Steven Spielberg, Barbara Streisand, Philip Roth, Daniel Libeskind: Where are you?

April 01, 2002

Even with dozens of deadly suicide bomb attacks on Israelis in recent weeks, including last week's "Passover massacre," there is a near silence from many prominent American Jews. Are they going to feel guilty afterwards, like after the Holocaust?

-- Tom Gross


Friends like these
The Jerusalem Post
April 1, 2002

Yasser Arafat may be holed up in dimly lit quarters, but it's not as if he lacks for photo-op flash. Last month we watched as a claque of literary and Hollywood heavies Nobelist Jose Saramago and mega-director Oliver Stone among them tramped through Arafat's offices, lending moral and emotional support. Now the Palestinian leader has been joined by French antiglobalization leader Jose Bove, several members of the European Parliament, and about 600 Italian and French "peace activists," who have volunteered their services as human shields. Arafat, an expert in putting innocent people in harm's way, has been happy to oblige.

Meanwhile, here in Israel, we have.... Not Steven Spielberg. Not Barbra Streisand. Not Philip Roth. Not Daniel Libeskind. Not the March of the Living. We do have Karrin Wheeler, an American Jew who's here "to tell the Israeli government... that the source of terror and violence is the Israeli government and racism." But that's not exactly the kind of support Israelis were hoping to get from their American cousins.

As we write, the bloodiest month in the 18-month-long intifada has just ended. Arab anti-Semitism is at fury pitch, Hitlerian in its rhetoric and medieval in its deeds. Newsweek's cover story wonders whether Israel has any future to speak of. Yet notable exceptions aside, the reaction of the Diaspora has to a depressing extent amounted to little more than diffident handwringing. When the history of this phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict is written, this diffidence will surely count among its more lamentable chapters.

This is not to say that the average Diaspora Jew is to be blamed for shying away from Israel, though surely it doesn't take an extraordinary measure of courage to pay a week's visit. But people like Spielberg, Streisand, Roth, and Libeskind have a different level of responsibility. Each has "spoken" for the Jewish people. Some are prominent memorializers of the Holocaust. Yet in the face of the present assault, they are lending neither their bodies, nor their voices, nor their pens to the defense of an embattled Jewish homeland. It's as if Israel has been erased from their Jewish consciousness.

In fairness, this failure of responsibility is not theirs alone. It has been abetted by the Western press, so wondrously evenhanded over the years regarding events in Israel that it has created the intellectual underpinnings on which Palestinian terrorism flourishes. And it has been abetted by Israel's uniquely incompetent public relations machine.

Still, given the train of events from Camp David onward, it cannot be too much to ask of Diaspora Jews to figure it out for themselves. Put simply: Their correligionists and ethnic kin are being killed, a dozen at a time, in their homes, cafes, cars, and grocery stores, because they are Jews. Not Israelis, mind, but Jews. So if Diaspora Jewry will not speak out for Israel because they object to Sharon, or to the settlements, or to this or that aspect of Israeli domestic policy will they at least speak out for themselves?

It bears notice that the people who have recently paid court in Ramallah are among the worst the West has to offer. As an editor at the Diario de Noticias, the Portuguese Saramago put his newspaper behind the abortive 1975 Communist putsch by sacking every reporter who would not report the party line. Stone is notorious for films that bend truth and invent facts in the service of his message. Bove is the man who led the violent Seattle WTO protests that inspired an explosion of anarchist and neo-Nazi violence throughout Europe. Thus do the unrepentant, the mendacious, the violent, and the radical come together in common cause with the Palestinian Authority.

That said, the inability or unwillingness of their more moderate peers Jewish ones especially to offer some kind of riposte marks the gravest sort of failure. Saramago, Stone, and Bove may be an execrable bunch, but they have opinions aplenty, and the courage to express them. We can only hope that events in Israel will not someday make Diaspora Jews bitterly regret their present silence.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.