When our leadership fails
As the Puget Sound Region becomes the nation’s center of political and religious anti-Zionism (and often anti-Semitism), many in the Jewish community presume that the Jewish Federation and our other alphabet soup communal advocacy organizations are rising to our defense; this presumption would be wrong. Perhaps hamstrung by the big tent approach that welcomes full time critics of Israel or simply paralyzed by Jewish angst, those whom we have entrusted to stand up for our people have instead relegated themselves to the sidelines of this epic battle taking place in our own backyard.
In his latest piece in Commentary magazine, Jonathan Tobin writes of the ever increasing capitulation of Jewish religious and communal leaders to the anti-Israel agenda. He writes…
It has become a commonplace observation in some portions of the organized Jewish community to complain that American rabbis are afraid to discuss Israel with their congregations. The assumption underlying this claim is that to criticize the State of Israel is the kiss of death for Jewish clergy who live in fear of offending wealthy donors. It’s all very sad but, in fact, completely untrue. Critics of Israel aren’t shunned in American Jewish life. If anything, they have a much better chance of being heard in the secular media—and given space on the opinion pages of major newspapers such as the New York Times—than those who attempt to defend the Jewish state against the slanders that are hurled at it by both its Arab foes and Jews who adopt a “more in sorrow than in anger” pose.
The Rabbis of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York were showered with accolades after joining a petition criticizing New York Mayor Bill De Blasio for proclaiming his support of AIPAC. The petition read, in part…
The needs and concerns of many of your constituents–U.S. Jews like us among them–are not aligned with those of AIPAC, and no, your job is not to do AIPAC’s bidding when they call you to do so. AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us.”
Bucking the trend and no doubt surprising their clergy, a concerned group of B’nai Jeshurun members struck back.
Please understand that your words, besides being factually incorrect, are offensive to many of your congregants. As our rabbis, your public comments reflect on our synagogue and on us. We are proud supporters of AIPAC, and we object to the way you mischaracterize the work that AIPAC does and the diverse political affiliation of its many members. Your letter is divisive and contains false and unsubstantiated statements. By attempting to paint AIPAC into an ideological corner, you have injured AIPAC’s ability to continue its bipartisan efforts, and in so doing have hurt the State of Israel as well.
You can read the rest of their letter here.
Tobin goes on to say…
This letter reveals a sobering truth: the most pressing problem for American Jews is not the failure of spiritual leaders to disassociate themselves from Israel and its backers but the scandalous impunity with which some prominent rabbis and Jewish organizational leaders use their pulpits to undermine the pro-Israel community and lend aid and comfort to those seeking to wage economic war on the Jewish state. It takes little courage these days to denounce the pro-Israel cause; the rewards of doing so are actually quite substantial. Rather than needing more tolerance for those who seek to support their disgraceful campaign of delegitimization, perhaps what is required is for more American Jews like the signatories of the letter opposing their rabbis’ statement to find the guts to start speaking out against those who seek to shout down the Jewish state’s defenders.
While the above instance occurred in New York, the phenomenon of the capitulation to, or worse, cooperation of some of Seattle’s religious and communal leadership with anti-Israel activists is of equal concern. Whether it be our Jewish community newspaper’s promotion of the BDS agenda or congregational Rabbis collaborating with a rabidly anti-Israel Capitol Hill church there are too many examples of this phenomenon.
Five weeks ago the Seattle Jewish communal leadership were informed of an upcoming six week long cavalcade of extremist anti-Israel speakers and films as part of a Palestine Film Series at Seattle’s St. Mark’s Cathedral. Each of the featured speakers are supporters of the BDS movement, and all support the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. No response was taken by our central Jewish organization towards this assault on our community; not a phone call of complaint to the pastor of St. Marks, not a letter of disapproval, not even a Tweet of annoyance.
There have always been among us those who have chosen to bury their heads in the sand rather than confront the gathering storm; those of us familiar with the darker volumes of our history know how that ends.
No matter how one chooses to unwrap the fancy new packaging, it is impossible to deny that the object of this animosity are Jews. One can rationalize that the selected target is “not my kind of Jew” but rather a Zionist-Jew, or an Israeli-Jew or a Settler-Jew but ultimately the adjectives will fall away.
There is no shortage of intellectually satisfying arguments to justify doing nothing; all are easier than doing something and all are wrong.