IN THE MEDIA

A plea to the silent majority: It’s time to speak up for Jews

Nov 16, 2023 | Paul Rubenstein

The Australian – 16 November 2023

 

A couple of weeks ago a non-Jewish friend of mine emailed me Simon Sebag Montefiore’s brilliant recent article in The Atlantic.

In it, Montefiore clinically debunks the toxic myth – designed to dehumanise Israelis and Jews – that Israel is an imperial racist and colonialist force that needs to be dismantled.

The text of my friend’s email simply said: “Don’t be dispirited, because the silent majority are with you.”

He then referenced Edmund Burke’s warning not to mistake the noise of a few loud grasshoppers in the trees with the thousands of silent cattle in the fields below.

It is an aphorism I have been mulling over ever since. On the one hand, given the principled comments made and the support offered to Israel and Jewish communities by many of our political leaders, journalists and commentators at home and in many Western countries around the world, I am heartened.

So I think he’s probably right – at least for now. But, for many like me in the Jewish community, as time marches on it is getting hard to know what to think.

With the growing audacity and mendacity of the ignorance, lies and sheer hatred being flung at Jews and the State of Israel in our media, on our streets, from those in the professions and most concerningly from our institutions of supposed higher learning I ask myself, where is the silent majority?

The noise is coming from groups and people on the far right, the far left, from many within the Muslim community, cultural and artistic bodies, many trade unions, the Greens, the usual token anti-Zionist Jews, the extremes of the feminist movement, the LGBT movement and the Black Lives Matter movement and virtually any other “progressive” movement you can conjure.

These are groups that certainly wouldn’t have a common view on much, except for focusing their own respective versions of grievance and blame on Jews and Israel – so one asks, where is the silent majority? When the vitriol seems to get louder and hits new lows every day, it is getting hard to be reassured that this is just the work of a few loud grasshoppers.

For a proud Jew, Zionist (and no, that is not a dirty word – it is the belief in a national homeland for the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland) and fourth-generation Australian, it is sobering suddenly to have to contemplate the possibility that if we as a society are not careful, the silent majority is at risk of being silenced permanently.

This is, after all, what happened in Nazi Germany. And the major­ity will stay silent at its own peril if it does not heed American scholar Walter Russell Mead’s apt warning: “The rise of anti-Semitism is a sign of widespread, social and cultural failure. It is a leading indicator of a loss of faith in liberal values and of a diminished capacity to understand the modern world and to thrive in it. Societies that tolerate anti-Semitism take a fateful step towards the loss of both freedom and prosperity.”

Let’s be very clear. Legitimate criticism of Israel for its actions and policies is totally valid as long as it is commensurate with the standards demanded from, and criticism directed at, any other nation for similar conduct.

But the venom being directed at Israel and Jewish communities around the world from many quarters is not that.

In the case of Israel, it is bad enough that Israel is being forced to defend itself against the very real existential threat and heinous war crimes perpetrated on it by Hamas and Hezbollah, orchestrated by their paymaster Iran.

And even worse, it is being forced to do so in the face of Hamas’s genocidal and suicidal quest – by hiding behind civilians and cynically weaponising Western values against Israel – to deliberately create as much suffering and death of innocents on both sides of the conflict as possible.

But what pushes this beyond the pale is Israel being forced to defend itself for defending itself in a manner that any other nation on earth would almost certainly do if faced with the same diabolically complex set of circumstances.

This is not only discriminatory but perilously close to the oldest form of racism we know, but this time in a new guise and directed not only at Jewish people directly but the world’s Jew as well: the State of Israel.

And in relation to our Jewish communities here in Australia, when pro-Palestinian protests are deliberately and provocatively directed at them in the heart of Caulfield and the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and straight-out anti-Semitism becomes very blurred indeed.

So, to the silent majority out there, before it is too late, I implore you – speak up and do not let the grasshoppers silence you.

The future of our liberal, democratic, tolerant and prosperous society depends on it.

Paul Rubenstein is NSW chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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