April 9, 2009
A Lesson from our Friends the IsraelisBy Lauri B. Regan
While driving through the West Bank on my family's recent trip to Israel, our tour guide shared an interesting story that helps explain the core issue in the struggle for peace in the Middle East -- and in the rest of the world.
Our Israeli tour guide was asked to speak at a conference in the United States several years ago at which he shared the floor with a Palestinian panelist. Before walking off the stage in the middle of the discussions, the Palestinian gentleman politely interrupted him and stated the following:
The statement did not surprise our guide for Israelis are fully aware of what drives the enemy in their midst. The rest of the world, however, should listen carefully. For, it is not just Israel that is facing this ideology. The war against infidels only begins with Israel.
While I have written that Israelis are survivors, enduring terrorist attacks on a regular basis, other non-Muslims, Americans, and in particular, American Jews, live day to day in a sheltered bubble oblivious to the imminent threat of violence and destruction that may one day be visited upon them. (This willful ignorance could not have been more evident upon my return home to the news that the Obama administration would no longer use the term "war on terror" due to the fear that such a term would offend Muslims.)
This same willful ignorance also existed in the 1930's in Germany. A visit to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, is telling. While the events that led to the rise of Nazi domination and Hitler's holocaust of European Jewry are too complicated to summarize in this article, one thing is clear. German Jews were complacent. They were completely integrated into German society and could not see their imminent demise. As Professor Walter Zwi Bacharach, a Holocaust survivor from Germany, describes in one exhibit entitled "It Came From Within...70 Years Since Kristallnacht":
American Jews in the 21st century have become complacent. They are fully integrated into American society and they do not see the hatred surrounding them. (Where was the outrage at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations several months ago calling for "death to Jews," "bring back the ovens" and "annihilate Israel"?) They have grown to care more about social issues such as a right of choice and socialized medicine than they do about their fellow Jews living in Israel or their own safety here at home.
Upon Obama's election, one liberal Jewish friend said to me, "Finally, we can have our civil rights back." I had no idea what she was talking about. Perhaps she should consider the lifestyle in Israel in which one cannot enter a playground without going through metal detectors, drive on certain roads without passing through checkpoints, or walk down the streets of Jerusalem without being surrounded by soldiers carrying automatic weapons.
In Israel, they have bigger fish to fry than worrying about whether the government may be violating the civil rights of terrorists by wiretapping al Qaeda's cell phones or water boarding the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. While in Israel, I never heard one discussion about abortion rights, union voting, or conservative talk radio with regard to the formation of the new government. Rather, the issues in the newspapers and discussed over dinners with regard to the future government centered on which leader would be the best for the survival of the country.
One afternoon we drove down a street in Jerusalem past a demonstration. We learned that on one side of the street, the family of captured soldier Galid Shalit held vigil in the hopes that the government would release hundreds of Palestinian terrorists in exchange for his freedom. On the opposite side of the street protestors took the position that such a release of Palestinian prisoners would be a disastrous mistake.
The next day, as we drove up North, we were shown the site at the border of Lebanon where three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped in 2000. Their dead bodies were only returned after Israel released hundreds of Palestinian murderers. The pain of this decision and of the Shalit family struck me even more when I read of Obama's plan to release, on United States soil, many of the terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the praises of Code Pink and his other ignorant supporters.
What was telling to me was that as I spent the ten days speaking with Israelis, asking questions and sharing the heartache of their stories, my relative sat on the bus worrying about whether the next site would be too disturbing for her children to visit. She did not join us on my son's mitzvah project down to the town of Sderot because it was too "scary" for her children.
This is what has happened to American Jews. They have become complacent and are more concerned with sheltering their children and themselves from the terrible reality facing them, America and Israel than they are with developing a survival instinct that may one day save their lives and that of their fellow Jews.
But I believe that their days of complacency may forcibly be changed with Obama in office. His naiveté was apparent throughout his campaign but his decisions while in office are becoming frightening.
One Israeli explained to me that the liberals that voted for Tzipi Livni were naïve. He went on to discuss other naïve decisions made by Israeli leaders with good intentions, but which led to the ultimate formation of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the state of affairs today, including handing over Gaza to the Palestinians. He concluded by stating the American proverb, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" and he emphasized the fact that Israelis cannot afford to be naïve and be fooled -- not even once.
On the other hand, Americans, with the help of American Jews, have elected a naïve President who has no foreign policy knowledge or experience and who has continually reached out to our enemies expecting the cheers and praise he continues to receive here at home -- to no avail. To what disasters will that lead for this country and the State of Israel, only time will tell; but Israelis are concerned. Israelis uniformly recognize that George W. Bush was the best friend that they have ever had. They also acknowledge that Israeli policy is all too often dictated by the American President and that the "change" promised by Obama may be devastating.
I learned that only 13% of American Jews have visited Israel. Perhaps if more made the trip to their homeland, they would wake up from their complacency and realize that yes, it can happen again. They have a responsibility to their fellow Jews in Israel to elect American leaders that are not naïve, that understand the enemy that we are facing and that will do everything in their power to protect the one ally they have in the Middle East -- and the one place in the world that Jews will always be welcome.
Lauri B. Regan is an attorney at a global law firm in New York.