By Ari Bussel
When it was announced an Israeli brigadier general would be speaking in Los Angeles for J Street, I was intrigued. A few months ago, several Israeli Members of the Knesset accepted an invitation to speak at the annual J Street conference causing uproar in Israel. I was very much against the idea then since it gave credence to J Street, even though the speakers did not see it that way.
I wanted to hear the Israeli officer now touring the USA. Would he, like other Israelis (predominantly those who shifted the center of their lives away from Israel), be using his mandatory military service, thick accent and Middle Eastern habits to malign and attack the Jewish State, lying and describing a reality that does not exist, nor ever did, on the ground?
Many of my friends refused to go. They are disgusted to the point of sickness from Israelis and American Jews fighting their own. So I braved the heavy afternoon traffic and drove 45 minutes to a synagogue I never visited before. The congregation is “reconstructionist,” but for simplicity sake, I group it under the Reform Movement (i.e. neither Orthodox nor Conservative). The venue was facilitated by Meretz USA, part of a coalition of “progressives” which also includes Americans for Peace Now, J Street, New Israel Fund and Ameinu.
Those who know me realize that driving such a distance is serious. I came with no pre-conceived notions (all of which were explicitly and deliberately cast aside), open minded and eager to listen. After all, a judgment must be rendered based upon facts rather than hearsay, innuendoes and conjectures.
The event was geared toward “progressive – liberal” Jews. Today, this description is used to describe those who are the first to march to protect human rights and civil liberties, the type who had risked their lives with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were at the forefront of the labor movement and remain active in social causes.
I have the greatest respect toward our communal traditions and accomplishments, often achieved at great risk and cost to our own families. Except, this behavior is neither “progressive” nor “liberal.” It is shared by all Jews and epitomizes our value set. Thus, the label is quite misleading since it pertains to our Jewish community as a whole rather than for a particular segment.
For those readers living in or visiting Los Angeles, A mural outside of Cantor’s Deli on Fairfax depicts the history of Jewish Los Angeles. Prepared and painted in 1984 as part of a youth project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, it remains a testament to our values and priorities. Highlighted there, for instance, is participation in protests and “Jewish Youth Speaking Only on Life.” These values, like the mural, have withstood the test of time and are shared across our community.
I was very much at ease, more so than in most other events I attend. Suddenly, I was the moderate, with both extreme right and extreme left surrounding me. I was open-minded, anxious to hear, observe and learn. I cared not about those who came wanting to fight, although regrettably, both extremes were ready for that eventuality. One side distributed a petition against Israel while the other was readying questions even before the start of the event.
I sat observing and was quite amazed to see the J Street representative asking the extreme left to avoid distributing the petition and disturbing the event. I was quite satisfied, for the right, as hurting as it may feel inwardly, normally would maintain decorum, respect the other attendees and the speaker; as offensive the substance of the talk may be to its members. The left usually lacks patience, respect or tolerance. It must have it its way, no other way.
The extreme-left learned the modus operandi of the fanatical Muslims, both on and off our university campuses. They instill fear, with guards patrolling around, preventing anyone from taking pictures, videotaping or recording the proceedings. No one but they is allowed to distribute literature. They will verbally attack and verge on physical violence if they do not like you or what you say.
In a recent anti-Israel event at the University of Southern California organized by a “progressive, liberal Jew and former Israeli,” the head of a pro-Israel organization was verbally attacked upon arrival. The organizer refused to allow access to the public event to others she viewed unwelcome – their mere presence caused her blood to boil. Was it out of fear or shame? She went as far as calling the police at some false pretense.
The left demands free speech but denies it to others. Those who have not witnessed the behavior of the Muslim Student Union should see the video of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s visit to the University of California, Irvine. The Muslims deliberately stood, one after another, interrupting the Ambassador, completely oblivious to the rights of the hundreds of other attendees who came to listen.
Since they cannot prevail on substance or fact, they attack the speaker, calling him “Islamophob” and other descriptive terms, and then silence him altogether (usually by trying to overpower the speaker creating outside noise).
Members of the extreme-left who call themselves “Jews” (“Jews for Peace” or “Jewish Voices for Peace” as examples) act similarly. At an event with Mayor Villaraigosa one of their leaders hijacked the Q&A.
Another member of the Extreme Left at the J Street event did not like the fact her point was not well received. She accused Israel of being devoid of any morals, not standing for human rights and being evil. It was quite amusing as three elderly ladies sitting behind me hushed her saying very forcefully: “The speaker talked about it throughout!”
You cannot imagine how upset and infuriated she was. When I approached her at the end of the lecture, anger overtook her. She could not pronounce a word. Not knowing what I was about to say, and not knowing me (although the Rabbi with whom she stood greeted me), she raised her hand, palm facing me with all five fingers outstretched. She could not bear the shame any more. For once she did not succeed humiliating Israel, and in of all places a J Street event! Among her own kind.
Amazing that J Street members and organizers would be “fighting for me,” fighting for Israel. The Extreme Left, despite publicly prefacing their gory litany of everything-evil-about-the-Jewish-State with “I am a Jew (or I am an Israeli), daughter (or son) of Zionists (or Holocaust Survivors) BUT…” have nothing good to say about Israel. For them, Israel is the enemy and their “relationship” is one of hatred, two enemies battling to the bitter end.
I sat, with Extreme Right and Extreme Left surrounding me, savoring the moment as J Street recognized extremism for what it is. I almost felt the Messiah Days might soon be upon us when J Street is fighting my fight.
Israelis who care about Israel may not agree on the path, but have similar red lines. When another member of the Extreme-Left contingency (those who hate Israel) stood up, the script was very familiar:
“I am Israeli (yes, we can tell, your accent and posture make it evident), and I served in the West Bank (or did he say Occupied Territories) in 1975. (Here comes the BUT:) I am ashamed of Israel. What we (note the “we”) did. No morals. Abuse of Human Rights.” [The stories become so good that facts dissipate. A fundamental right and obligation in the IDF is to refuse an order that is a priori illegal.] He continued, but the Brig. Gen. took command.
This was the last question. Alas, they managed to hijack the floor one last time. Israel was accused of evil without a chance to retort. The attacker used the sharpest dagger to stab her. Israel was on the ground, bleeding in disbelief: An Israeli just stabbed me, someone – my own flesh and blood – who served his country!
The Brig. Gen. at a J Street event would be expected to highlight such an accusation, dwell on it and on Israel’s exploits against basic human rights and decency and further attack the Jewish state. This was not the case. This celebrated Brig. Gen. felt attacked together with Israel.
He, the champion of liberalism, progressive attitudes, human rights and decency was accused of wrongdoing. A former Israeli who served in 1975 stood up and questioned his very morals, his own behavior. For that moment I forgot the 45-minute traffic ordeal and the return drive on windy Sunset Blvd all the way from the Ocean to Beverly Hills in the dark of night. The evening just became better.
Before me stood a general from the Israel Defense Forces, a leading figure in Israel and most recognizable and associated with the “Left.” He came to speak of the need for action, for a “two-state solution.” A champion of human rights and civil liberties who has served more than thirty years in the IDF felt what we feel every day: unjustly under attack, targeted for no fault of our own, delegitimized and demonized.
How did he answer? Exactly the same way I usually do. Funny how those who we would easily assign labels of “right” and “left” think alike when it comes to substance and facts. The IDF has the highest morals in the world. It is a military whose sole purpose is to defend the Jewish State of Israel, to ensure that the Holocaust of the Jewish people never repeats and to bring about the necessary environment for lasting peace on all fronts.
Anyone who has served, and that includes the majority of Israelis, men and women alike, would attest to the IDF’s code of honor, spirit and integrity. Unbreakable pillars. The following values are placed on a pedestal, creating a foundation of the actions of every soldier: love of country, loyalty, respect for human life and purity of weapon use—a soldier will only use his weapon in the right proportion and will always prioritize the value of human beings—an Israeli soldier will not harm non-combat civilians or those captured, and will do everything possible to prevent harm to their lives, bodies, honor and belongings.
To stand up and say the IDF is devoid of morals is tantamount to the worst type of blood libel. First, the one propagating the lies is a former Israeli. Second, such libels justify the terrorist attacks against Israel and endanger each and every Israeli, civilian or soldier. These accusations also give rise to unjust hatred toward Israel by our own community in the Diaspora.
Those best able to counter this venom are Israel’s enemies who during the wars to destroy Israel fell captive in the hands of the IDF. They knew clearly what would happen to an Israeli soldier if captured alive by them, but they did not expect the humane treatment and respect they received as POWs. Any American POW may relate to this statement. In fact, anyone who has ever served in any military knows the truth about the Israeli armed forces.
BUT here was an Israeli who hates Israel so deeply he finds it necessary to malign her, expose imaginary ills and awful secrets that never existed and never will. Simply put, it stands contrary to everything Israel, the Jewish State and the Torah stand.
I learned a very important lesson during this J Street event. We must all work together to defeat enemies from within and without. We may wholeheartedly disagree on how to walk into the uncertain future, but our goal is just and common.
We want to see a strong, viable Israel living up to its full potential and fulfilling the ancient promise. A Land where Jewish people dwell and the Almighty among them. A people who treat the foreigner, orphaned and widowed with justice and love. This is the way Israel always was, is and always will be.
Those who have only ill will against Israel in your hearts, beware. You may call me an “extreme right winger,” “Occupier,” and other superlatives to shut me up. But we will stand up to your lies and blood libels: ZOA, Stand With Us, APN, J Street, NIF and Im Tirzu as one. A wall unbreakable, a nation undefeated. United in strength and conviction, we will succeed. Act as our enemy, and we will fight back together and win.
It is time to fight this hatred and join forces—right and left together. ALL THOSE WHO TRULY CARE ABOUT ISRAEL NEED TO STAND TOGETHER NOW. Along the way we will remove any discord and division from our midst, and we will prevail. The truth is on our side and our fight is just. At the very least, we are not consumed by hatred and we do not need to resort to lies.