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Jews of Silence

$3 billion in annual military support proved too tempting a freebie for Israeli politicians to speak up about, so they kept quiet 

Never in his wildest ravings did any previous Israeli prime minister dream of uttering what Bibi Netanyahu was forced to say last week. After President Biden confirmed that he was cutting off the flow of vital weapons to the IDF, Bibi responded defiantly: “If we need to, we will fight with our nails.”

In the long history of tension between Israeli and American leaders — from Rabin and William Rogers to Shamir and George Bush, and on to Netanyahu’s own run-ins with Obama — this is the worst, by a long mile. How did Israel end up in the nightmare scenario of choosing between capitulation to Hamas and near-rupture with its closest ally?

Joe Biden’s decision to sacrifice Israel’s security on the altar of his electoral coalition is the most important trigger. Biden’s heart is in the right place when it comes to Israel — unfortunately, his spine isn’t. The hard line taken to placate progressives is grubby and unprincipled, making a mockery of the president’s repeated declarations of unconditional support for Israel.

So, too, the attempt to twist Israel’s arm by suddenly offering intel on the hostages is just plain weird. The White House wouldn’t use this type of leverage on Putin — why is it kosher when it comes to Israel?

But the road to rupture doesn’t just run through Washington; Jews and Israel-supporters bear responsibility for their silence, keeping quiet on a range of questions that underlie the current standoff.

Start with the recent headlines. The arms decision didn’t come out of the blue; rather, the countdown began the moment the left began to label Israel a war criminal, an event that took place within weeks of October 7. Biden’s early unqualified support for Israel was tempered with intimations that Israel was acting with excessive force. “We can’t ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who only want to live in peace,” he said on October 20, as if Israel was too rage-fueled to act with humanity. By mid-February, that rhetoric had escalated, with Biden saying that “too many” of the Gazan deaths were innocent civilians.

At that point, there ought to have been a massive reaction from anyone who considers themselves pro-Israel to the Stuermer-like allegations of genocide.

The onus specifically lay on those Jews and Israelis with Biden’s ear. But instead of protesting the slander, Senate leader Chuck Schumer — the highest-ranking Jewish official in American history — blamed Bibi for the Palestinian body count. He claimed that Netanyahu was “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza” and that the prime minister had “lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel.”

It wasn’t just Jewish politicians who refused to fight the disgusting defamation of Israel’s actions. Why did it take the arms-sale halt for billionaire Democrat donor Haim Saban and other left-leaning Jews to lodge a sharp protest with Biden? Seemingly, with Biden in trouble against Trump, keeping shtum was good Democratic politics; for Israel’s case though, it was disastrous.

Given its greater influence over the American left, the Israeli left has been complicit in the failure to counteract the narrative of Israeli callousness. Why were politicians such as Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz so reticent when it came to defending Israel against the blood libels? Why did they not flood the airwaves insisting that when it comes to security, Israelis are united?

When it came to making the anti-justice reform case last year, they knew where to show up to shape the American debate; this time around, they were far more restrained. Their silence was good anti-Bibi politics, but it allowed the Biden administration to say that the plan to conquer Rafah was Netanyahu’s attempt to cling to power.

The silence of the Jews predates October 7, though, and encompasses Israel’s entire political class. The Hamas invasion was not just an intelligence failure; it was a meltdown of the conceited assumption that Israel was strong enough to wall itself off from the savages next door and concentrate on domestic matters. It’s not just Bibi who’s implicated in the disaster of October 7; almost every contender to replace him is complicit in the same refusal to speak about the Hamas menace over the past few years, despite the black-on-white intelligence briefings that decision-makers received.

Israelis of all types persuaded themselves that their hi-tech economy was proof against anything that Iran and its allies could throw at it. In Ehud Barak’s well-known metaphor, the villa was so well fortified that it could ignore the beasts of the jungle roaming outside.

Overconfidence led to another type of silence — this time about the American arms guarantee. As raised repeatedly in these pages, the writing has been on the wall for years about the dangers of surrendering Israeli autonomy to keep the flow of defense aid coming. Back in the 2014 Gaza war, Obama served notice that America would use weapons to force Israel back in line by holding up a shipment of Hellfire missiles.

But $3 billion in annual military support proved too tempting a freebie for Israeli politicians to speak up about, so they kept quiet — and handed the Biden administration the piano wire with which it’s now strangling the war effort.

The willful blindness about the stick attached to the defense aid carrot is a metaphor for something more troubling. Ultimately, the silence of Israel’s politicians says as much about Israeli society as it does about its leadership. There’s only so much a politician can do and say until he steps too far out of the consensus and becomes irrelevant. The sad fact is that Israeli society didn’t want to see the writing on the wall when it came to both the Palestinians and the conditional nature of American support.

Imagine if Bibi had declared preemptive war on Hamas and Hezbollah on October 6. After sharing the intelligence about the Hamas invasion plans with the public, would he have been hailed as a decisive leader who justifiably risked regional conflict because of the ticking time bomb on Israel’s doorstep?

Far more likely he would have been assailed for cynically endangering the country to distract the public from the justice reform crisis and his own legal woes. Living in a post-Oslo La La Land, the Israeli public was simply unready to listen to any talk of an existential threat.

While most Israelis have woken up from the pre-October 7 illusion that kept them quiescent about the Iranian-funded monsters metastasizing next door, things are not so clear when it comes to those who keep shtum because of politics.

The Biden administration will probably find a way to climb down from its moral high horse, but the rupture with the government of the malchus shel chesed of America is a wake-up call. It’s time that Bibi’s bitter foes on the Israeli and American left realize that when Bibi’s Israel is demonized, all Israelis pay the price.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1011)

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