Defending Israel With Words, Passion, and Education
Several years ago, I had the privilege of being in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, where along with several Jewish community leaders, I met with then-President Obama. We discussed the conflict in the Middle East, and the president opened the floor to questions. I took the opportunity to address a perception that weighs heavily on me as well as on others.
It seems that when Israel is provoked by its enemies and forced to respond in order to protect its citizens, the media and dinner-table rhetoric includes terms like “overreacting” or “disproportionate force.” Like many Zionists, I’m concerned that the threat to Israel’s very existence is underestimated, while the proportionality of its response is mischaracterized as extreme.
On that day, President Obama responded that Israel should show restraint and build a strategy to “handle their aggressors without escalating a given situation.” His comments struck me as the kind of suggestions that an elementary school teacher might offer a child for dealing with a bully on the playground — an unrealistic response if someone is destroying your home or trying to kill you and your family.
By any account, however, Israel’s story is a very complex one. In a seeming paradox, it has a history of nearly constant strife, yet it strives for peace. Since 1948, Israel has defended itself in a string of wars — including the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Lebanon War (1982), and multiple Gaza wars. Some may question why, if it claims to want peace, Israel has been embroiled in so many serious conflicts. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once explained it in a Washington Post op-ed: “No sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids.”
Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are busy replenishing their arsenals following recent attacks in which over 700 rockets were fired into Israel, killing four. Even after the fatalities, the rainfall of rockets, and the millions of civilians forced into bomb shelters, Israel struggles to change the beliefs of foreign onlookers who say that its self-defense lacks restraint or is disproportionate.
The truth is that Israel has not only the right, but the responsibility, to defend itself against such attacks. It has an obligation to its people. It has invested heavily in advanced technology designed to limit bloodshed. Yet even advanced systems like the Iron Dome that intercepts incoming short and medium-range rockets, and David’s Sling, built to intercept medium-to-long-range rockets, are not enough to stop the chaos of each conflict.
There are even whispers that Iran may soon escalate its conflict with the United States by choosing the Israeli border as a target. If history has shown us anything, it is that the next Israeli war is likely around the corner.
Jews who share my beliefs have jumped to defend Israel when the country is attacked by enemies. Yet in the US, I fear that we’re losing the PR war when it comes to Israel’s position on its own national defense. I would like to see more American Jews be proactive rather than reactive when talking about Israel’s posture and its obligations to ensure safety and security.
Let’s come together to mount the defense now — ahead of the next conflict. There are those right here in the US who are trying to undermine Israel — not with rockets, but with propaganda. They’re trying to paint it as a colonialist power, questioning its very legitimacy. We must fight those claims with all the passion we can muster.
The next Israeli war could be unlike anything we have ever seen. It will likely be swift, with great mass destruction and many casualties. I call upon American Jews to mobilize. Our weapons of choice? Words. Passion. Education. Let’s fight now to defend the nation we love.
Stephen J. Savitsky, President of Bnai Zion Foundation, is a former Chairman and President of the Orthodox Union, and has served in many leadership positions in the Jewish community. He is also the President and Chairman of the Board of ATC Health Care Services.