I heard you were in Israel, Jeremy. Why didn’t you look me up? We really need to talk.
First I was hoping for a conversation about your ‘Setting the record straight’ Times of Israel op-ed. Of course it should surprise no one that I take issue with your pleasant sounding claims — as do your numerous critics. Your organization, J Street, and my organization, ZOA, after all don’t see eye to eye exactly.
Your opening declaration, though, has me most intrigued. Where you make a point of informing readers that your parents, and many of their ancestors living in pre-State Palestine, are buried on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
Great pro-Israel bona fides those family connections of yours, it would seem, which is just what you wanted us to surmise. As a first generation oleh, I’m thinking how much I envy you that yichus.
But then you have me scratching my head, Jeremy, and I suspect you know why.
Here you are, and here you are too, ascribing meaning to your parents’ attachment to this most venerated of Jewish places.
When he passed away in 1984, [Yitshaq] Ben-Ami was initially buried in Brooklyn, but when his wife Eve passed, in 2003, they were buried together on the Mount of Olives, as per his instructions. ‘Dad had a deep sense of Jewish national pride,’ his son Jeremy told me. ‘The Mount of Olives was a symbol of that national heritage, as well as the final resting place for prior generations of his family.’
And thus you proclaim your “love and concern for Israel, its security and its character.” These are pro-Israel sine qua non principles, to be sure.
But what you don’t mention at all, anywhere that I can tell, speaks volumes. A lot is happening at the Mount of Olives Cemetery, the cemetery of Yitshaq and Eve Ben-Ami OBM, and it’s not pretty.
Violent attacks by Arabs in or around the cemetery occur literally daily. Even the worst of the incidents — drivers bloodied by rocks and boulders, bricks and shattered window glass falling on infant carseats, and narrowly escaped lynchings — typically fail to make coverage by the mainstream media (for another discussion), but enough does get out that should have you cringing. That is, if if you’re not inured to Arab terror violence by now.
A month ago, New Yorker Tova Richler was so badly terrorized by Arabs pelting her car with rocks and cinderblocks she could not attend her father’s funeral. Somewhat earlier, the family of teenager Nerya Cohen, who had been murdered at the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva by a terrorist from eastern Jerusalem, was attacked by a “rampaging mob” for forty minutes on the road to his gravesite. Another recent report tells of a wounded Yosi Gluck lying in a hospital emergency room after he and his Brooklyn relatives, hoping to mark a yahrtzeit with prayer, also were ambushed.
Scores of incidents of comparable severity, and many hundreds that might have been, tell the real Mount of Olives story. Improvements in enforcement and deterrence clearly are needed, and they are being worked on. Going up against the hate-filled incitement in schools and mosques that foments this activity, and relentless international pressure on Israel not to rock the boat, however make for an uphill challenge.
Meanwhile, I shudder to think what conditions would be like in the absence of any Israeli control.
You might imagine such a scenario, Jeremy. Maybe a more personal one looking something like this: You plan a visit to the graves of your parents on the Mount of Olives. Now situated in the Jerusalem capital of the Palestinian state you were so helpful in establishing, Jeremy. These are the same Palestinian Arabs, by the way, who it was determined rank as the most antisemitic in the world — a ‘shocking’ 93% of them.
If you do manage to make it to the cemetery intact, having gotten past the guns of fiercely antisemitic Fatah and/or Hamas Palestine guarding the mountain, what do you find? Destruction on the order of Israel’s Jordanian Arab occupiers, with 45,000 headstones plowed over for roads, or ripped out to make latrine floors and hotel building material?
Or is it just business as usual as it was back in 2014: Arab locals abusing the cemetery grounds with their games and garbage; Arab vandals and hired hoodlums spray-painting monuments black, smearing them with excrement, or smashing restored ones again into ruins?
Not altogether implausible, Jeremy, is it? Countless depredations inflicted by Palestinian Arabs around holy sites throughout Israel, after signing the Oslo agreements but also long before, should have signaled this eventuality. Wanton attacks on Rachel’s Tomb (Bet Lechem), Joseph’s Tomb (Shechem), Joshua’s Tomb (Kifel Hares) and Shalom al Yisrael Synagogue (Jericho). Desecrations, intimidations and rock throwing on the Temple Mount, at the Western Wall, in the Old City. And on the Mount of Olives.
In the pre-1967 years, not so long ago when the the Arabs were last in charge, Jews were not permitted access to visit let alone bury loved ones. You know how, and at what cost,
that racist practice was brought to an end. Once again now Arab forces are muscling their way toward the next takeover, deploying violence and vandalism and other aggressive tactics to get us to abandon our rightful title. In fact the way they look at it, anywhere in Jerusalem is up for grabs.
The agency in charge of eastern Jerusalem security announced 157 stoning and firebombing incidents in Jewish sections in March, up from 150 in February and 140 in January. That disclosure and the assault on Tova Richler prompted me to write U.S. Consul General Michael Ratney three weeks back.
I specifically asked him to condemn the hate crimes targeting Jewish pilgrims, mourners and the interred on the Mount of Olives, at least the American victims he is supposed to represent, and to get leadership in the Palestinian Authority to do the same. As the head officer of the de facto U.S. embassy for Palestinian Arabs, I believe the Consul has the right to make that call, but I’m not so sure they would listen to him.
Maybe Mr. Ratney isn’t so sure either — which could be one explanation why I haven’t heard from him yet. Nor did I get the response I was hoping for from his predecessor, Consul Daniel Rubinstein, when I made the same request in November 2010.
I asked Mr. Ratney to come with me to see the harsh realities up close. To relate to the cemetery attacks with appropriate outrage, yes; but more so to visually grasp the impact — on America, too — should the number one global antisemitic polity accomplish its hegemonic, make that judenrein, goals.
Which brings me to my second reason for reaching out, Jeremy. It’s simple. I’d like you to come see for yourself, too.
Come back to Israel soon — with or without your five members of Congress in tow again — and join me at the greatest repository of Jewish history and signifier of Jewish peoplehood, the Mount of Olives. Let’s explore our common ancestry together among the 150,000 Jewish souls who rest there, sadly in less than peace. And allow me to show you, pro-peace that you say you are, why it is that only the Jews can be trusted to be their everlasting guardians.
Postscript: ZOA’s Israel Office did hear from U.S. Consul General Michael Ratney subsequent to this blog’s writing. A recent ZOA news release describes Jeff Daube’s meeting with Ratney on June 20. Daube will be bringing the Consul up to the Mount of Olives very soon for a briefing on the cemetery desecrations and area violence. Jeremy Ben-Ami, however, has not yet accepted Jeff’s invitation to do the same.
Jeff Daube is the Israel director of the Zionist Organization of America, and Israel co-chair of Legal Grounds/The Campaign to Promote Israel’s Rights, and The International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (Mt. of Olives).