Israel Needs Steadfast Diaspora Support Not Only When It Is Being Hit

by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD

Dr. Micah Goodman — a distinguished author and research fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem — said, in mid-October 2023, “I’m asking the lovers of Israel to make a neder now. To make a neder, to make a vow that, weeks and months from now, you will stand with us. You will stand with us when we hit, and not only when we get hit.”

My wife and I were in Israel during the first three weeks of Israel’s war against Hamas, visiting with my son, daughter-in-law, and four Israeli grandchildren.

During those traumatic days, President Joe Biden visited Jerusalem. It was a powerful demonstration of support. The president joined with other Western leaders in expressing horror about Hamas’s ISIS-style massacre of 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 250 others.

Instinctively, the leaders knew that Jews “being hit” were worthy of universal support.

However, to paraphrase author Dara Horn, while people love dead Jews and Jews under assault, Jews fighting back are loved “not so much.”

With the blood of Israelis and the cries of hostages fresh in mind, Western leaders temporarily acknowledged Israel’s right to respond in self-defense. Like any other nation-state, Israel was obligated to dismantle an implacable enemy. They had to end Hamas’s control of Gaza, lest Hamas repeat October 7 “a second time, a third time, a fourth time…,” as their leaders have vowed to do.

Regrettably, politicians and the media quickly became uneasy once the Israeli military response commenced.

By mid-October, in a “Times of Israel” interview, “public intellectual” Micah Goodman offered reflections about an emerging dilemma his country faces during war.

Goodman took note of the contradiction between two Israeli aspirations: ”There are two emotions Israelis have to be thinking about: love and fear.

“We want love,” he said. “We want Western civilization [and Diaspora Jewry] to love us. We want Bono to sing songs about us. We want Madonna to share stories on Instagram about how much she admires us and loves us.”

Goodman continued: “We want to be a ‘start-up nation.’ We want to help the world with medical and technological breakthroughs. We want to help others maximize water usage. We want to come to the aid of folks after earthquakes and terror attacks.

“But in the Middle East, we don’t only want to be loved.”

Goodman observed that in order to survive, Israelis also “want to be feared.” Because if our Middle East enemies “detect weakness, they will kill us.”

Goodman spelled out the nature of Israel’s dilemma: “There is a zero-sum game between these emotions. Everything that we are going to do to restore the fear” — of Israel in the Middle East — “is going to erode the love” — in the West and among some Diaspora Jews.

“Everything we do that will guarantee that the Middle East is afraid of Israelis, of these crazy, unpredictable Israelis, everything we do in order to rebuild that reputation [of Israeli strength]…is going to make people in the West [including some Jews] not like us, not love us.”

But Goodman warned that if Israelis only try to keep the West loving them, the Jewish state will not restore a necessary deterrent that prevents its enemies from attacking.

Goodman concluded: “If people are asking questions about what they can do to help us, here’s what you can do: Break the zero-sum game” of love vs. fear, of Hamas violence followed by Israeli retaliation; it will take time and be difficult to watch.

Keep in mind when being enticed by tempting calls for an unconditional ceasefire: If Hamas (an Iran surrogate) remains in power, and if Iran sees no consequences for attacking the Jewish State, Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah will regroup, rearm, and prepare for an even more destructive round of warfare. This deadly repetitive pattern has occurred half-a-dozen times since 2007.

Therefore, Goodman calls “upon the lovers of Israel to make a neder [a vow]…that weeks and months from October 7” — when IDF makes repeated strikes against Hamas — “that you will stand with us when we hit, and not only when we get hit.”

We must support Israel engaging in regime-change in Gaza. This is equivalent to Western nations acting against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.

Israel’s war is one of self-defense against a relentless foe that weaponizes Gazans’ lives by using schools, hospitals, mosques, and other non-military structures as shields, to increase the number of fatalities.

This is an enemy who steals and hoards humanitarian aid. Food insecurity among noncombatants is intentionally augmented to create pressure on Israel to lay down its armaments.

This is an enemy organized by Iran, which set a new and vicious standard by launching 170 explosive drones, 120 ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles — 60 tons of explosives — from Iranian soil toward Israel.

Thankfully, when Jews are being hit, the West and its allies do respond affirmatively. Coordinated with the IDF, U.S., UK, France, and Western mid-East regional allies, 99% of these 320 attack weapons were intercepted.

The Jewish people world-wide are enormously grateful. However, we must support Israel in restoring a deterrent. And sadly, when Jews ‘hit back,’ people do not love us quite so much.

President Biden and the G-7 nations have warned that they will not stand by Israel if the IDF retaliates. Yet, present-day Iran, like Hamas and other surrogates, is a culture of evil, of death.

Rabbi Elisha Wolfin of Zichron Yaakov offered a Torah perspective, addressing parshat B’reisheet, on the origin of good and evil in this world:

“What we saw in this ‘pogrom’ of October 7 was a battle between those who sanctify life and those who sanctify death.”

“If we choose life as mandated by the Torah, we must muster the bravery and resilience to face off against and defeat the followers of the gods of death. Sadly that means the death of a lot of innocent people who are being used by Hamas as human shields.”

“When the pogromists invaded Israel and wantonly killed babies, children, women, the elderly, and men in cold blood, they coerced the forces of life [the IDF] to act to defeat them…. Israel is required to save not just individual lives but Life itself with a capital L.”

In the aftermath of the October 7 Nazi-style massacre and kidnapping of Israelis, said Wolfin, “we must put aside the ingrained need to make excuses for and prettify urgent Israeli military operations in a desire for a good ‘image.’”

Criticism of the IDF battle plan is mounting in the UN, the European Union, in Canada, in the U.S., and among “progressive” sectors of world Jewry.

What is needed is steadfast world-wide Jewish support among true lovers of the Jewish state.

Israel is involved in a multi-front war that threatens its very existence — from Iran, Hamas, Houthis (in Yemen), Hezbollah, and Iraqi militias. Any perceived victory incentivizes further attacks.

As noted by urban warfare experts John Spencer of West Point and Colonel Richard Kemp of the UK, Israel’s military has complied with international law against a brutal foe. The IDF has exhibited an unprecedented standard of excellence in minimizing the suffering and deaths of noncombatants.

Let us pray for a swift and successful IDF victory, and for the return of all Israeli hostages and of the sacred bodies of the dead. And let us offer support to the IDF in effectively responding against Iran’s unprecedented aggression.

Let us support the IDF in ensuring replacement of Hamas’s governance of Gaza, while minimizing fatalities and maximizing humanitarian aid.

Postwar Gaza needs a peace-seeking non-Hamas administration to end the continuous scenario of warfare/ceasefire/warfare.

Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”