My Country is in Chaos - Why Worry About Israel Too?
By Nathan Ashner
During this time of mass unrest, violence, rioting, and a global pandemic, it is imperative, now more than ever, that we as Jews strengthen our connection to Israel and each other. Unfortunately, this isn’t as obvious for some as it should be.
For those of us living in the Diaspora, it can be easy to dismiss the relevance of Israel to our lives amidst the chaos because we may be overwhelmed by all the injustice in our local communities or in the world in general.
We might ask ourselves, “Why should I worry about Israel when 100,000 people have died in my own country within the last four months alone? Why should I worry about Israel when scores of Americans are refusing to comply with public health guidelines, endangering the lives of thousands of people where I live?” “Why should I worry about Israel when innocent black men are being unlawfully killed by American police and innocent people have died in the violence resulting from protesting the injustice?” “Why should I put myself out there as an advocate for Israel when it will likely arouse animosity and division between some of my family and friends?”
These are difficult questions that we all have to answer. Amid all of this civil unrest, Am Yisrael, all of the children of Israel, whatever our color, religious practice, ideology, or where we live, must band together to protect ourselves and stand up for justice as our people have done throughout history.
Civil unrest breeds violence, and violence only brings more violence. For this reason, many consider it key to express support for Israel during this time for our own safety. Having experienced violence and oppression throughout the years, usually linked to the political and social climate and circumstances, the Jewish people have continuously been the target of scapegoating, dehumanization and, eventually, physical attacks.
For example, the Great Depression and widespread political instability of Europe preceding WWII exacerbated the conditions that led up to the Holocaust. Blamed for the massive loss of World War I, the Jews became the target of propaganda that claimed Jews “control all the money,” seek to control the world, and are generally a threat to whole societies.
These anti-Semitic tropes are not new, however, we can identify several times in history when these kinds of sentiments were prominent in public expression as well as in private forums. Similarly, we should not be surprised that the COVID-19 epidemic has aroused increased levels of Antisemitism. Nor should it shock us that kosher or Jewish-owned stores and synagogues in Los Angeles were looted during protests against the murder of George Floyd and that pro-Palestinian elements have hijacked the cause to further their own agenda.
How in such instances can we understand what is the target of this Jewhatred? In Montreal just before Shavuot, a shul was heavily vandalized, and the attack specifically focused on desecration of holy objects. Beyond the graffitiing of swastikas on the walls of the synagogue or just generally trashing the building as is common in such attacks, these Antisemites tore apart and put Sefer Torahs in the toilets. They hit the Jews where they knew it would hurt the most.
This deeply saddens and angers me, but I see it as a warning. It is yet another sign that Antisemitism is as alive as ever and that mass hysteria in one form or another exacerbates the situation, perhaps beyond our control or even that of those we believe are in the position to protect us. The likelihood that we as Jews will need Israel as a refuge will only continue to rise as the global pandemic persists.
Thus, it is imperative that now more than ever, we support and protect each other. The best way to do so is by working together to overcome our differences, and using our many resources to ensure that Israel perseveres through these tough times - not only as a safe haven for Jews fleeing oppression or violence around the world, but also as a place that helps Jews everywhere feel a sense of belonging from which they can gain strength in the face of this fire of fanatic hatred. We need to connect with Israel during these times not despite the racial violence in America, but because of it.
Jews have always been led by our ideals, one of which is repairing the world. We have a long history of standing up for injustice in the world even when it was being done to another group of people. We have fought for equality time and time again. These times are no different. We must band together and stand in solidarity with people of color to protest the racial injustice in our country.
As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We have to show people of every color and every faith that we support them in their struggle for equality because we see their inequality as ours as well. We have to remind the world that Jews stand up for what is right, even when it is hard.
That being said, we must be very careful with how we engage in this activism. Although it was not so for most of history, the status quo views Jews in the Western world as white. Whether true or not, or whether we agree or not, Jews today are judged as an extension of the white hegemony. We have to be aware of this perception and combat it in sensitive ways. We have to show people of color that we understand what they are going through and that we wish to be allies.
However, we cannot fight injustice in America or anywhere for that matter, if we are too busy fighting each other. As we know from Jewish thought, we have to change ourselves before we can change the world.
The Jewish community, especially in the Diaspora, is severely splintered and fractionated. We spend so much time and energy fighting each other that we cannot effectively fight together towards common goals. We need to help Am Yisrael unite because we are stronger together. From the Bar Kokhba revolt to the founding of the State of Israel, Jews have shown that when we come together we are a mighty powerful force.
However, the internal tensions can – if we let them – destroy our collective potential. For example, in the Yishuv – the years of Jewish settlements in the land of Israel leading up to the establishment of the state – Jews created paramilitary organizations to protect themselves. Unfortunately, political differences got the best of us, and even while being abused by the British and under attack from Arab populations, the Irgun and the Haganah also fought each other to an extent. It is shameful that we could not put our political differences aside and fight together against our common enemies.
Today is no different. Too many Jews in the Diaspora connect to Israel on a mainly or exclusively political basis. This is detrimental to our future as a people and the future of the state of Israel. We need to help Am Yisrael realize just how much unites us, rather than focusing on what divides us. Whether it is religious or political disputes it does not matter. The result is the same – a more divided and thereby weaker Klal Yisrael.
Now more than ever, we have to band together as Jews so we can be a shining light unto the other nations of the world. We cannot do that if we are fighting over politics. Having a strong connection to Israel is crucial in this regard because it unites Jews from all different backgrounds.
No matter a person’s political affiliation or level of religious observance, all Jews are members of Am Yisrael. All Jews have a place with us. Among many other things, a strong uniting factor for Jews is that we all have indegenous rights to our ancestral homeland in the land of Israel. All Jews have a home in Eretz Yisrael. We just need to help them realize what they are giving up by disassociating from it for the sake of partisan politics.
The people of Israel are a Semitic tribe of people with all the markers of a nation deserving self determination in their land. We have our own language, culture, faith, and territory. It is our job to help each other understand this aspect of our Jewish identity, strengthen it, and utilize it as a tool to unite all of Am Yisrael so we can get through these tough times together.