After the rallies what should we do?


2 May 2002, p.1

This past month, North American Jewry plunged back into history, finally standing up for Israel loudly and proudly after dithering for too long. Depending on crowd estimates, anywhere from a quarter of a million to half a million people rallied for Israel. From Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, day after day, Israel's 54th birthday week inspired a powerful affirmation of Jewish unity. Religious and non-religious, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Canadians and Americans, leftists and rightists, stood as one to celebrate Israel's plucky democracy and renounce the evil terrorist campaign unleashed against Jews in Israel and abroad.

The challenge now is to ensure that the rallies signify a seachange in the Jewish community. For once the shouting and singing and speechifying of a rally ends, the real work begins. So far, as a community, we have not stood up to the historic challenges of 2001 and 2002. Yet the tragic story is far from over - we will have ample time to make amends in the coming months. Even amid our justifiable collective pride, we must wonder why it took so long to rouse this community. Why was the Palestinians' decision back in September 2000 to turn from negotiations to terror not enough? Why wasn't Hezbollah's illegal kidnapping of three young soldiers on the border with Lebanon enough? Why wasn't the lynching of two reservists in the fall of 2000 or the bludgeoning to death of two 13-year-olds that spring enough? Why weren't the Dolphinarium disco killings or the Sbarro Pizzeria murders enough? Why wasn't Durban enough? Or the Sept. 11 slaughter or the Daniel Pearl homicide or the daily sniping at commuters enough? Why did it take over 12,000 terrorist incidents in 19 months culminating in the heinous Netanya Seder Massacre for most Jews to mobilize?

Moreover, the rallies themselves, for all their energy, also illustrated the limits of Jewish power. The Canadian rallies testified to the community's extraordinary internal strength - perhaps best exemplified by the Montreal rally that may have mobilized as much as a quarter of the entire community. That kind of participation reflects a cohesive community with vibrant institutions and a committed rank and file, especially because the rally itself was a grassroots initiative that the leadership embraced and helped succeed. But it was hard not to watch the Canadian rallies without cringing at the Jewish community's political impotence. The mayor of Montreal was AWOL as was the Premier of Quebec and high level representatives of the Chrétien government. Even the Ottawa rally lacked the proper representation from the Chrétien government considering how loyal and financially generous Jews have been to the Liberals.

The Washington rally offered a mirror image. The podium brimmed with American political superstars, congressional leaders and senators, Republicans and Democrats, even a top administration official, as well as the poster child for America's fight against terror, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. American Jewish political power - and American Jewish popularity among their fellow Americans - was on display. Less clear, however, was the true internal strength of the community. Yes, thousands skipped work on a Monday afternoon to demonstrate for Israel, but millions stayed home, and still cannot be bothered to inconvenience themselves for the embattled Jewish state, even for one day.

Jews cannot afford to be complacent. Both communities, in the long term, will need to assess their own particular strengths and weaknesses, and maybe even try to learn from one another. However, the immediate focus must be on building momentum from these dramatic moments into sustained and effective community action.

These rallies - and the violence and vitriol Israel has endured - should serve as wake-up calls. We can no longer proceed with business as usual. We need to inconvenience ourselves, to put some projects on hold, to divert precious time and money to this fight for Israel's survival. Jews individually and collectively need to incorporate supporting Israel into our daily lives. Bar mitzvahs and weddings must carve out time to mourn and to respond. Shock of all shocks, even synagogue building projects must be reconsidered. We must learn more. We must act decisively. And we must give generously.

We must master the facts and clarify our opinions. We must take the time to read books and to follow the story on the Internet and in the press. We need to understand our history so that we can explain that Israel ended up with the territories in 1967 because Israel's neighbours were trying to obliterate Israel. We need to understand and explain that all this talk about "ending the occupation" is belied by Israel's record of territorial generosity, first with Egypt in 1979, and then with the Palestinians in Oslo. Never before in history has a country that won disputed territory after being attacked by its neighbours voluntarily relinquished the territory for peace - until Israel did it twice. And we need to understand and explain that if Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat had responded to former prime minister Ehud Barak's Camp David 2000 proposals with counter-proposals and not with violence, Palestinians might already have a state of their own rather than a state of war.

Moreover, we need to counter lies with facts. As the Jenin libel metastasizes, we need to note that the United States waited only three weeks before responding to terror with an invasion while Israel waited a year and a half; that the United States dropped bombs on terrorist infested areas while Israel went house to house; that Jenin was a battlefield, not a killing field; and that even amidst the horror, despite the fact that dozens of their comrades died, many Israeli soldiers fighting in the West Bank tried to be as humane as possible. In Tulkarm, some reservists raised 1,500 shekels to help a Palestinian family repair a damaged wall; in Bethlehem another group raised 2000 shekels to compensate a family whose house they used. Obviously, other moments were more brutal, but such acts of kindness should also be considered.

ACTING: We need to focus our actions on three critical players in this conflict whom we can influence: the media, our politicians and our Israeli brothers and sisters. When reporters mislead, distort, sermonize or falsely balance victims and victimizers; anti-terror tactics with suicide bombings; 20,000 demonstrators as opposed to 150 counter-demonstrators; we should bombard them with polite and detailed calls, emails and letters.

At the same time, we need to pressure the Canadian government to support Israel - applauding the government when it votes against biased anti-Israel resolutions at a supposed human rights conference in Geneva, and chastising the government when it lazily compares Israel's response to a bombing with the act of terror itself. And even as we lend political support, we must not forget how important our moral support is for the people of Israel right now. We must visit. We must write. We must shop there long distance ( or We must send care packages to soldiers ( We must adopt the families of victims. The Web site lists dozens of ways we can help the thousands of Israelis whose lives have been marred by terrorism. Every family, every shul, every school and every organization should identify one victim or group of victims - and bomb them with our love, our support, our own expertise if useful, and our cash if necessary.

GIVING: The learning and the acting must be reinforced by giving. The United Jewish Communities is spearheading an emergency fund-raising campaign, with 100 percent going to Israel. Magen David Adom, the Israeli Red Cross, is desperate for more medical supplies, more personnel and more ambulances ( Hadassah hospital has won worldwide acclaim for treating all victims equally, both Arabs and Jews ( Virtual shopping networks have developed encouraging North Americans to purchase goods from Israeli Web sites. As Europeans threaten to boycott Israeli products, we need to make extra efforts to patronize Israeli businesses, no matter what the cost. Our collective financial weight - through charity, investments and shopping - must do what it can for Israel's economy.

The time is short, the work is great. The needs are pressing and mounting. With any luck, this crisis will be temporary, not the permanent condition of the 21st century. As a result, when our children and grandchildren ask us, "Where were you in 2002?" we will be able to say: "I recognized the lethal and ugly challenge to the state of Israel and the Jewish people. I stood up. I learned, I acted, I gave till it hurt - and it felt great."

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University. His latest book is Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today