November 18, 2018

Are we still allowed to cheer?

There’s a new sin in town – it’s not heckling or insulting or bullying.

It’s cheering.

Apparently, we’re no longer allowed to cheer, if who and what we’re cheering offends certain Jews, mostly liberal Jews.

I was there on the night of March 21 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, when thousands of Jews attending the AIPAC policy conference cheered Donald Trump’s full-throated defense of Israel, including his sharp criticism of President Barack Obama. These cheers evidently have upset and offended a lot of Jews.

Even AIPAC felt a need to apologize for the crowd’s reaction, as incoming President Lillian Pinkus read a statement saying, “We are disappointed that so many people applauded the sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”

“My personal discomfort with Trump’s speech wasn’t just with what he said,” wrote Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner. “My discomfort — in truth, my shame — was with the reception he received.”

Simply put, many critics feel that cheering for a man who has violated all standards of decency is shameful and immoral. Of course, the Jews who cheered for Trump were doing what most Jews have always done at AIPAC conventions: They were cheering any message they considered pro-Israel, whether the messenger was Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton.

Let's remember that many of these same Jews used to cheer for the dream of peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians, in the heady days before Israel got ambushed by reality. Peace lovers everywhere have been burned, if not traumatized, by these three events: 

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, backed by President Bill Clinton, made a generous offer to end the conflict and got rewarded with a Second Intifada that murdered over 1,000 Jews.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated all the Jews of Gaza and got rewarded with 15,000 Hamas terror rockets.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous peace offer and got rewarded with more Palestinian rejection and the continuous spreading of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism.

As this hard reality was shaping Israeli consciousness, the threats to Israel only increased. The Middle East exploded with even more radicalism and Islamic extremism. Today, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas, all committed to Israel’s destruction, surround the Jewish state, while an empowered and genocidal Iran proudly declares its intention to annihilate Israel.

Evidently, none of that context seems to matter to the critics of the AIPAC crowd that dared to cheer the pro-Israel message of Donald Trump. They can’t imagine that, for one night at least, a sincere and instinctive desire to protect Israel against vicious enemies would trump other concerns.

Why is it “shameful” to put Israel at the top of your priorities while attending a conference that puts Israel at the top of its priorities? Why can’t critics allow some space for priorities that differ from their own?

What critics don’t seem to understand is that when you characterize cheering as “shameful,” it’s another form of bullying, of saying, “Don’t you dare cheer this man under any circumstances or I will publicly shame you.” 

If we continue with this line of thinking, should we admonish any crowd that cheers someone we despise? Is it “shameful” that African-Americans cheer Reverend Jeremiah Wright because the reverend is a disgusting anti-Semite? 

Beyond the sanctimonious pretensions of admonishing crowds, what the critics also seem to miss is that this “new AIPAC” crowd hasn’t become more partisan, it’s become more realistic. With the incredible dangers facing Israel today, they’re simply more in tune with Israelis who have to live with those dangers.

It’s not a coincidence that over the past decade, the peace camp in Israel has shrunk. It has fallen victim to the harsh realities of its increasingly violent neighborhood and especially to the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize a Jewish sovereign state– no matter where its borders are drawn. No amount of worshipping Jewish values can change the primitive reality of having next-door neighbors who want to kill your children rather than make peace.

It is reality that has moved to the right in Israel, not Israelis.

The AIPAC crowd the other night didn’t cheer Trump, they cheered his strong defense of Israel. They did not suddenly become “right wing” carnivorous Trump voters. They internalized the many threats to Israel’s survival and channeled the sentiments of ordinary Israelis.

If they feel like exercising their right to cheer a pro-Israel message from a potential future president, even one we abhor, who are we to bully them and tell them to shut up?