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Monday, December 09, 2019

Imagine that a supporter of a movement considered racist by many African-Americans wrote a children’s book designed to spread that movement’s ideas among the young and impressionable. Now imagine that this individual was invited to present the book at a reading in a small town’s public library. Not any town, but one with a substantial African-American population.

We would rightfully expect African-Americans to be outraged at the provocation and to call for the reading to be cancelled, even as we would expect the author to cite the First Amendment in insisting that it proceed.

Under no circumstances would we expect significant elements of the community’s leadership to pave the way for the reading to take place. Nor would we expect that they would endorse cancellation of a public forum that had been scheduled to give the residents a chance to air their concerns before the library’s board of trustees.

Needless to say, in the event that the controversial book reading in our theoretical town went forward, it would be taken for granted that the local African-American community leadership, as well as its regional and national counterparts, would stand united in staging a vocal protest.

Suggestions that such a community should defuse this tense situation due to the possibility of unpleasant confrontations by ducking its collective head and going about its business as usual would be ridiculed as caving in to hate and folding at a time of crisis.

Substitute the author in this hypothetical for a pro-Palestinian supporter of the BDS movement, the perceived racist book for one advocating intifada and the town with a significant African-American population for one with a large Jewish one and you’ll understand how many residents of Highland Park likely feel these days.

As a former resident of Highland Park myself, I am beyond disappointed to see how the rabidly anti-Israel Golbarg Bashi has been given the opportunity to spread her message amongst local children at a book reading of her propaganda piece “P Is for Palestine.”

In one fell swoop, the right of Highland Park’s Jews to exercise their democratic rights by publicly confronting the town library’s board of trustees was done away with in a maneuver that wouldn’t be contemplated by the leaders of any other locale with a comparable population of any other minority group.

Those who engineered and/or backed this outcome at the very least unwittingly lent their hands to the silencing of the public voice of a vibrant Jewish community in full sight of the media glare. They thus potentially set a dangerous precedent of surrender in the face of a growing tide of anti-Semitism and specifically anti-Israel activity in America.

In doing so they have chosen to follow a long, self-defeating Jewish tendency to deny, deflect, defer, explain away and fail to confront the reality staring them in the face. One need not dig very deep into centuries of Jewish history to see the tragic consequences of this appeasing mentality.

Let us suppose for a moment that, as the Jewish supporters of this “compromise” tell us, the threat of violence at the public forum was real, as was the purported inability of security personnel to cope with the numbers of people anticipated. In this day and age, such considerations cannot be dismissed out of hand, even when they are only vaguely expressed.

There were nonetheless other ways to avoid muzzling the Jewish community at a time when it felt itself to be under attack. Likewise, there were and are other ways of reacting to the situation beyond the trifecta of shutting down the public forum, passively acquiescing to Bashi’s book reading and settling for the scheduling of a library reading of a purportedly pro-Israel book that no one has ever heard of.

Is it possible to somehow mitigate this situation despite the white flag that has been hoisted over Highland Park without the consent of many of its Jewish residents? I believe there may still be ways to do so.

Among them is dedicating a day in the community devoted to remembrance and action on behalf of Jewish victims of Palestinian terror in general and the intifada in particular. This would ideally take place on the same day that Bashi appears at the library.

It could be a day on which, instead of pretending that everything is okay while the community is invaded by the BDS movement, the Jewish community unites in affirming its support for the same Jewish state that this movement seeks to undermine.

Family members of Jewish victims could be invited to tell their stories and representatives of media outlets who were expecting to cover the board of trustees meeting and who would be in town for Bashi’s reading anyway could be invited to cover this event as well. It would be an opportunity to explain what the intifada really means.

Such an event might begin to provide the kind of balance that has been sorely lacking in this entire affair. Moreover, it would do so in the non-confrontational manner that some so desperately seek.

The script on the entire episode could thus be flipped, as opposed to allowing Bashi and her self-hating Jewish allies to dictate the narrative. There are undoubtedly similar ideas worth exploring but this requires people who are not gripped by the fear of unwanted attention.

The Jews of Highland Park, like those of countless Jewish communities in the past, didn’t seek controversy, but it has found them nonetheless. If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing the communist leader Trotsky, you might not be interested in the anti-Israel movement but it is interested in you. More to the point, it is interested in influencing your children.

The question is what to do about it. Not only is the world watching, the next generation of Jewish leaders is watching too.

By Eric Ruskin