The Democrats’ shameful tolerance for progressive antisemites has not inspired many Jews to quit the party or restrained non-Orthodox leaders from counseling their followers to vote against President Trump in November. The continuing loyalty of secular Jews to a party that has turned against Israel, legitimized her enemies, and overlooked leftist bigotry is mindboggling, though not entirely shocking considering that many equate Jewish self-rejection with spiritual introspection and Democratic politics with rabbinic tradition.
Whatever the motivation, it would not be possible without an alarming rise in cultural illiteracy. Jewish voters can dislike Trump for any reason or no reason at all, but given his record of support for Israel and Jewish causes, they cannot reasonably base their antipathy on religious tradition or cultural history with which they are largely unfamiliar.
Secular communal leaders and non-Orthodox clergy who preach Democratic politics and Trump-hatred as doctrinal imperatives play on the ingrained partisan orientation of their followers, many of whom know little about Jewish law, tradition, or history. Indeed, many define Jewish identity negatively in relation to the Holocaust and think the history of Israel began only in 1948.
Outside of Orthodoxy, Jewish identity has been weakened by poor education and the conflation of secular sensibilities with Torah obligations. By equating partisanship with rabbinic tradition and interpreting Jewish history consistent with progressive ideology, Reform and Conservative leaders have compromised the ability of their congregants to identify as Jews first and political beings second (or not at all). Far too often, progressivism and unbalanced criticism of Israel are touted as authentic values reflecting tikkun olam, musar, and devotional self-reflection. This is nonsense; but whereas progressive views on religion and Israel frequently contradict traditional beliefs and national claims, secular Jews are often unable to recognize the dichotomy.
American Jews have largely identified as Democrats for generations. However, Jewishness does not demand allegiance to any particular party, and certainly not one that refuses to rebuke elected officials like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for maligning Israel or calling forth abhorrent stereotypes. Nor does it justify supporting presidential hopefuls who staffed their campaigns with anti-Israel activists or boycotted the 2020 AIPAC convention. And it certainly does not mandate respect for Bernie Sanders, who falsely accuses PM Netanyahu of racism, seems to acknowledge his Jewishness only when politically expedient, and surrounds himself with Israel-haters like Omar, Tlaib, and Linda Sarsour.
Though nontraditional rabbis tend to equate Jewish heritage with liberal politics, the Democrats’ tolerance for progressive antisemitism and abandonment of Israel have exposed this symmetry as false. Those with weak backgrounds, however, cannot see the disparity between rabbinic priorities and progressive actions. Indeed, few are conversant in Jewish scripture, law or history, and fewer still can speak or understand Hebrew. So it is not surprising when they accuse Trump and Republicans of Jew-hatred without evidence, but remain silent as leftists spout antisemitic rhetoric or call for Israel’s destruction.
Progressive disparagement of Jewish pride is often attributed to extremists who supposedly do not represent normative liberalism. This rationale is flimsy, though, as mainstream Democrats commonly defer to party extremists. Those who disagree should consider how significantly anti-Jewish stereotypes have influenced Democratic policy on Israel, or ask why so many nontraditional rabbis support J Street, endorse BDS philosophy, or champion unhistorical Palestinian claims that deny Jewish history. They should also ask why progressives quickly applauded Blue and White’s recent electoral discussions regarding the Arab Joint List as a triumph for Israeli democracy, instead of acknowledging the existential risk posed by a bloc that includes factions who demonize Jews and demand an Arab “right of return” intended to destroy Israel demographically as a Jewish state.
The halakhic concept of fairness does not mandate compassion for haters who preach the destruction of Israel or claim that Jewish conduct causes antisemitism. There is no greater affront to Jewish integrity than historical revisionism that delegitimizes Jews as a people or equates Judaism with pop culture or temporal politics. This is analogous to the Hellenistic threat that spurred the Maccabean revolt. And yet the left advocates similar ideologies when it disparages traditional Judaism or vindicates Palestinian mythology. So do liberal clergy and lay leaders who lend credence to malicious propaganda by protesting specious claims of “state-sponsored terrorism” or human rights violations whenever Israel defends itself from rocket attacks, terror tunnels, or
The left will never acknowledge Jewish indigeneity in Israel or the Muslim-Arab history of colonial aggression. While liberals often accuse conservatives of ignoring human needs, the left routinely distorts history. Those for whom Israel is a core issue or who prioritize their lives around the survival of their people are often derided by progressives as tribalistic. But the left’s hostility regarding Jewish assertiveness illustrates its own hypocrisy, as it promotes the cultural, religious, or sexual agendas of identity groups known for their intolerance, antisemitism, and rejection of western values.
For many, identification with social justice activism comes at the expense of traditional belief and practice. No amount of rationalization can change the fact that many progressive ideals conflict with essential pillars of faith and the primacy of halakha.
The Rabbis taught that the law could be set aside to preserve life, except for three negative commandments. Specifically, Jews must never engage in sexual immorality, idol worship, or murder – even when facing death. Accordingly, agendas that sanctify relationships prohibited by Torah law, advocate assisted suicide or euthanasia, or glorify “strange worship” can never represent Jewish values. Nor can progressive rapprochement with Islamists who seek to destroy Israel and exterminate her people. To claim otherwise is simply absurd.
Many consider progressivism, socialism, and communism to have Jewish roots because of the early involvement of radical Jews whose activism was actually compelled by their rejection of traditional belief and observance. Though many secular Jews identify with the left today, political ideologies that contradict Torah law are just as antithetical to Judaism – and equally threatening to Jewish continuity – as replacement theology or evangelism that seeks conversion through artifice, deception or ignorance.
The Jews are a unique people in that their faith is dictated by heritage, which imparts both insular and universal obligations. They are referred to in the Torah (Shemot, 19:6) as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ), which establishes them as an exemplar of spiritual, ethical, and moral guidance through loyalty to G-d and Torah. But this meaning has been perverted by those who seek Jewish approbation to legitimize political and religious movements that actually conflict with Judaism; and the poorly-educated are often drawn in through artifice and cajolery.
Whether cloaked in the language of Christian evangelism, eastern religion, or secular progressivism, movements that alienate Jews from their ancestral beliefs or seek to “perfect” them through radical politics only impugn the integrity of Torah. And perhaps this is the test of false prophecy of which Scripture speaks.
The Torah specifically warns that false prophets will periodically arise to test the Jews, but also instructs on how to identify such charlatans. “If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing does not occur and does not come about, that is the thing the Lord did not speak. The prophet has spoken it wantonly; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Devarim, 18:22.) Indeed, this description could apply to a panoply of religious and political figures today. So perhaps the time has come for acculturated Jews to renounce their allegiances to mundane or impious ideologies and reclaim Torah as their guidepost for identifying and avoiding false prophets and spurious belief systems, whether in matters of religion or politics.