Jennifer, you’re right. Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations today was as eloquent as it was on target with respect to the Holocaust denial and genocidal threats of Iran’s Ahmadinejad as well as the hypocrisy and distortions of the UN’s Human Rights Council and its Goldstone report on the fighting in Gaza last December.
With respect to the threat to humanity posed by the bid for nuclear weapons in the hands of fanatical Islamists, Netanyahu asked if “the UN is up to that” challenge. It’s a good question. But his speech reminded me of another question left unanswered by recent events: whether American Jewry and other friends of Israel here are up to the challenge of speaking out against the Iranian threat and against pressure on Israel to make concessions to Iran’s Islamist allies.
In pointing out the shame of the world body in allowing maniacal anti-Semites such as Ahmadinejad to use its rostrum as a bully pulpit from which to broadcast hate, Netanyahu said he was speaking in the name not just of the people of Israel but of the Jewish people at large as well as decent people everywhere. But there appears to be a sharp division between the sentiments of Israeli Jews who support Netanyahu’s prideful stands against Iran and the pressure President Obama is applying on Jerusalem, and American Jews, the majority of whom seem inclined to back Obama’s “engagement” with Tehran, as well as his inept attempts to strong arm Israel.
There was a time when Israelis such as Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog galvanized American Jewry into action with brilliant speeches. The threat to Israel and the Jewish people—as well as to humanity in general—from the Islamism of Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah is no less dangerous than that posed in Eban’s day by Nasser or in Herzog’s day by Arafat. The main difference is that unlike in that era, there appears to be a growing reluctance on the part of many liberal American Jews to identify with Israel or to oppose its foes. This “count me out” strategy of Jews who not only are lukewarm about their affection for Zion but are actually embarrassed to be caught supporting Israel in front of their fellow liberals was brazenly articulated by Jay Michaelson in a disgraceful column published in the Forward last week.
While I can’t believe that Michaelson, and others who take the point of view that they are in some sense morally superior to Israelis, represents anything more than a troublesome minority of American Jewry, it would be foolish to believe that it is an insignificant group. Even worse is the prospect that those liberal Jews who have the ear of the current resident of the White House are putting this point of view forward.
While many Jews took to the streets today around the UN to protest Iran, it is far from clear that the community is either united on this issue or prepared to put aside political differences in order to make action on the issue a bipartisan priority. With the clock ticking down toward a nuclear Iran, a reluctance to oppose Obama’s policies on any issue, as well as Jewish diffidence with respect to support of Israel, may become crucial factors in the unfolding political drama on this issue. If so, then the question of shame may very well be directed not so much at the circus performers and clowns of the UN but at those of us who fail to act or speak during this historic challenge.