Op-Ed: Progressive Ideals are no Substitute for Jewish Values
With all the real dangers facing Israel and the Jewish People today – from Islamist governments that preach jihad and genocide, to an Iranian regime on the cusp of nuclear capability, to BDS zealots who validate Arab-Muslim rejectionism – why are so many liberal Jews more worried about the supposed dangers of Christian Zionism or Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria?
Ironically, they condemn evangelical support while they countenance Arab, Muslim, and progressive groups that foster anti-Semitism and deny Israel’s right to exist. Though they proclaim great concern for Israel, they are quick to chastise her for building on land that was recognized as Jewish for thousands of years, to denounce as racists all who challenge the revisionist Palestinian narrative, to characterize any criticism of Muslims as Islamophobia, and to claim – incredibly – that their actions conform with Jewish values.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
There is an enormous gap between traditional Jewish values and many of the partisan sacred cows that have become articles of faith for progressive Jews and the nontraditional movements. What is so confounding is their allegiance to political beliefs that are not simply at odds with traditional values, but often antithetical to Jewish continuity and survival.
Their affinity for Islamists masquerading as moderates, for advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, and for a Palestinian myth predicated on historical revisionism and doctrinal anti-Semitism is inconsistent with their claims of devotion for Israel and respect for Jewish mores.
Jews who support organizations that rationalize anti-Semitism, deny Jewish history, or falsely accuse Israel of apartheid, are in fact trampling Jewish values. There is no theological or philosophical imperative for Jews to dignify religious dogmas or political agendas that are absolutist and intolerant. Progressive Jews who justify dialogue with Islamists and Israel-bashers as being consistent with the spirit of Jewish self-reflection or tikkun olam understand neither concept and live in a fool’s paradise.
there is simply no way to reconcile genuine respect for tradition with empathy for those who denigrate Jews or seek Israel’s destruction. To claim otherwise would be analogous to justifying the appeasement of Nazism during World War II as a legitimate expression of American patriotism.
There is a stark contrast between progressive ideology and Jewish tradition despite the tedious claims of an identity of interests between the two. This is evident in the way many Reform and Conservative rabbis disparage Christian Zionists and traditional Jews who reject the two-state paradigm, but encourage political alliances with Muslim groups that have extremist roots or connections.
It is also apparent in their willingness to legitimize left-wing groups, such as J Street and the New Israel Fund, that claim to support Israel but actually endorse policies that threaten her continuity as a Jewish state.
In a recent blog, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism (“URJ”), demonstrated his movement’s priorities when he excoriated the writer Pamela Geller, known for her counter-jihad activism, and urged that she be banned from speaking in American synagogues. “Pamela Geller has no place in an American synagogue,” he wrote, describing her as “a bigot and purveyor of hate.”
The offenses earning her this kind of enmity include her outspoken criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism, her mission to expose the Islamist connections of supposedly moderate groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”) and the Islamic Society of North America (“ISNA”), and her sponsorship of anti-jihad posters in the New York City subways.
Ms. Geller is abhorred by the Jewish left also because she challenges it for minimizing, ignoring or denying the pervasiveness of Muslim anti-Semitism. She confronts stealth jihad and Islamist dissimulation head-on and criticizes liberals who assist in facilitating both.
Rabbi Yoffie proposed that Ms. Geller be blackballed and that Peter Beinart and representatives of J Street instead be welcomed into American synagogues. This seems rather strange considering Beinart’s and J Street’s endorsement of policies that would appear to threaten Israeli security, but it fits the left’s pattern of deprecating those with whom it disagrees and branding them hate-mongers. Furthermore, it is consistent with Rabbi Yoffie’s pronouncement several years ago discouraging alliances with Christian Zionists.
Regarding the affinity of many evangelicals for Israel, Rabbi Yoffie wrote then that “[w]hat they mean by support of Israel and what we mean by support of Israel are two very different things.” This is a fair statement for someone who holds divergent views, but it begs the question of just what “support of Israel” has come to mean in liberal Jewish circles. Unfortunately, the answer does not always reflect well on the nontraditional movements.
For one thing, there seems to be growing acceptance of J Street, an organization with a clear pro-Palestinian bias and a penchant for: blaming Israel for the failure of Mideast peace; failing to acknowledge Arab-Muslim rejectionism; hosting speakers with anti-Israel records; and opposing pro-Israel interests in Congress.
J Street’s true character has been apparent since its first annual conference in 2009, when it welcomed Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, as a speaker. Al-Marayati is known for public comments describing the establishment of Israel as a crime, calling for her destruction, and stating that “we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list” regarding the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing.
The organization’s hypocrisy is also apparent from its attack on Jewish charities that support institutions in Judea and Samaria and its calls for the Obama Treasury Department to investigate them for alleged violations of U.S. law.
If J Street were really concerned about nonprofits with nefarious Mideast connections, its silence regarding Muslim groups that have extremist associations would seem inconsistent. Nevertheless, J Street has never called for scrutiny of CAIR or ISNA, which were named unindicted co-conspirators in United States v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a criminal prosecution of an Islamic charity connected to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. At no time has J Street challenged their legitimacy or questioned their access to the Obama White House.
In addition to providing a forum for speakers with dubious backgrounds, J Street has supported anti-Israel candidates for Congress (e.g., Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Sestak), endorsed a U.N. resolution describing construction in Jerusalem as illegal settlement activity, criticized Israel for acts of self-defense, and accepted funding from sources hostile to Israel, including Muslim and Saudi interests and George Soros.
The organization has lobbied against candidates who support Israel and for policies that undercut her character as a Jewish state. Describing such actions as “pro-Israel” is an exercise in magical thinking. Or it’s simply mendacious. Nevertheless, many Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist clergyment enthusiastically support J Street and serve on its rabbinic cabinet.
Also troubling is the tolerance of many liberals for the BDS movement, expressed either directly or through support of organizations that fund or promote BDS activities. Though they often disclaim support for global BDS programs, many liberal rabbis still endorse efforts to boycott products from Judea and Samaria.
The distinction they seek to imply by endorsing only limited boycotts is disingenuous for two reasons. First, Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is perfectly legal under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Second, the BDS movement’s foot soldiers do not recognize such artificial distinctions and remain committed to isolating and harming the entire Jewish State, not simply “disputed” pieces of it.
Furthermore, liberal rabbis often legitimize anti-Israel activism by their support of progressive organizations, such as the New Israel Fund (“NIF”), that give financial assistance and encouragement to groups that openly seek to undermine Israel. Though the NIF states on its website that it “…will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs,” it goes on to say that it “… opposes the occupation and subsequent settlement activities… [and] will not exclude support for organizations that discourage the purchase of goods or use of services from settlements.”
That is, it claims to shun global BDS activities, but continues to fund groups that promote boycotts of Judea and Samaria – lands that are historically Jewish and were never lawfully part of any Arab or Muslim nation. Moreover, despite its public repudiation of global BDS programs, the NIF has supported Arab and Muslim groups, including Adalah, Mossawa, and the Arab Human Rights Association, that have championed BDS activities and agendas that threaten Israel as a Jewish state.
There is also an alarming trend of liberal Jewish institutions forging relationships with controversial Muslim organizations. During his tenure as head of the URJ, for example, Rabbi Yoffie announced an alliance with ISNA, claiming that it had renounced terrorism. Whether this is true is highly questionable. What does not seem subject to debate, however, is ISNA’s early connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that its commitment to tolerance and moderation has been challenged by experts in the field of Islamist extremism.
After ISNA’s public embrace of moderation, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (“IPT”) issued a report detailing “a host of examples of radical ideology that belies its moderate image ... [and detailing] ISNA's foundation by U.S. members of the Muslim Brotherhood, some of whom remain active in ISNA today, and extremist connections by other active ISNA leaders.”
The IPS observed last year that ISNA “continues to rely on a Muslim Brotherhood official as a key speaker at many of its events.” According to records reviewed by the IPS, that official, Jamal Badawi, was a member-at-large of ISNA’s governing board in 2012 and was “deeply rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood's North American infrastructure.”
Equally troubling is the involvement of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (“JTS”) in questionable interfaith programs, including one at the Hartford Seminary, a Christian theological institution that has been accused of accommodating Islamist interests. Among other things, the Hartford Seminary has a chair of Islamic studies that was endowed at least partly with funds from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (“IIIT”), an organization with ties to the extremist Saudi Wahhabi sect.
By its participation in this and similar programs, JTS legitimizes such groups although they may espouse doctrines in which taqiyya (dissimulation) and jihad are essential pillars.
Perhaps more disturbing is the revisionist history emanating from some Conservative synagogues, where in discussing the acts of “righteous gentiles” during the Holocaust, some rabbis insist on equating Muslim and Christian acts of wartime heroism. These rabbis imply that Muslims were as proactive as Christians in helping to save Jews, though when asked they are often unable to provide specific examples.
Perhaps the paltry representation of Muslims in Yad Vashem says more about the reality than the stories told in some congregations. Specifically, the roster of nearly 24,000 Gentiles honored as “righteous among the nations” includes only 70 Muslims, mostly from Albania where the Muslim population was largely secular.
In truth, relatively few Arabs or Muslims were motivated to save Jewish lives. Their connection to the Holocaust was more accurately reflected by the Muslim Waffen-SS Hanjar units that were personally recruited by the Mufti of Jerusalem and which were responsible for exterminating most of Bosnian Jewry.
It was also reflected by wartime alliances between the Arab-Muslim world and the Germans, the ideological roots of the Arab Baathist party in Nazism, and the unfulfilled Arab plan to implement the Final Solution in the Mideast.
In spreading the myth of Islamic tolerance, liberal Jews conveniently ignore the concept of “taqiyya,” or religiously-mandated deception intended to enervate “the infidel” and advance the goals of jihad. The aim of taqiyya is to reduce the vigilance of the “kuffar” (non-Muslims) through the negotiation of treaties that are intended not to be honored, but to be abrogated when deemed strategically feasible. The concept is not an Islamophobic horror fantasy, but is set forth in the Quran, particularly Suras 3: 28, 3:54, 8:30, 10:21, 16:106, and 2:225. This last Sura states: “Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts.”
Those who promote the notion that “People of the Book” were accorded goodwill seem unaware of the historically harsh treatment of Jews in Islamic society. Moreover, their naiveté regarding Islamism is often compounded by their unfamiliarity with many core tenets of Judaism. The willingness to accept at face value claims of moderation by groups that are actually guided by doctrinal extremism is a function of the progressive ideology that has been embraced as synonymous with Jewish values despite its substantive conflicts with Jewish law and history.
Many secular progressives and nontraditional rabbis who claim the mantle of leadership have little or no grounding in classical rabbinics and often eschew Jewish law when it contradicts their political priorities. They have instead adopted the entire liberal canon, including gender politics, energy policy and gun control, as their moral platform.
As political beings, individual Jews are free to support any of these causes – or none at all – as their consciences see fit. But Jewish identity does not require allegiance to any particular political ideology, and certainly not one that so often conflicts with traditional Jewish law. The wholesale adoption of the liberal agenda by the nontraditional movements does not elevate it to the level of Torah, Talmud or even Musar literature as a moral guidepost for Jewish living.
Sadly, the substitution of secular politics for authentic tradition has actually weakened Jewish identity, as reflected by the growing acceptance of intermarriage and assimilation in the name of “inclusiveness.” Indeed, in a bizarre twist the Reform movement has been debating whether to accept intermarried rabbis.
Clearly, the obsession with inclusiveness has made it acceptable to tolerate positions that threaten Jewish survival, and also to view hatred of Israel through the prism of moral equivalence. This obsession, however, is not a Jewish value.
The Jews have always been unique among the nations as the only people whose identity combines the national and the religious, and whose faith demands both practical observance and belief in an invisible G-d who has no physical form or human analogue.
If the Jews truly have a universal mission, it is to promote a morality that flows from their belief, and to do so while remaining distinctively Jewish. Throughout history, those who rejected traditional observance succeeded only in creating a spiritual void, which they then attempted to fill with secular values artificially endowed with the force of religion.
The creation of a political faith in place of traditional belief and practice does not implicate real Jewish values. It fits the definition of Avodah Zarah (strange worship) as articulated by Maimonides.
The subversion of Jewish belief from within is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it greatly concerned the Prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) thousands of years ago, when he spoke the following words:
הַהֵימִיר גּוֹי אֱלֹהִים וְהֵמָּה לֹא אֱלֹהִים וְעַמִּי הֵמִיר כְּבוֹדוֹ בְּלוֹא יוֹעִיל:
Has a nation exchanged its god although they are not gods? Yet My nation exchanged their glory for what does not avail. (Yirmiyahu, Chapter 2:11.)
Perhaps the time has come for Jewish leadership to heed the meaning of these words and reconsider what truly constitutes Jewish values.