It does not take moral courage to stand against Jews being beaten up in the streets of New York. It does not take moral courage to stand against bricks shattering a window of a kosher pizzeria. It does not take moral courage to stand against the painting of swastikas on synagogues. Yes, it is important to fight against antisemitism and perhaps there is an element of physical risk in staking out these positions. But there is no moral risk to these views. There are no Trevor Noahs, John Olivers or even AOCs advocating for these sort of antisemitic acts. Their rhetoric unquestionably invites them, but they wouldn’t dream of condoning them.
It does require moral courage, however, to stand up for Israel. It takes moral courage to stand for Israel’s right to exist and even more moral courage to defend the Jewish right to the entirety of the Land of Israel.
That’s because moral courage occurs when someone argues a position that has stiff opposition and may even be unpopular. Moral courage occurs when one is willing to buck societal trends and popular opinion because he believes in the moral rectitude of his position.
It is important to point this out because there has been a significant increase in communal activism by the Jewish establishment in the weeks since Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas. The community really mobilized when antisemitism hit our shores. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is because it hit closer to home. However, I am concerned that there may be a second reason; namely, many are more comfortable fighting antisemitism than standing up for Israel. It is much easier to decry the aforementioned antisemitic incidents than to deal with thorny issues like Israeli “occupation,” “two-state solutions,” and “settlements.”
It is also much easier to decry antisemitism than fight back against a pro-Palestinian movement that has become increasingly popular. Unfortunately, there’s no doubt that the pro-Palestinian movement won the PR war here in the U.S. during the recent conflict. Day after day, rally after rally, newspaper article after newspaper article, the pro-Palestinian forces were overwhelming. Despite obvious differences, Palestinian activists have not only positioned themselves as fighting for civil liberties, but wholly aligned themselves with Black Lives Matter and consequently captured the imagination of the youth, including many young Jews.
I am concerned that the strength of BLM and its appeal have left much of the Jewish establishment on unsure footing, afraid to be “on the wrong side” of racial issues and thereby disenfranchise donors and young professionals. What should have been an “easy issue” – standing with Israel as terrorists try to murder Jews – became fraught with political considerations and hesitation.
This is problematic. A strong response to antisemitism is not a substitute for a strong response to Palestinian propaganda. When the organized Jewish community fails to stand up for Israel, in the public eye we cede the moral high ground. Young Jews, less knowledgeable Jews, BLM sympathizers, and politicians interpret this as a moral indictment of Israel. It is clear that we need to become more organized in the event of another conflict.
In recent years the Orthodox community has grown stronger and more confident. For example, one of the major findings of the Pew study on Jewish Americans released last month is that young Jews are increasingly identifying as Orthodox. The truth is that we didn’t need a Pew study to know this. If you look at any major Orthodox Jewish population center, the youth and the vibrancy is self-evident.
This is true of Orthodox engagement in Israel advocacy as well. From the proliferation of kippot at AIPAC to the recent Orthodox gains in the World Zionist Congress, our community is becoming more and more engaged and clearly remains staunchly supportive of Israel. However, much of the advocacy is on a national and international level. The recent conflict suggests that the Orthodox community has a new role to play on a local, grassroots level. The Orthodox community must lead on Israel not only for the Orthodox community, but for the broader secular community. The Orthodox community must assert a more muscular leadership on Israel issues that attracts a broader demographic. For example, we should be prepared to launch local rallies to demonstrate that Israel has widespread support. We need to build new coalitions with pro-Israel activists in our communities, from key political figures to other pro-Israel faith leaders. We need to create Israel education series that are inclusive of the broader community.
There are many Jews who do not identify as Orthodox who are looking for leadership on Israel issues. We have done a good job within our community, but there is a vacuum in the larger Jewish world that needs to be filled. Given our strength, the onus is on us. We must rise to the occasion.