(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – In the 1960s, the Communist Party cut the Russian Jews off from the Jewish people. They prohibited them from wearing tefillin, or celebrating b’nai mitzvah, or expressing support for the State of Israel. They intimidated and imprisoned them. And the Communist Party governed with one big antisemitic lie: The Jews are the enemy of the workers.
When my father Elie Wiesel visited, the Russian dissidents would ask him eagerly: How many in America are marching for us? And my father would be too ashamed to tell them how few there were. He wrote a book about it called “The Jews of Silence.” Many thought he was referring to the Soviet Jews, who had to study our sacred texts in hushed secrecy.
But he was referring to us: the American Jews who refused to speak up for their Jewish brethren across oceans and borders.
Today, we are still victims of a terrible antisemitic lie, one that well-intentioned progressives who care about justice have too often swallowed. This big lie seeks to turn the fire of the racial justice movement against its earliest supporters: The Jews are White, the Palestinians are Black.
The inconvenient truth for our haters is that the Jewish people are not the enemy of the workers. Or of people of color. Or of social justice. And that the modern Jewish nation has sought peace with her Arab neighbors since before she was created in 1948.
The truth is that when half of our number finally governed themselves once again in their ancestral homeland of Israel, they built the socialized health care system that Bernie Sanders dreams of. The sons and daughters of the Ethiopian Jewish community, airlifted out of Africa by Israel in the 1980s, are reaching the Knesset and the Eurovision stage. LGBTQ Arabs can follow their hearts and their faith freely in Israel, and an Arab political party may yet be the kingmaker in this year’s elections.
The truth is that Hamas endangers civilians, Palestinian and Israeli, just to feed hatred. Their goal is the total eradication of the State of Israel.
And now, once again, too many of us have shamefully become the Jews of Silence. We have spoken up for every cause but our own.
It is time to shed our silence and speak with a loud voice.
If you have been silent because you feel Israel can take care of itself, think again. Your voice matters. Just weeks ago, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers with the express intent of maximizing civilian deaths. Iron Dome is why there aren’t thousands of murdered Jews. Some in Congress are clamoring for the United States to defund it.
If you have been silent because you feel Israel can never have security without peace, then commit yourself to peace. And while you build this critical common ground with our Palestinian cousins, speak up for Israel which has given up land in the name of peace, most recently with disastrous consequences in Gaza.
If you have been silent because “antisemitism could never happen here,” then take a look around. It is no longer just the Lubavitch asking “are you Jewish?” to help you do a mitzvah. Roving gangs of anti-Israel demonstrators in New York and Los Angeles are asking the same question. They brandish knives. They throw fists, bottles and hateful words.
And if you have been silent because you felt you stood alone, I promise you that you are not alone. Over 30 years ago, my father and other leaders of the Jewish community convened a quarter of a million of us and our allies in Washington, D.C. to show solidarity with Soviet Jewry on Freedom Sunday.
It is now our generation’s turn to speak our truth: Neither the millions of us here in the United States nor our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel are going anywhere. We will not bow to terror.
At the height of this most recent conflict, President Biden defended the dream of a two-state solution and directly spoke against the hatred at the core of the Hamas charter, saying, “Until the region says unequivocally that they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”
I am grateful to President Biden for standing with the Jewish people.
Now it is our turn. Let’s end our silence and join him.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
An open letter to ‘The Onion’: Prejudice is no joke
The words in your publication can work to entrench prejudice or dispel it, exacerbate divisions or help ease them.
By David J. Michaels
(JNS) The following is a letter I’ve sent to Chad Nackers, editor of “The Onion.” Although directed to that satirical newspaper, its core message applies to many outlets now catering to politically minded young people, particularly online.
Let me volunteer that I’ve been a diehard fan of The Onion. “Our Front Pages” and “Our Dumb World” enjoy a more prominent place in my home than I probably should admit.
I also hesitate to approach you with a substantive concern. Writing satirists a serious response to their work might seem a questionable choice.
I do so, though, because I know that even satirical publications can have a conscience – and many aim to balance or even guide their entertainment with a sense of social responsibility.
I’m writing about multiple posts by The Onion during the unnerving 11 days of the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
With headlines like “Palestinian Family Who Lost Home In Airstrike Takes Comfort In Knowing This All Very Complicated” and “Israel Returns Occupied Territories To Palestinians After Running Out Of Targets To Hit In Gaza,” in practically all of these stories, Palestinians feature exclusively as victims and Israelis feature exclusively as aggressors.
A quick search of your website finds the same stark pattern over a stunningly long period–with criticism even of Palestinian radicals last surfacing only years ago. A biting piece like “Crazed Palestinian Gunman Angered by Stereotypes” goes back all the way to 1997.
To be clear, I recognize and am pained by the suffering of every innocent person. And under normal circumstances, I’d welcome the dishing out of smart, good-natured mockery on an equal-opportunity basis. But seeing humanity and suffering on only one side of a conflict isn’t fair, and it isn’t funny.
I’m not going to litigate the conflict here – not the causes of Israel’s specific military actions, its efforts to try avoiding civilian casualties or the reasons for higher losses among Palestinians nonetheless.
This said, over recent weeks–and this conflict, of course, is not limited to recent weeks – millions of Israeli civilians were terrorized by more than 4,000 rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza. Their lives matter, too. Other countries would be expected to exact a massive response to much less.
Now, a few words about me.
I’m a Jew. Almost all of my grandfather’s family was murdered in the Holocaust. I still have the bullet that entered my grandfather’s back in a deliberate attempt to end his life, and mine, too. When as a boy, I visited his native Poland – home now to perhaps 10,000 Jews, where there were 3 million before the genocide – I was greeted with ubiquitous spray-painted swastikas, Stars of David on a gallows and the words Żydzi, wydostać się z Polski (“Jews, out of Poland”) on a synagogue.
Years later, I went to Israel, to take courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem –overwhelmingly a bastion of liberalism, where Arabs, Jews and others pursue higher learning together. That summer, the cafeteria of the university’s international school was bombed in an attack proudly claimed by Hamas. Nine people were killed, 100 were wounded, and countless more were traumatized.
Fast-forward to 2021, when my family members in Israel, including little children, have again repeatedly been forced to take cover from relentless assaults by fanatics who aren’t engaged in a limited territorial or political dispute with Israel but openly, doctrinally, pledge the destruction of the Jewish state in its entirety.
And now, in the United States, where I live, a spate of unprovoked attacks on Jews by pro-Palestinian extremists is being widely reported.
Well prior to the renewed hostilities in the Middle East, Jews – a small minority – were already by far the leading targets of faith-based hate crimes. In my community, some mothers now tell their children not to wear a skullcap or Star of David in public, even in America – far removed from the tensions in the Middle East.
One-sided “reporting” by a publication like The Onion might not seem to be the most critical problem today, and it’s not. But we could probably agree that your outlet can serve a vital role by giving readers a respite from the hardships they endure. Even more importantly, it can entrench prejudice or dispel it, exacerbate divisions or help ease them.
Young people in particular actually look to your “news” for just that – and this has implications in the real world. Even jokes carry a message and can imbibe assumed truths, especially when they are repeatedly reinforced.
Please ensure that your work does not erase the story and the experience of Israeli Jews.
David J. Michaels is the director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva universities.
Main Photo: Elisha Wiesel at a rally for Israel and against antisemitism in Lower Manhattan, May 23, 2021. (Shachar Azran/Israeli-American Council).