As Israel bleeds, American Jewry stands at a crossroads

The community that rallied behind the Jewish state in 1967 and 1973 no longer exists. Can once formidable Jewish groups provide wartime leadership?

In the days since Hamas launched its barbaric assault on Israel, there has been a lot of discussion about possible analogies between the current struggle and past chapters of Israeli history. The comparison with the 1973 Yom Kippur War with its heavy casualty toll and a surprise attack on a Jewish holiday is obvious. Some have raised the precedent of the 1948 War of Independence in which the country as a whole was under assault by multiple invading Arab armies and Palestinian Arab militias with a high number of civilian as well as military casualties suffered by the Jews.

But in both cases, the differences outnumber the similarities. In 1948, Israel’s existence and the possibility of total military defeat were present in a way that—for all of the horror of the Hamas atrocities—is not a possibility today. In 1973, the full force of the Egyptian and Syrian militaries was matched and then beaten by that of the Israel Defense Forces, creating battles on a larger scale than those of 2023. Moreover, as much as the attack on the holiest of Jewish days shocked the Israeli people, the government still had the option of striking first in the hours before the assault but refrained because of worries about American disapproval. On Simchat Torah 2023, the surprise achieved by Israel’s enemies was total.

There is one other element that is completely different today from those conflicts and from the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel seized the initiative and struck first before its foes could attack its borders. That is the belief that Israel could count on the passionate support of the overwhelming majority of American Jews.

A unified response

In each of those conflicts, but especially in 1967 and 1973, the response from the organized Jewish world as well as the grassroots was loud, heartfelt, and more importantly, politically effective.