The Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress opens today in Jerusalem at a time of unprecedented turbulence and tension. The Diaspora is undergoing its greatest crisis since the Holocaust. Jews everywhere are confused, destabilized and fearful.
The Arab uprising and the realization that the irreversible peace process was a cruel illusion have had a profound impact. Assimilationist inroads have weakened the Jewish identity of a new generation of Diaspora Jews. For many, the Holocaust and the struggle to establish a Jewish state are dim memories, and the existence of Israel is taken for granted. Some were influenced by post-Zionist ideas exported from Israel.
These trends were reinforced by Israeli leaders who discouraged Diaspora Jews from publicly promoting the case for Israel, telling them to leave it to the Israelis. For the sake of an illusory peace process, multiple breaches of the commitments by the Palestinian Authority were minimized and Arafat’s anti-Semitic outbursts and the ceaseless incitement of hatred in the Palestinian school system were dismissed as inconsequential.
The Camp David negotiations intensified this Diaspora destabilization. The Barak concessions crossed what had until then been consensual Zionist red lines. The subsequent Arab resort to violence and terrorism unleashed a media campaign of vicious anti- Israeli propaganda which, in turn, created universal anti-Semitism unparalleled since the Nazi era.
Israel was once again delegitimized and portrayed as a cruel colonial occupier denying Palestinians their human rights; a pariah state in which apartheid, ethnic cleansing and infanticide are sanctioned; a country headed by a man demonized as an inveterate warmonger, tyrant, and a war criminal.
Overnight, Jewish communities, especially in Europe, found themselves confronted by a revival of violent anti- Semitism and terrorism. This has been particularly evident in countries in which substantial Islamic communities reside. Security had to be stepped up and many Jewish communities felt threatened.
So it is not surprising that today Diaspora Jews are less supportive of Israel than before; there are fewer expressions of Jewish solidarity; and fewer Jews visit Israel.
THE SHOCKING September 11 carnage only intensified these negative trends. At first Jews assumed that the disaster in America would at least bring about a better understanding of what Israel had endured for so many years. They had hoped to see an end to the mindless statements by Israel’s American friends who indulged in moral equivalence by calling on both parties “to stop the cycle of violence,” without distinguishing between victim and victimizer.
Instead, the pressure on Israel intensified. Distinctions began to be made between “real” terrorists and “legitimate resistance to occupation.” This led to the current anti-Israel diatribe – that terrorist outrages are the logical outcome of the Arab rage generated by America’s alleged support of Israel. Jews became fearful that if this became the accepted wisdom, not only will America exert more relentless pressure on Israel, it could also result in an upsurge of blind anti-Semitism reminiscent of times when Jews were accused of “poisoning the wells.”
Diaspora Jews rightly complain about the inglorious level of many Israeli spokesmen.
Equally they are frustrated that even today the government speaks with a forked tongue – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon describing Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat as a “murderer” and “Israel’s bin Laden,” and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres referring to him as “a peace partner.”
However, despite these pressures, Jews throughout the world are once again being called on to support an embattled Israel. Even assuming that the scenario of Israel becoming a sacrificial lamb to appease Islamic countries does not eventuate, Jews will still face a major challenge in confronting other obscene libels being promoted against Israel. This will truly require resolute and courageous leadership.
Yet with all that, the most important challenge is to persuade Jews that as long as Israel is under siege, the Jewish state must unquestionably remain at the top of the international Jewish agenda. For there is no meaningful future for the Jewish people without the Jewish state. Warts and all, Israel is still the greatest success story of the 20th century. How to promote this convincingly is the real challenge of Diaspora leadership. There can be no equivocation. Gloom and doom is not leadership. It is defeatism.
Diaspora leaders should urge Jews to visit Israel now – not for Israel’s sake but for their own Jewish self- respect.
And they should remember that we are the most fortunate Jewish generation in more than 2,000 years. Jews should be proud rather than sorry for Israel. Despite our current painful problems and daily tragedies, we are strong enough to defend ourselves. We shall endure. But not for ourselves alone. We seek the support and partnership of our fellow Jews to help realize our dreams of becoming a secure, peaceful and creative Jewish state which will one day still be recognized as or lagoyim – a light unto the nations of the world.
The writer is chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress.