Our Challenge As Zionists: Defend Israel

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To restate the obvious: There is a war against Israel and the Jews.

The latest victims are Israelis Mira and Emmanuel Riva, who last week were shot to death at the Jewish museum in Brussels, along with a French citizen and a Belgian museum attendant. The Rivas weren’t settlers or ultra-Orthodox or visibly Jewish in any way. They were tourists at a Jewish site in Europe.

As tragic as the Brussels shooting is, however, it is hardly an isolated incident. The reality is that Europe is inhospitable to Israelis and Jews, and it is one of the most effective battlefields in the global war against Israel. The violence and threats of violence in France have sent thousands of Jews rushing to move to Israel. As European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said, “We are acutely aware of the permanent threat to Jewish targets … across the whole of Europe.”

Aside from that “permanent threat,” there are the travel restrictions, the threats of arrest for Israeli politicians and military personnel if they travel to Europe. There are extremist Muslim preachers in the U.K. and Europe who incite hatred of Jews and Israel.

Elsewhere, Israelis are prevented from competing at certain sporting events and economic sanctions, and business restrictions on development and trade with Israel are debated across the European continent.

Israel is attacked by academics. As just one example, Richard Ohmann, a professor emeritus of English at Wesleyan University signed a 2009 letter accusing Israel of “an insidious policy of extermination of a people.”

Israeli products are rejected at yuppie food coops as part of the worldwide boycott, sanctions and divestment movement, whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Celebrities, entertainers and musicians are pressured not to appear in Israel; they are protested and vilified if they do.

And then there is the actual war against Israel in the form of Hamas rockets from Gaza, Jihadists from Iran, Hezbollah from Lebanon and terrorists from Sinai. Keep in mind as well that there are nearly two dozen Arab and Gulf states that still don’t recognize Israel’s existence and with regularity call for Israel’s destruction.

The good news is that Israel is vibrant, diverse, democratic and strong in spite of the aggression against it. There was a Yiddish saying in the Warsaw ghetto: “God forbid that this war should last as long as we are able to endure it.” Same goes for Israel today. But just because she can endure, why should she have to?

Now for another obvious truth: Free speech is a value that every American and especially Jewish Americans believe is worth protecting.

It was a Jewish lawyer who urged the American Civil Liberties Union in 1977 to defend the right of the American Nazi Party to parade in Skokie, Illinois, which was then densely populated with Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

As President Carter declared at the time, “I must respect the decision of the Supreme Court allowing this group (the Nazis) to express their views, even when those views are despicable and ugly … But if such views must be expressed, I am pleased they will not go unanswered. That is why I want to voice my complete solidarity with those citizens of Skokie and Chicago who will gather Sunday in a peaceful demonstration of their abhorrence of Nazism.”

That peaceful demonstration by the local community drowned out the American Nazis and the parade fizzled. In our own day, sadly, too often it is Jewish voices that have taken up the cause against Israel. These critics of Israel exploit their Constitutional right to free speech to denounce and blame rather than praise or promote the Jewish state.

For example, as Alan Dershowitz explains in the new movie, “The J-Street Challenge,” “you cannot be pro-Israel and prioritize the condemnation over the praise [of Israel], which is what J- Street almost always does.”

In my own community, there are some Jewish educators who spend all their time outside the classroom blogging, tweeting and speechifying about why Israel must be blamed, Israel must be pressured, Israel must be made to change, while simultaneously praising and wishing mazal tov to any group that opts to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. They have every right to do so, but that doesn’t make it admirable.

Our challenge as Zionists and Jews is to drown out those voices with our own. We must defend Israel, our homeland, ourselves.

(Abby W. Schachter, a Pittsburgh resident, is senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and writes regularly for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review)