Never has the chasm between the way the Jews of Israel view themselves and the way they are viewed by the world been so large. As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan succinctly summed it up: The whole world condemns Israel. Can the whole world be wrong?
Jews are not exactly strangers to standing alone against the entire world. We are, after all, called Ivrim because our forefather Avraham stood on one side of the river and the whole world on the other side.
Still, having the whole world aligned against us is not a happy position. Not only do Jews in Israel find themselves in an uncomfortable position. American Jews are being forced to choose between Israel and the rest of the world. That choice has created a defining moment for American Jewry – one that will determine its future or lack thereof.
Israel has long forced such difficult choices on American Jews. It has been more nearly thirty years since Israel was part of the liberal consensus subscribed to by most American Jews. And already in my day, it was something of an embarrassment to be identified with Israel on the campuses of elite universities.
Yet if the current situation is not altogether new, it is much more intense than ever before. Jews have begun to feel the accusatory stares of non-Jewish friends and colleagues. Stephen Pollard described recently in London’s Daily Telegraph his shock upon realizing his comrades from every left-wing cause for twenty years make no distinction between Jews and Israelis, and are equally repulsed by both. "Israelis, Jews, come on, it’s the same thing," one friend told him.
Recently, a group of Harvard women, a large percentage of them Jewish, demonstrated at Harvard Square – half dressed as pregnant Palestinian women and the other half as Israeli soldiers busy kicking and humiliating them. By proving their "progressive" bona fides, they hope to avoid the stares.
The prestige press in America would like to make things easier for American Jewry. Its message: You need not believe that your fellow Jews are evil incarnate, only that they have been manipulated by a malevolent prime minister. Thus The New York Times personalizes Operation Defensive Shield as "Mr. Sharon’s War." Sharon is described in the same terms historian Robert Wiebe once applied to Teddy Roosevelt: "a man of unlovely traits who relished killing human beings." In one common twist, Sharon is Ahab to Arafat’s White Whale, pursuing a vendetta of more than 20 years standing.
Operation Defensive Shield, however, is Israel’s war, not Sharon’s. Had Sharon not moved to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the wake of the Seder night massacre his government would have fallen. Israel’s Jews have no desire to become fish in a barrel being picked off by Palestinian suicide bombers.
Not even the number of murdered Jews – the more than 100 civilians killed in March alone is the equivalent, in American terms, of two WTCs – fully captures the horror to which we have been subjected. Thousands more have had their lives shattered forever - - orphans, widows and widowers, bereaved parents. "Moderately wounded" often means the loss of a major limb. A radiologist friend from America wrote a paper describing a lucky survivor with "approximately 300 individual fragments of metal, ranging in size from a few millimeters to whole nails, imbedded in his body, literally from head to foot."
Imagine what it is like to raise children in a country where people are blown to smithereens around the Seder table, sitting in a café, buying a pizza, and a little five-year-old girl, proud of having just dressed herself for synagogue, is shot dead at point-blank range, in bed surrounded by her dolls.
Then you will understand why close to 90% of Israel’s Jews whole-heartedly support Operation Defensive Shield. In a country where avoiding reserve duty is a national sport, over 95% of reservists immediately joined their units, and 5,000 more Israelis volunteered than the number drafted. These were middle-aged men with families, who went to war this time only "after looking deeply into [their] children’s eyes," as one reservist wrote home.
American Jews have to decide whom to believe. Do you believe Dr. David Zangen, a senior pediatrician at Shaarei Tzedek hospital, who responded in Maariv to U.N. Envoy Terje Larsen. Zangen tells of how he and other combat medics in Jenin risked their lives to treat wounded and sick Palestinians.
These were not "innocents" they treated. Even Amira Hass, who lives in Ramallah and explicitly writes from the Palestinian point of view, admits that the whole population of the Jenin camp was mobilized to help the Palestinian fighters, who vowed to fight to the last. The camp was an assembly line for suicide bombers – 28 so far. Wall-to-wall posters of those "martyrs" covered every wall, and family photo albums contained photos of children as young as six with explosive vests strapped to them.
Contrary to media reports of an oppressive stench hanging over the whole camp, Zangen walked a week after the end of fighting without a mask. The smell of decaying bodies was confined to one small area.
The best refutation of the claim of Israel’s "staggering brutality and callous murder" is the ease with the battle could have been won, if killing Palestinian civilians had been Israel’s goal. At least 13 Jewish fighters would still be alive today if the IDF had been willing to use the firepower at its disposal, as the Russians did in leveling Grozny and the Americans in Afghanistan, rather than exposing its soldiers to fierce house-to-house combat.
Letter after letter from the front, confirms Zangen’s report of the extreme care taken to avoid civilian casualties. In a country that tends to hyper-criticism, not one soldier’s letter has appeared decrying the actions of the IDF.
Or will you believe that Jewish soldiers "shot unarmed civilians, bulldozed people alive, and blocked access to medical care," as reported in the Los Angeles Times, parroting the claims of local Palestinians? Will you take seriously the veteran war reporters, who have reacted to the scenes from Jenin like blushing brides, who never dreamed that death and destruction are the by-products of war? The media lavish more attention on a broken child’s doll in Jenin than they have on decapitated Jewish babies in strollers.
Banner headlines in Europe’s leading papers scream "Genocide" and "The March of the Storm Troopers." Indeed the less than two dozen Palestinian civilians found by Human Rights Watch to have been killed in the fierce house-to-house fighting have provoked a level of indignation never shown for thousands butchered all over the globe or even for the six million Jews exterminated sixty years ago. That lack of proportion betrays a lack of credibility.
So if the choice facing American Jews is a stark one, it is not, on the evidence, a particularly difficult one. The time has come to choose between your Jewish brothers and sisters, who have been robbed of any semblance of a normal life, and your New York Times political correctness.
I pray that the Washington rally and the emergency campaigns for Israel represent the feelings of the broad mass of American Jewry, and not just those of a dwindling core of strongly identified Jews.
For of one thing I am sure. Those who do not choose the side of their brothers in Israel at this moment are lost to the Jewish people forever.