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A Kassam missile lands in Sderot.
News and Opinion

It is Time for American Jews to rise up

-- Bruce S. Ticker

When Bob Dole challenged President Clinton in the 1996 presidential election, the former Senate Majority Leader would periodically raise an issue that nobody cared about and cry: "Where’s the outrage?"

Where is the outrage over two life-and-death issues that now threaten Israelis? That is, the ongoing captivity of three Israeli soldiers and the daily rocket barrages on Sderot and other towns in southern and northern Israel.

Unlike Dole’s pleas, Israel and the Jewish people face serious challenges. Israel is under continuous threat by underground guerillas, terrorist bombers and a madman who seeks to target Israel with a nuclear device. American Jews are dealing with divisiveness, a consuming apathy and a more bureaucratized Jewish leadership.

One can recall how American Jews galvanized in the 1970s to free Soviet Jews, and President Reagan’s Teflon cover was shed when Jews here decried his visit to the graves of SS officers in Bitburg, Germany. Grassroots uprisings among American Jews for legitimate issues are lacking today. The extremes are busy, but the vast center is out to lunch.

The really crucial issues tend to be overwhelmed by less important, if downright petty, situations. Last summer’s fatal shooting at Seattle’s Jewish Federation building took second billing in the media to Mel Gibson’s drunken rantings against the Jews.

It is high time for the Jewish community to rise up again, and we have two dangerous situations at our fingertips. It is impossible to blur the right-vs.-wrong nature of the soldiers’ captivity and the attacks on Sderot.

Soldiers in Captivity.

It has been more than a year since Cpl. Gilad Shalit - great-grandson of a Holocaust victim and nephew of a soldier killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur war - was captured by terrorists who raided an Israeli military base outside the border with Gaza on June 25. He is reported to be held in southern Gaza.

More than two weeks later, on July 12, Hezbollah terrorists seized Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev at the Israel/Lebanon border. Israel signed a truce in mid-August to end hostilities in Lebanon, but a year later there is still no Ehud Goldwasser or Eldad Regev back in Israeli hands.

Oshri Oz was the latest Israeli to be killed by a Kassam rocket in Sderot on Sunday, May 27, at this writing. Oz did not even live in Sderot. He resided with his 3-year-old daughter and his pregnant wife, Susanna, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod Hasharon, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He was visiting Sderot on business when a shell slammed into his car. His second child will never know him.

Oz’s passing was preceded six days earlier by the death of Shirel Friedman, the JTA reported. She was struck by a rocket shell as she was on her way home to pick up a sweater for her mother. Before the rocket struck, her mother Adela complained that she was cold as they sat together on a bench. Which means that Shirel was murdered by these terrorists while in the act of performing a small mitzvah for her mother.

Sderot’s 24,000 residents along with its visitors have contended with thousands of rockets from Gaza long before Israel evacuated all its settlers and troops through August and September 2005 from Gaza. Other sections of southern and northern Israel have faced shelling, if less so than Sderot.

"Someone has been wounded" - Drawing by a 7-year old girl from the first grade in an elementary school in Sderot, Israel, expressing her feelings about living under the constant threat of Qassam rocket attacks. (The drawing was given to Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during her visit to Sderot on May 21, 2007.
There are No Shades of Gray.

There are no shades of gray for Sderot and the three soldiers. The shelling of Sderot and the capture of the soldiers were brazen acts of war. Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev were merely performing their duty as soldiers. Israel would have been demolished long ago if they and thousands like them had not served in the military. The people of Sderot did nothing more than live out their lives in homes that are without dispute located in Israel. There can be no arguments that they lived in someone else’s land.

As Bob Dole would say, where is the outrage? This is the kind of turmoil that should have kindled protests from Jews around the world.

Yet the voices are muted. Jewish organizations have set up a number of initiatives including a Web site for the soldiers and lobbying that led to a Congressional resolution seeking their release.

But there is hardly anything spontaneous or all-consuming here. We hear of little if anything of Jews massing at rallies or consistently speaking out with demands to free the soldiers and end the rocket attacks on Sderot. A rally organized by major Jewish groups was held on Monday, July 16, near the United Nations building which was attended by 1,000, The Jerusalem Post reported. That means 1,699,000 Jews from the New York region alone skipped the protest.

Nothing like the silent candlelight vigils at the Soviet Embassy in Washington that led to the release of Soviet Jews. Or the scathing criticism that haunted Reagan when he planned to visit the cemetery that held the graves of SS soldiers. Or as a few hundred thousand Jews packed the National Mall in Washington to protest the treatment of Soviet Jews in 1987.

I have not witnessed much like this on the East Coast since. Particularly astonishing has been the paucity of coverage by Jewish newspapers of American support for the soldiers. When Congress passed resolutions seeking their release, JTA posted a story yet I could not find any mention of it in Jewish newspapers.

Of late, residents of Sderot have been touring Europe and the United States to raise public awareness of their plight and prompt increased diplomatic initiatives to eliminate the attacks.

Their trip is all well and good, but they will only get far with it if their fellow Jews in America are motivated enough to join them. Their record so far does not provide cause for optimism. Only in solidarity is there strength, a lesson that American Jews need to learn all over again.

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