Time for pro-Israel Americans to take back the streets and start protesting

An anti-Israel protest and a pro-Israel counter-protest ensued in Teaneck, N.J., after a synagogue hosted an event featuring firsthand accounts by ZAKA representatives detailing the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 in southern Israel, April 1, 2024. Credit: The Jewish Link.

by Jonathan Tobin

(JNS) — The debate going on in the United States about Israel’s war against Hamas took a new and disturbing turn in the last week. But there was one thing missing from the discussion. Many of the Jewish state’s enemies talk a lot about the mythical power of the “Israel lobby” and nefarious Jewish influence over Washington, which betrays the antisemitism that runs through much of their discourse. But mobs chanting for Israel’s destruction and terrorism against Jews in the streets of American cities and on college campuses have become commonplace. And those advocating for a ceasefire in the war that will let the perpetrators of the Oct. 7 massacres get away with mass murder also seem to have enormous, even decisive influence with the Biden administration.

But there seems little indication that the legacy Jewish organizations that claim to speak for American Jewry are using much or any of their vaunted influence to halt the momentum of those working to destroy the U.S.-Israel alliance. Nor is there much sign that the organizers who helped turn out 300,000 people for a “March for Israel” in November have seriously contemplated what it means for the Jews and other pro-Israel Americans to concede the streets and campuses to extremist Jew-haters as has largely happened in recent months as a surge of antisemitism continues to grow.

After months of slowly moving away from its initial position of strong support for Israel, the Biden administration took a crucial step towards pleasing its left-wing critics. So-called “progressives” have been calling for President Joe Biden to put the screws on the Jewish state to make it stop the war against Hamas. As a result, the president has abandoned his previous positions on Hamas and is now clearly more worried about losing left-wing voters in his campaign for re-election — particularly in the state of Michigan, which has the highest Arab population in the United States — than he is about eliminating the perpetrators of the Oct. 7 massacres or the influence of Iran.

Who does Biden fear?

It’s not just that he is in thrall to a vocal ideologically woke anti-Israel protest movement that commands the support of most of the activist wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal corporate media. Biden also seems to think that he will pay no political price for abandoning Israel.

That was the context for Biden’s phone conversation this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Though supposedly a response to the accidental killing of seven aid workers in Gaza, Biden’s threats and demands seemed to make it clear that he was prepared to do as leftist allies bid him.

That means that if Israel continues its necessary campaign to eradicate Hamas and seeks to finish off the last terrorist strongholds in Rafah in the southernmost part of the Strip, as well as failing to make even more dangerous concessions in the hostage ransom talks which Hamas has been emboldened to stonewall, Biden appears ready to punish it with a cutoff of military aid. On the other hand, if Netanyahu — buffeted by criticism from home and abroad, and worried about whether his nation can stand alone — bows to these demands, then he will essentially be conceding defeat in the war begun by Hamas on Oct. 7 with the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. And that is a decision that would guarantee even more horrors in the future from Israel’s array of regional enemies.

It’s hard to imagine any Israeli government, no matter who led it, being willing to let Hamas win in this manner. Israelis elected Netanyahu in November 2022 but are deeply divided about his continued hold on power. Nevertheless, they overwhelmingly support the war on Hamas and want their government to finish off the terrorists in Gaza, and then neutralize the threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the north by one means or another. But should the United States join the growing movement to isolate the Jewish state, it would be foolish to think that the consequences would be anything but dire.

This would seem to be the cue for the pro-Israel community to find its voice again. Yet outside of the usual staunch voices like that of the Zionist Organization of America, Jewish leadership is largely silent. Mainstream entities can be counted on to denounce antisemitism, as is their job; however, their leaders and likely many of their main politically liberal donors are too invested in support for Biden’s re-election campaign to be willing to speak out against the administration’s pivot away from its initial post-Oct. 7 positions.

Many Jewish liberals — always inclined to be critical, if not outright hostile to both Israel and Netanyahu — have gone silent in the face of the deluge of biased coverage of the war from the corporate media. They either believe the claims that falsely depict Israel’s war efforts as “genocide,” accepting bogus Hamas claims about civilian casualties and the plight of those in Gaza, or they are too fearful of going against the political fashion of the day to challenge these lies. Or they are afraid to face increasingly violent groups of demonstrators.

Still others, like the leftist Forward newspaper, have joined those demanding that the war stop, even if that means that Hamas wins and the 100-plus Israeli hostages who are still in their hands continue to undergo torment.

Under the circumstances, a repeat of the mass turnout for another Washington rally seems unlikely, if not impossible. By the time of the Nov. 14 rally — already six weeks after the slaughter in southern Israel — much of the media had already flipped the narrative about the conflict from one about the Oct. 7 pogroms and the orgy of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping and wanton destruction that began the war to one about a “disproportionate” Israeli response. But things are worse today, with outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC already mainstreaming antisemitic advocacy for Israel’s destruction, and added to the chattering classes and popular culture embracing the idea that the only real victims of the war are the Palestinians who themselves cheered the Oct. 7 crimes when they happened and still support them.

The need for supporters of Israel not merely to speak up but to do so in as loud and public a way as possible is now far greater. Jews and their allies in the Christian community must return to the streets.

Fearful of confrontations

It is understandable that Jewish groups want to avoid confrontations with their opponents out of fear of potential violence and because they believe that their influence is best employed in the corridors of power. But by effectively abandoning the public square to antisemites, the Jewish community has not only encouraged those screaming for violence against Jews, especially Israelis, but has also created a dynamic whereby it seems as if there is only one side to the argument about whether a war against a genocidal terrorist group is justified.

Equally important, the lack of public clamor on behalf of Israel and against the pro-Hamas ceasefire advocates has sent the message to the administration that there is only one side in the debate about the war that they should listen to or fear.

This was made abundantly clear early in the Democratic primaries when Biden showed that he was far more interested in appeasing pro-Hamas voters in Dearborn, Mich., than those who advocate for Israel. In the last two months, even after Biden secured the Democratic presidential nomination, he has continued to go out of his way to avoid antagonizing Israel-haters.

Perhaps he’s right to believe that Jewish Democrats dislike former President Donald Trump too much to consider defecting from their party. Or that they are more concerned about abortion rights than about defending the Jewish state. But at a time when antisemitism — and the demonization of Israel and its supporters — is escalating, perhaps it’s time for even those who intend to vote for Biden to start showing up at his rallies and speak up about the administration’s abandoning Israel. Jewish Democrats need to say that they expect Biden to stand by Israel in its just war, not to threaten it.

If Biden was made to see, as he should, that there are more votes to be lost in the political center from Americans who back Israel and don’t believe the blood libels being thrown at it, then he might understand that there is a greater political price to be paid for kowtowing to antisemites than for keeping faith with the Jewish state.

Beyond that, Jewish groups around the nation also need to understand that their mission must also include efforts to reclaim the streets.

Teaneck shows the way

A great example of a community that understood what was at stake was on display this past week in Teaneck, N.J. A month ago, an Israel real estate fair at a synagogue in that New York suburb was threatened by an antisemitic mob, egged on by Internet lies about the event. But when another pro-Israel event at a synagogue — this time honoring ZAKA volunteers charged with the gruesome task of handling corpses from the Hamas pogroms — was similarly threatened, the Jews didn’t simply depend on law enforcement to protect them. Neither did they, as sometimes happens elsewhere, cancel the event due to justified fears of violence. Instead, they organized a counterprotest that outnumbered those who were bussed into that town to vent their hatred.

The effort reflected a consensus in that community that, in the words of a spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, “these attacks on our synagogues have to end. Full stop.”

This example needs to be emulated everywhere. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been targeted by vandals and antisemitic protests from those seeking to eradicate Israel “from the river to the sea,” falsely accusing Israel of “genocide” while ignoring or even denying Hamas crimes. Yet ever fearful of what a confrontation might lead to, Jewish groups don’t turn out to demonstrate that the streets don’t belong to the hatemongers and their allies. And that needs to change.

Beset by doubts about their place in a society that has embraced woke intersectional myths that marginalize Jews and browbeaten into thinking that the cause of Israel is too controversial to be compatible with a comfortable American life, too many leaders have gone silent at a moment of crisis when they need to speak up loudly that they will not be intimidated or taken for granted by politicians like Biden. They need to understand that even though support for Israel can seem a very lonely, unfashionable position, most Americans stand behind the Jewish state.

Jews need to stop cowering and start protesting. If they don’t, they’ll soon see that the antisemites will only grow bolder in their affronts to Jewish sensibilities — and political leaders will continue to believe that they need not fear losing their support.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.