Quiet Over Brooklyn

As soon as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government took office in Jerusalem, it seems the American Jewish right fell asleep.

A pro-Israel rally was held in faraway Helsinki, and in Los Angeles - not known for its Jewish activism - an alert Israeli consulate took 5,000 people into the streets in a demonstration of support. But in Brooklyn's Boro Park, which is home to 150,000 to 200,000 Jews, many of them ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic, there was no show of support for Israel during these difficult times and none seemed to be forthcoming. And this in a community that prides itself on being the biggest stronghold of the right among American Jews.

Nor was there a single rabbi of theirs seen among the scores of Orthodox rabbis in Flatbush or among their colleagues in Queens, who call the tune for the right-wing communities. No one to protest against Israel's isolation or the threats to its reputation or to counter the PR distress. Nothing in recent months seemed to constitute a real emergency, one that by talmudic instruction requires Jews to take to the streets.

As soon as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government took office in Jerusalem, it seems the American Jewish right fell asleep. The fierce controversy over construction in East Jerusalem, U.S. President Barack Obama's harsh statements about Israel, the Goldstone report accusing Israel of war crimes, the torrent of international condemnations in the wake of the flotilla raid - all failed to draw rabbis and community activists out in mass demonstrations of support for Israel.

In fact, one can confidently say that Israel's political problems have been taken off the agenda of Orthodox synagogues and rabbinical organizations like the Rabbinical Council of America and Young Israel and were ushered out of the public discourse of the community's right wing. "I can't explain the silence of the Orthodox community," admits Dov Hikind, a former aide to Meir Kahane, who today serves as a New York State assemblyman for Boro Park and parts of Flatbush.

"It's not laziness or tiredness," says a veteran community activist in Brooklyn, who asked to remain anonymous. "Some from the generation of rabbis and politicians who led the struggle against the Oslo Accords have died, and others are in retirement homes. Israel's political elite does not have a single figure with whom they can identify and use as an example of dedication and loyalty to values."

There has not been a consensus about any Israeli issue since the long-gone days of protest on behalf of the Soviet Jews. But the right always loved controversy that stirred the enthusiasm of rabbis, politicians and the rank and file. The Oslo Accords, for instance, prompted protests against the government of Israel and especially against then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. But it seems the last time the right wing had an opportunity to actively protest was against the Gaza disengagement.

Recent studies have claimed that many in the Jewish community, especially its liberal wing, are distancing themselves from Israel and feel alienated by its current policy. It now transpires that the Orthodox, who constitute the majority of the right-wing camp and who once would have seen neglecting to support a right-wing Israeli government as nothing short of heresy, have lost their trust and confidence in the Netanyahu government.