I know the following is part of a fund-raising appeal (by David Harris for the American Jewish Committee), which tend to be bombastic, but I still have to ask: Really?
If you’ve read my writings in the past, you know that I prefer understatement to hyperbole. That’s why this letter may alarm you: In my 20 years as AJC’s executive director, I have never seen a more dangerous time for the Jewish people. [Emphasis added.]
With a shift in global power, a rise in terrorism at our doorstep, and true existential threats to the Jewish people emerging, AJC is the one Jewish organization with the track record of impact, access and know-how to meet these most urgent challenges.
This might be true if you limit the scope to the last 20 years (although this Jew felt a lot more insecure during the First and Second Intifadas, the First Gulf War, and Saddam’s saber-rattling in the late 1990s). The case for asserting that there are “true existential threats to the Jewish people” is only as strong as the following arguments:
1/ Iran will get The Bomb, and will be happy to use it against Israel despite Israel’s own nuclear capability.
2/ Israel’s pariah status is growing, and it cannot survive without the world’s support and approval.
3/ Anti-Semitism is such a potent force that entire Jewish communities are in danger.
4/ Despite the undiscriminating global nature of jihad, Jews face a particular and more direct threat from Islamist terrorism.
There’s a grain of truth in each of these statements, but let’s consider the counter idea that the Jewish people have never been more secure. To wit:
1/ It is not clear at all how close Iran is to nuclear capability, and there is a fairly broad coalition of countries, including Arab states, who are adamant that Iran not be allowed to go nuclear and are either overtly or quietly supportive of crippling sanctions and “all other options.”
2/ Despite the popularity of the Boycott etc. movement on the Left, it remains a marginal movement, with little to show besides proclamations and press clippings for its efforts. Meanwhile, Israel’s economy and international trade is robust, its aid package from its most important partner seems to be in no danger, and the American people, Israel’s most important allies, continue to show wide and deep sympathy for Israel’s cause.
Israel certainly faces harsh criticism for its occupation of the West Bank. If you are a Dove, you might be consoled by the fact that Israel has the ability, if not the political will, to change the status quo, and can choose to avoid the kinds of provocative measures sure to invite global criticism. If you are a Hawk, you might be happily defiant that Israel refuses to cave to international pressure and continues to assert its right to defend itself from a Palestinian enemy committed to its destruction. Either way, the fate of Israelis, unlike that of so many Jews through the centuries, is in their own hands.
3/ For the first time in history, there is not a single sizable Jewish community facing repression or annihilation. Anti-Semitism is for the most part a rhetorical phenomenon, amplified by modern communications but barely registering on the lived experiences of the vast majority of the planet’s Jews.
4/ Jihadis hold a special animus for Jews, and in a number of attacks, including Mumbai, have been sure to add specific Jewish targets to their otherwise undiscriminating mayhem. And yet the world does not treat terrorism as a “Jewish problem,” but as a problem facing nearly everyone in the West, as well as non-jihadis in Muslim lands. Governments around the world are mobilized against this threat — something you couldn’t say when Jews were the special targets of, say, the Nazis or the Soviets.
Admittedly, the wild card in all this is Iran — can it make a bomb, will it use it? I understand the impulse to imagine and expect the worst, and the need to mobilize people to action. But constant appeals to fear are easy to dismiss if they do not resonate with actual experience.