Are US Jewish Groups Ashamed to Support Israel?

While American Jews were being beaten on the streets of New York and the State of Israel’s good name was being shredded all across American mainstream and social media, the Jewish Federation of New York, America’s largest private charity, decided to take action. It sent a group of rabbis to Israel as the rockets fell on Tel Aviv and Sderot.

That seems pretty courageous, no? What better statement of solidarity with Israel than to send rabbis to Israel during a war, at personal risk, to show that American Jewish religious leaders care. Except that their communities were in the US, their congregants were cowering in fear over even wearing yarmulkes and Magen Davids in Times Square, and we needed them to inspire their communities to stand up for Israel while it was being vilified by antisemitic politicians like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib and celebrities like Bella and Gigi Hadid and Dua Lipa.

Plus, there was the arguably more important fact that many activists were begging the federation to get involved and cosponsor – or at least participate in, and promote – a rally for Israel that was being organized in Times Square by the Israel-America Council, me and our own World Values Network.

The mainstream Jewish organizations were of two minds about joining the rally. Sure, they saw its importance. But they complained it wouldn’t get enough people and we’d be worse off with a small crowd.

In addition, unmentioned, was the fact that Israel had become more toxic than ever in a media landscape where it had few, if any, defenders. Why sully the organizations’ names at the height of Israel’s Gaza operation if things could be done more quietly with less of a reputational price to be paid? This is especially true since the rally at Ground Zero focused purely on support for Israel, while the mainstream organizations wanted it to focus equally on the rise of antisemitism and the quest for peace in the Middle East.

But we who were organizing the rally at Ground Zero insisted that its focus had to be Israel and unadulterated support for the Jewish state. It was Israel that had thousands of murderous rockets falling on its cities and citizens daily. It was the Jewish state that was locked in a battle with genocidal death cult Hamas. And it was the Jewish state that was fighting its cause all alone, abandoned by the world, while the less controversial issue of fighting antisemitism had more natural allies.

So, federation and mainstream Jewish organizations like ADL did not participate in the rally but sent the rabbis to Israel instead.

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of the Park Avenue Synagogue summed up his ambivalence about the rally and his decision to skip it by traveling to Israel. He wrote, “When I received a call from a colleague asking me to attend, address, and mobilize my community for a pro-Israel rally on Sunday, I paused a beat before answering…. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who… hedged. One colleague, a bit to my political Left, questioned whether the rally would be pro-Israel or pro-peace. He did not feel that either he personally or his congregation could get behind an event that did not speak to the suffering of Palestinians and provide a platform for Palestinian voices…. Maybe it would be better to stay home, and brush an awkward and inconvenient truth aside.”

So, he supported the Jewish state by going quietly to Israel instead. “For me, a mission to Israel. For another, a rally.” Except for the undeniable fact that the rally was what was required at the time: a public, robust and muscular display of American Jewish support for Israel in its great hour of need.

THE SITUATION became positively bizarre when it was announced that the mainstream Jewish organizations that had for the most part skipped the public rallies for Israel during the Gaza crisis had decided to have a rally after all… online.

Come again? Say what? An online rally?

Yup. Last Thursday, May 27, the Jewish Federations of North America, the ADL, Hadassah, the Union for Reform Judaism, etc. etc., all the mainstream Jewish organizations, held an online “Day of Action Against Antisemitism.”

Let’s get this straight.

Jews are being beaten up in Times Square, in Los Angeles and in Toronto. They’re afraid to walk to shul, wear yarmulkes in the streets, or sport Magen Davids around their necks. And we’re going to battle this public outbreak of antisemitism by having a rally… online?

Are you kidding me?

Media reports said that the following speakers had participated: ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris, chairman of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America Mark Wilf, Orthodox Union executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer, Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York.

Well, that’s all great. But what point are we making by doing an online rally? That we’re scared? That we’re jarred? That we can’t even fill a small rally in Times Square?

It can’t be because of COVID, because most states are completely open and most mask mandates have been lifted. In the same week that the Jewish community held an online rally, the Indianapolis 500 Race is set to host 130,000 people.

And while we Jews were having our online rally against antisemitism, the Palestinian lobby was organizing a mass “End American Aid to Israel” rally in Washington, DC, at the Lincoln Memorial.

It didn’t matter to them that the numbers might not be that big. Indeed, media reports had the rally at approximately 1,000 people, a tiny fraction of the Israel haters who regularly march against the Jewish state in European capitals like London and Paris. Still, they did it.

WHAT DOES it say about the American Jewish community that we have not yet organized a single rally in DC, where the most important political decisions about Israel are being taken?

My close friend Ron Dermer, the most successful ambassador to the US in the Jewish state’s history, was recently criticized by some for saying in an interview that Christian Evangelicals are more reliable supporters of Israel than American Jews. Some went so far as to even call him a post-Zionist, a particularly disgusting criticism of the man who helped facilitate the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the funding of Iron Dome, the withdrawal of the United States from the abominable Iran deal, the Obama administration’s increase of foreign aid to Israel, and the plethora of COVID vaccines to Israel.

But to all of Ron’s Jewish critics I would say: If you think he’s misguided, then prove him wrong.

Let’s finally organize a Jewish march on DC for Israel. Let’s do it, God willing, in the next two weeks. Let’s stop with the excuses that we didn’t rally for Israel because we quietly sent rabbis to Israel or had an online rally.

What Israel needs right now is public, loud, and unconditional support from American Jewry. And we need it in the streets!

There’s an unspoken agreement between American Jews and Israeli Jews wherein the latter are prepared to send their sons and daughters to the IDF (our family has proudly had two children serve, with one on the way, God willing), endure terrorist rockets on their cities, and rebuild the Jewish homeland after 2,000 years of exile.

All they ask of us in return is to stand with them when genocidal terrorists try to annihilate them.

Do we pay a price?

Sure we do. Jews are now being beaten in Times Square and American streets in displays of antisemitism that have no precedent in this country. And we’ll also be excoriated on social media for doing so.

But we must, while combating domestic antisemitism, fulfill our side of the bargain, standing up for the safety of Israel’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian citizens and freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

No more excuses. Let’s organize a Washington rally now.