We Jews Are a Complicated People, Aren’t We?
I don’t sleep well.
The prospect of an Iranian bomb keeps me up at night. And when coupled with the missile threat from Iran’s allies, Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as Syria should Assad stay in power (or perhaps even if he doesn’t), the danger to Israel – and the world – only grows, while the sleep diminishes further.
I happen to believe that, through tried-and-tested courage, ingenuity, and resolve, Israel will prevail over this multi-pronged security threat. After all, it has no choice, since the alternative is annihilation.
What puzzles me is what I see in the Jewish community here in the U.S. – or, more precisely, what I don’t see.
To be sure, many Jews I meet are acutely aware of the gravity of the situation, also lose sleep over it, and manifest their concern any way they can.
They join organizations, travel to Israel to express solidarity, contact elected officials, write to the media about an Iranian bomb as a regional and global game changer, and attend meetings and rallies.
They may or may not believe they can affect the final outcome. But, at least, they want to be able to look themselves in the mirror and say that, on their watch, they refused to remain indifferent to what is – let’s call it by its rightful name – the Iranian regime’s genocidal ambition.
But there are quite a few other Jews who act differently.
I encounter them just about every day. They appear strikingly unmoved by the situation, both as it affects Israel and beyond. Nothing has changed in their sleep pattern. Nothing has been altered in their daily life. Nothing has shifted in their thought process or emotional equilibrium.
Life for them continues as if – well, as if Iran never existed... as if Iran’s end-of-days-obsessed leaders never declared their goal of a world without Israel (or proclaimed their undying hatred for the “Great Satan,” America)... as if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) didn’t reveal that Iran was heading towards nuclear-weapons capability... as if the U.S. defense secretary didn’t state last month that Iran could have the capacity within a year... as if Hezbollah wasn’t known to have more than 40,000 missiles in its arsenal and the stated aim of destroying Israel... and as if Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s elimination and the murder of Jews, wasn’t acquiring rockets right and left.
It is these American Jews I am trying to understand, because, frankly, I find their reaction quite unfathomable – and because I know their mobilization, if only it could be triggered, would be a great boost to those already engaged.
At the risk of stating the obvious, we Jews are not a monolithic people. There couldn’t possibly be a one-size-fits-all explanation for the thinking of those on the sidelines.
That said, I’ve noticed a few different mindsets.
One group says they think it’s all hype.
According to this view, anyone who asserts that Iran and its allies pose a danger must be a warmonger, a militarist, a neocon at heart – and we want nothing to do with them. You know, these are the very same drumbeaters who claimed Iraq was headed for the bomb, and look where that got us.
A second group says Israel has no calling on them, evokes no special connection.
We’re about building community here, they assert. What “they” do “there” is their business, as if, by the way, Iran’s ambitions have no bearing on America, either.
A third group says, yes, there may be a problem facing Israel, but if it had a different government and policies, the danger would soon recede.
Therefore, until Israel gets its house in order to our particular liking, they proclaim, no support.
A fourth group says they express Jewish identity by helping others – in Asia, Africa, Latin America, anywhere, that is, except Israel.
One telling illustration is the Jewish campus center I recently saw that boasts exactly one advocacy sign – “Save Darfur.” I assure you space is not the issue should anyone wish to put up a second sign, “Stop Iran.” Clearly, a lack of interest is.
This reflects what I call the ABJ mindset – Anyone But Jews. These Jews have a humanistic and compassionate streak, but, oddly, apply it to everyone but fellow Jews.
And for the fifth group, it’s just never the right time.
They say they understand the situation, but they’re just too busy with other things right now – other obligations, commitments, and plans. Maybe in a year or two the calendar will clear up. Check back with us then.
I don’t approach Iran as a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, dove or hawk.
I simply approach it as one who takes Iranian leaders at their word when they spell out their goals – and when their clandestine programs are revealed by the IAEA, the Obama administration, Britain, France, and Israel.
History should have taught us that we ignore such explicit threats at our peril. Or are we condemned to learn history’s basic lessons again and again?
Isn’t a threat to a Jew anywhere a threat to Jews everywhere? Can some so easily build mental walls between us and Israelis, or, for that matter, us and Argentina’s Jewish community, which experienced Iran’s deadly reach in the 1990s?
Let’s also be clear about one thing: Iran’s objections to Israel have nothing to do with who is prime minister and which parties have a Knesset majority.
Rather, it has to do with the state’s very existence.
I’d say it is high time for some Jews to get out of the business of making excuses for our avowed adversaries, or of disregarding the deadly seriousness of their threats. To think otherwise is to fall into the old trap of believing that, if we somehow just behave differently or lie low, our foes will reconsider their irrational hatred.
And it would be nice, wouldn’t it, to believe we can pick the time of our choosing to get involved. If only Iran’s leaders might accommodate our busy schedules, life would be so much simpler.
The fate of a nation hangs in the balance, as Israelis must once again face unflinchingly the situation as it is – and as they doubtless will.
We might be living thousands of miles away, but surely American Jews should be able to prioritize and stand as one – if I may be allowed to dream – in saying “no” to an Iranian bomb and “yes” to Israel.
If not now, when?