THE BLOG
07/29/2015 12:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Lead by Fear, Jewish Leadership Fails

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Photo: Left: "Israel must be wiped off the map" (screenshot, IRINN TV, 2004); Right: "Israel must be destroyed" (YouTube screenshot, 2011) Via memritv.org

"It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region," said the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

We cannot dismiss these types of comments by senior leadership in Iran regarding Israel's destruction as merely rhetoric. Iran sends weapons and money to Hamas and Hezbollah flaunting American and international sanctions. In turn, Hamas and Hezbollah have waged multiple proxy wars against Israel.

If the current Iran deal goes through and Iran behaves -- this would be in and of itself unprecedented -- Iran will be able to direct billions to these terror groups, as well as the Houthis, Assad and beyond. They can wage proxy wars against Israel on an ongoing basis. Iran could also spend billions more on delegitimizing and vilifying Israel as a way to lay the groundwork for a nuclear strike against Israel. Then all they have to do is wait as the deal's restrictions ease after ten years and start building a bomb. At that point they will be stronger, richer, with better defended nuclear systems and airspace.

So why aren't American Jews doing everything that we can to oppose the deal? One of the underlying reasons is fear of reprisal and being called a "Fifth Column" which is ingrained in the mindset of American Jews.

Accusations of being called a Fifth Column go back to the days of our Egyptian Exile, and have reappeared throughout history under every regime where Jews have attained any modicum of political power or influence. We see it throughout the Middle Ages and as recently as the purges of Jewish intellectuals under eastern European Communism.

The power of this accusation is that it raises fear, against all evidence, that Jews aren't patriots, loyal to the country they live in, and are actively pursuing a destabilizing agenda, secretly plotting Jewish hegemony.

Jewish leaders trod a difficult path, representing Jewish interests in a national context, while assuring the population as a whole that we are just like them.

Recently, Jewish Federation of Los Angeles Board Member and President of Stephen Wise Temple, Glenn Sonnenberg, recently defended what even he called the "flawed deal with Iran" in the JewishJournal.com:

"But there is a far more dangerous third potential result of the attempt to kill the deal," wrote Sonnenberg. "That is a world in which the deal falls apart, America's influence in the region wanes, Israel is blamed, Jews in the United States and Israel are marginalized (or blamed)..."

Although Sonnenberg presents seven reasons to support the deal, this line sticks out to me as the underlying reason behind his article: because Israel and Jews will be blamed if the deal falls apart.

In 1943, when Hitler and Germany were perpetrating the wholesale genocide of European Jewry, American Jewish leaders were too quiet. Some even worked to silence those, such as the Bergson Group, who were bringing awareness about the Holocaust to Americans via newspaper ads and rallies.

For example, Rabbi Stephen Wise, a senior leader of American Jewry, friend of FDR, longtime head of the American Jewish Congress and Zionist Organization of America, has recently had his wartime activities scrutinized:

"Stephen Wise spent too much time trying to protect FDR from criticism, and not enough time focusing on how to convince Roosevelt to help rescue Jews from Europe," said Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff.

Wise reportedly said that Bergson was "as equally as great an enemy of the Jews as Hitler, for the reason that his activities could only lead to increased anti-Semitism."*

The great failure of American Jewish communal leadership during the Holocaust was their failure to do everything possible to protect European Jewry, the largest concentration of Jews in the world, for fear of increasing anti-Semitism and being called a Fifth Column.

We cannot repeat the same mistake to back the flawed deal with Iran out of fear of reprisals against the Jewish people. Was not the Holocaust six million reasons why this attitude is wrong?

Maybe it is time Jewish American leadership was more like Queen Esther, who wasn't afraid of losing her position or her life for the sake of her brothers and sisters, and less like those whose fears of accusations of disloyalty or increased anti-Semitism prevented them from acting to save millions.

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Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is a former Fulbright Fellow in Polish Jewish Studies, and received his MA from Oxford Univeristy. During his research Bookstein spent years studying the Holocaust, WWII, and its aftermath in Israel, US, Russia, Germany, Poland and England. Subsequently, Bookstein lived and worked in Poland as the director of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation from 1998-2001.

*Wise, quoted by Nahum Goldmann, in "Attitude of Zionists toward Peter Bergson," Department of State Memorandum of Conversation, 19 May 1944, 867N.01/2347, National Archives.