I am confident that the Jewish student at Rutgers who threw a pie at Natan Sharansky believes in freedom of speech, as do the too many Jewish academics and students who have disrupted pro-Israel speakers at other campuses, and I am equally certain that the Neturei Karta members who have joined in anti-Israel demonstrations held on Saturdays believe in keeping the Sabbath. Doubtlessly, the temporary suspension of these fundamental beliefs in order to put on display hatred of Israel was extremely distressing for these activists. They sacrificed in order to be faithful to their convictions.
From our first days of peoplehood in Egypt, we have been afflicted by fifth columnists and some of these have been quite nasty as they bonded with our enemies. We need only think of the Inquisition and the suffering caused by turncoats. But it is no solace that what we are now experiencing echoes painful history, especially when the frum scum of Neturei Karta publicly make common cause with those who openly call for the destruction of Israel and applaud the murder of Israelis. This group has sunk to new levels of indecency.
Being anti-Israel has become one of the new forms of radical chic, a posture that embraces extreme positions that almost always include exaggerated fault-finding with the U.S. and its government. It is to be regretted that in its various incarnations, radical chic has undermined both the legitimacy and attractiveness of liberalism. This country sorely needs a vibrant liberalism which challenges practices that favor the advantaged over the disadvantaged. But for too long, liberalism has had a bad name because too many of its activists have advocated positions, such as we are now seeing with respect to Israel, that turn off many Americans.
There are sufficient grounds to criticize Israel, whether for actions taken against Palestinians or actions taken against charedim. Criticism of Israel is not off limits. What we are now seeing on campuses is the willingness of Jewish faculty and students to go beyond rejecting particular Israeli policies as they join forces with radical Islamic groups. Overwhelmingly, these Jews are secular and far remote from religion. Their abandonment of Israel’s Jews can be seen as the logical outgrowth of their abandonment of Judaism.
We are now hearing much about the alleged vitality of secular Jewish life in the U.S. The fact is that when Jews reject traditional practices and beliefs, there is a strong prospect that sooner or later they will reject Israel and even turn against Israel. There are obviously many secular Jews who identify closely with the Jewish State, but the majority are, at best, lukewarm or turned off. Worse yet, the trend is strongly in the direction of further abandonment and hostility.
Hatred toward Israel has become an obsession in certain Jewish quarters. Those who are obsessed feel compelled to be true to that which obsesses them, even at the cost of encouraging those who give aid and comfort to terrorism and extreme Islamic groups that are not bashful about announcing the plans they have for Israel. We are being afflicted by a kapo syndrome that is frightening.
Paul Krugman, an Op Ed page contributor at the New York Times, is afflicted by an obsession with President Bush, assigning to him blame for nearly all that has gone awry in the world. The President’s policies are, for sure, fair game and there is much that deserves criticism on both the domestic and foreign fronts. But it is breathtaking to read that the hyper-anti-Semitism of Mohammad Mahathir, the Malaysian autocrat who went deep into the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” territory to conjure up a Jewish conspiracy to control the world was somehow a response to what the White House has been doing. Krugman’s apologia gave cover to the single most blatant anti-Jewish statement uttered publicly by a world leader in at least fifty years.
Although the Jewish reaction to Mahathir’s message has been sharp, so far as I know our organizations have not taken Krugman to task. Perhaps we are all getting tired of beating up on the New York Times. What becomes routine loses effectiveness and there is inevitably a law of diminishing returns to our criticism of the record of our newspaper of record. It’s also the case that we have become hypersensitive, that we have lost the ability to distinguish between the hardcore and dangerous stuff and incautious remarks of the kind that abound in ordinary speech. Mahathir’s speech was hardcore, Krugman’s column was outrageous and it’s one more blot on the Times’ record regarding Jewish matters and Israel.
We also need to respond more vigorously to the thuggish atmosphere that has arisen on campuses and which is being tolerated by officials who previously were ultra-sensitive to even the slightest criticism of Blacks and other minorities. I am not for political correctness but it’s time to challenge the curtailment of the basic right to speak on behalf of Israel. As Sharansky has written, ninety percent of the Jews on campus have become Jews of silence, at times because of intimidation. If the only voices that are heard are anti-Israel, inevitably young Jews in the middle will gravitate toward hostility. For the good of Israel and also to salvage what we can among college-age Jews, it’s necessary for our community to be proactive and tough.
I am not suggesting that nothing has been done. Alan Dershowitz has emerged as a powerful advocate, using his abundant skills to make Israel’s case and to confront Israel’s enemies. Malcolm Hoenlein, the gifted leader of the Presidents Conference, has developed an Israel advocacy project which includes an attractive weekly newsletter that is circulated on college campuses. There are others who have awakened to the necessity to speak out and not to be afraid. Just the same, more needs to be done, for Israel’s sake and for ours.