Hillel, one of Judaism's greatest sages, teaches, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" This is a lesson the American Jewish community has taken to heart. It was not long ago that the Jews of America, whether out of powerlessness or fear, were unable or unwilling to persuade the U.S. government to act to save the Jews of Europe and so meekly watched as 6 million of their co-religionists were exterminated by the Nazis. "If I am not for myself" became both a cautionary tale and clarion call to action.
Today, the Jewish community in America is thriving and self-assured -- as powerful as it once was powerless. Jews are among the most influential players on the American political landscape, where organizations such as AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents don't hesitate to flex their muscles when it comes to issues concerning the Jewish State. We recently witnessed that influence in action when the terrorists of Hamas sent rockets raining down on Ashdod, Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. The Obama administration immediately backed Israel and America's pro-Israel community quickly rallied bi-partisan Congressional support for the IDF's measured response. Indeed the lesson of "If I am not for myself" has been well learned.
However, there is a second part of Hillel's aforementioned teaching: "And if I am only for myself, then what am I?" For America's pro-Israel community it unfortunately seems as if this latter section of the teaching has been forgotten. A mere week after the end of hostilities between Israel and Gaza a resolution was brought before the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to that of a nonmember observer state. As America is committed to the two state solution, one might have expected the U.S. to have supported the motion. The historic significance of this step, taken on the 65th anniversary of the U.N.'s approval of the plan to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state (the plan that led to Israel's birth six months hence), would have affirmed America's long-stated commitment to a two state solution, as well as underscored America's dedication to securing the same inalienable rights to independence and self-determination for the Palestinians that our own Declaration of Independence guarantees its citizens (ideals similarly present in Israel's Declaration of Independence). Sadly, the United States was one of only nine countries to vote "no."
The State Department instantly went to work calling the resolution's passage "counterproductive," "unfortunate" and "unilateral." Congress stepped-to, as well, threatening to withhold aid to the Palestinians. Not surprisingly, the pro-Israel community heaped praise upon the Obama administration and lambasted the U.N. And when Israel gave what could only be characterized as an object lesson in "unilateral" action by swiftly announcing plans to build 3,000 more housing units for settlers in the area known as E1, making a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank virtually impossible and potentially sounding the death knell of the two state solution, the pro-Israel community's silence was deafening. Surely it strains credulity to think that the pro-Israel community's clout did not play a major role in the staunch opposition expressed by the United States to an action supported by two-thirds of the members of the community of nations, and then turning a blind eye to Israel's unilateral steps that followed.
A dangerous confluence of circumstances has developed in recent years. The pro-Israel community has lost its moral compass. It has done so by valencing "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" to the exclusion of "And if I am only for myself, then what am I?" Simultaneously it has come to see itself as the true and only voice of American Jews on the issue of America's Middle East policy. Notwithstanding the Jewish people's two millennium long tradition of Talmudic argumentation, these "self-anointed representatives" brook no dissent. They don't hesitate to smear anyone who refuses to march with them in lock step. They call those who dare disagree "self-hating Jews" (as Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod have been dubbed) or "anti-Semites" (like President Obama's potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel). The self-anointed representatives of the American Jewish community threaten rabbis and other Jewish communal professionals who won't toe the party line, making clear that publicly taking "off-message" positions will be tantamount to professional suicide. They are bullies who are accustomed to getting their way.
Yet while the self-anointed shout the loudest, they do not speak for the vast, growing, yet mostly silent majority of American Jews. This silent majority is in favor of the two state solution; supporting Israel's right to safely exist within secure borders, while also maintaining the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in the West Bank.
For the Jewish people to be true to its values and to itself it must not forget "if I am only for myself, then what am I?" And so the silent majority of American Jews must hear today's clarion call. They must make their voices as loud as their numbers are great. They must take bold action and let President Obama and Congress know that they have their backs; that the AIPACs and Sheldon Adelson's of the world (whose $54,082,772 in donations to conservative super-PACS couldn't buy the 2012 presidential election) don't speak for the majority of American Jews. The silent majority must come forward, for we are at an historic crossroads. As Hillel says, "And if not now, when?"