‘A fragile time for our people’

‘A fragile time for our people’

As Jews around the world come together to celebrate the High Holy Days, we pause to reflect on the year that has passed and that which lays ahead for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the world.

This is a fragile time for our people. It is a time of great optimism, of hope for the future, and at the same time it is a chapter in our existence with many shades of gray. While many Jewish communities around the world are thriving in a state of safety and security unprecedented in our history, the ever-present and pernicious threat of anti-Semitism remains. So, too, remain the many threats, from all sides, to Israel. So our optimism as a people, as always, is tempered by the realization that while we may be safe in our homes, places of work, and houses of worship, there are others who feel the familiar pressures and threats of old.

Israel remains in a state of alert despite a lull in suicide bombing attacks and a resurgent economy. The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, present a clear and present danger to the Jewish state. The international community, led by the United Nations, must do all it can to stop Iran from acquiring the means to develop a nuclear weapon.

Israel is also confronted with the threat of a re-armed Hezbollah in the north and of a Gaza ruled by Hamas in the south. Hezbollah, aided by Syria and Iran, has by all accounts completely re-armed in the aftermath of the ‘006 war in Lebanon. The Hamas takeover of Gaza earlier this year is another reminder of the dangers of extremist Islam, as sporadic rocket attacks launched from Gaza continue to endanger Israeli civilians in Sderot. And Israel’s soldiers — Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev — remain in captivity, the would-be bargaining chips of terrorists.

Israel’s leaders are weighing options for re-engaging in peace negotiations with the Fatah leadership in the west bank. At the urging of the Bush administration, a new effort is under way for renewed contacts leading to a major meeting this fall. It is encouraging that the United States continues to show strong, bipartisan support for a two-state solution that would enable Israel to live in peace and security with its neighbors. It is heartening that the American people continue to understand the dangers still facing Israel, and to support Israel as it seeks to live in peace and defend its sovereignty. We hope and pray that a time will come when Israel may live fully in peace and security with its neighbors.

The resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and Latin America, both from traditional sources and virulent new strains, also remains a pressing concern for Jews. Surveys and events revealed that anti-Semitism is rising in many countries on the continent, reminding us yet again of the need for government, religious, and community leaders to speak out against all manifestations of anti-Jewish hate and to redouble our efforts to educate against bigotry and prejudice. Most disturbing are the efforts in some nations, and especially in the United Kingdom, to isolate the State of Israel with boycotts or through divestment actions.

At home, we also face difficult issues and myriad concerns. We have watched the war in Iraq unravel with great trepidation and fears for what it means for Israel and the region. We have endured the accusations of a few "intellectuals" at leading universities, led by Profs. Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, who have made spurious claims of an "Israel Lobby" that they suggest has compromised America’s values by pressuring the administration and Congress to support Israel and by pushing America into the Iraq war.

We had hoped that in our great democracy, those who continue to engage in conspiracy theories about Jews would remain only on the fringes of society. But with their ‘006 essay and now a book, "The Israel Lobby," Mearsheimer and Walt have ushered such theories into the mainstream, charging that American Jews, because of their own self-interest and concern for Israel, control American foreign policy and are responsible for the war in Iraq. These age-old canards have also been advanced by former President Jimmy Carter, who echoed those sentiments while promoting his book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Such canards have to be debunked.

We have also watched with consternation the fallout from the immigration debate and the failure by Congress to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform. The wounds opened by the debate are still fresh; the vile rhetoric that emerged as part of the discussion and the angry, hateful words spewed by anti-immigration extremists were shocking to us all. The promise of America as "a nation of immigrants" seemed squandered, at least for the moment, stalled in a morass of name-calling and bureaucratic foot-dragging. The Hispanics who turned out in large numbers to press for much-needed immigration reform felt the indignity of being blamed, scapegoated, and left in limbo by an unworkable system of laws and restrictions. Some believed they would pay a price for their outspokenness and expressed a feeling that their safety and security as a community had been compromised. As Jews, we were reminded of our own experience as new immigrants in America, and promised to help. So at the same time there has emerged from the debate a resolve to work together and forge new relationships among Jews, Hispanics, and other minority groups to ensure a safe and pluralistic America. There is much work yet to be done.

We have also raised our voices as a community against the threat of a mass genocide in Darfur. As the atrocities persist, we continue to press for action at the highest levels of government and within the international community to stop the killing in Darfur and to bring humanitarian relief to the refugees.

We pray for 5768 to be a better year, in which the Jewish people continue to show solidarity and resolve with the people of Israel and Jewish communities the world over as we pursue the path toward enduring peace and security for our people, and for all nations in the new year.

We hope that respect for the diversity of our American society will continue to grow, and that our democracy remains strong. And we hope that world leaders will maintain a united front against the forces of anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, and hate. L’shanah tovah!

Glen S. Lewy is national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League. Abraham H. Foxman is the League’s national director and author of "The Deadliest Lies: The Jewish Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control" (Palgrave Macmillan, ‘007).