend is in the positive direction for Israel. This same procedural tool was used this summer when Ambassador Haley added an amendment condemning Hamas to a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for its actions when Gazans stormed Israel’s southern border in June. The amendment passed, but it was discarded when the two-thirds option was employed. However, there were only 62 votes for that condemnation of Hamas, as opposed to the more recent vote of 87. That’s 25 more votes standing with the United States and Israel, and against Hamas and its supporters.

The relationships between Ambassador Haley and and Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, and between President Donald J. Trump and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are very strong partnerships. We can only hope that if she is confirmed, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson who has been nominated to replace Ambassador Haley, will continue in the same manner.

The last two years have seen numerous actions by our government in normalizing Israel in the world, including the suspension of funding of UNWRA pending reform, and withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, a true oxymoron given that it has the likes of Venezuela, China, and Saudi Arabia as members. Of course, we did not do this to be kind to another nation but to support our own security needs and in recognition of what Haley said — peace can only be built on truth. That is a change in our policy in the Middle East, and one that we should never stray from.

And the lesson for us is one for the ages. As the young Carol Beldon put it in “Mrs. Miniver,” one of the finest movies made about the British people under assault at the beginning of WWII, it is never talk or lofty ideas that win the day when lives are at stake. That is the time when action is required.

And so, as we end 2018 and look toward 2019, I’m grateful for the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, the only home of the Jewish people. I’m grateful for the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, finally normalizing for the state of Israel something that every other nation has but was denied only to the Jewish people, the right to select their own capital.

As you may recall, a year ago this month, the U.N.’s General Assembly voted on a resolution castigating the United States for moving our embassy to Jerusalem. The response to the vote was something these countries had not heard, at least not recently. Haley said, “the United States had the courage and honesty to recognize a fundamental reality. Jerusalem has been the political, cultural, and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years. They have had no other capital city. But the United States’ recognition of the obvious — that Jerusalem is the capital and seat of the modern Israeli government — is too much for some.” Since then, other countries plan to follow — the latest is Brazil.

We cannot get hatred of the Jews to cease if we fight it only on the world stage. However, if we are to stop the increasing anti-Semitism that is beginning to grow in our communities, our colleges, and within some halls of power, we must exhibit the same conviction and courage. We need to speak publicly and frankly about baseless hatred being promulgated on multiple levels, beginning in schools and places of worship and within communities and even at certain nonprofits.

Without taking on this responsibility and testing our relationships now with frank talk, things only will get worse, and the isolation and harassment will continue to grow, just as it has in France, England, and many other European countries.

At the end of “Mrs. Miniver” the small English town is bombed. Many civilians, men, women, and children, are killed. In response, the rector gives a stirring speech, asking rhetorically why civilians were killed, rather than soldiers. “This is the people’s war!” he says. “It is our war! We are the fighters! Fight it then! Fight with all that is in us, and may God defend the right.”

The frustrating thing about the Jewish people is that as much as we are ready to fight for others, we find it hard to fight for ourselves. There is still time to stop this hatred from growing in our country, but everyone must do their part. One thing is  certain, we all will lose if we remain on the sidelines.

About the Author
Martha Cohen is an award winning producer and creative executive. She is a Berrie Fellow and currently sits on the JFNNJ JCRC and StandWithUs East Coast Boards. She chaired the JFNNJ Partnership2Gether when the Young Leadership program was developed and executed; and, continues to be closely involved. Martha and her husband David live in Fort Lee with their son, Harry.
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