The American Jewish community is in the midst of our own Purim story–a complex nuanced drama that is being marketed as a simple morality play pitting good and resourceful Jews against those who are determined to destroy us.
But unless we can change the story line, the mass marketers will destroy what is left of shared Jewish values and purpose and goals in a way that hearkens back to the sinat chinam–baseless hatred of one Jew for another–that our tradition tells us was the real reason behind the destruction of the Second Temple and the start of almost two millenia in exile.
In the modern version, the controversy is over the love of Israel–an issue that united Jews around the world for generations but which is now ripping our community apart in a way that has left many American Jews who care deeply about Israel being cast as villains and being booed off the stage.
This is the first of a series of articles which will explore where we are, how we got here, and what, if anything, we can do to make things better.
In recent years, our Jewish narrative and reality has moved from the old UJA slogan of “We Are One” as a people united in our love for Israel, our love for Judaism, and our love for Jewish wisdom and values to being a people divided into two factions.
Today, on one side are those who love and support Israel and its government unequivocally and who believe that our main (perhaps only) role is to not grant Hitler a post-humous victory. They believe that anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world is bad and getting worse and that Jews and Israel are the perpetual victims of foul play, double standards, and anti-Israel media bias.
And on the other side are the large majority of American Jews who care deeply about Israel, are proud to be Jewish, and choose to embrace or ignore Judaism based on its ability to provide us with a moral compass and lead happier better and more productive lives.
We voted for Obama twice and think he is doing a good job and would vote for him again in a minute. And polls show we still base our national voting, like most Americans, or issues such as the economy and the social justice values on which the Torah and our country are based.
This gulf between these groups has been widening for years but exploded a few months ago when Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to clearly merge his political forces with the Obama hating Republicans in Congress and the Christian Evangelical Right in a friendly takeover that brought all of Sheldon Adelson’s assets under one roof with one agenda and left the vast majority of American Jews on the outside looking in.
The most immediate casualty was the unique and virtually unanimous pro-Israel coalition in Congress that AIPAC had taken decades to build.
Overnight, dozens of Congressmen were forced to choose between showing disrespect for President Obama or disrespecting the prime minister of Israel. In a nanosecond, support for Netanyahu and his government went from being a bipartisan unanimous darling of Congress to a wedge issue with dozens choosing to boycott Bibi’s speech.
It was notable but not widely reported that fully 20 percent of Jewish members of Congress boycotted Bibi’s speech–more than double the percentage of their gentile counterparts.
Suddenly, Israel’s new best friends in Congress are people whose views on social justice, gun control, health care, the economy and gender issues are out of sync with most Jews..
And the vast majority of them are not Jewish.
Bolstered by the success of his bold initiative to consolidate support for Israel among true believers, Bibi went home and promised his base there will never be a Palestinian state on his watch and to make a blatantly racist plea to his voters on election day to get out the vote to offset the Arab Israeli citizens who were legally “voting in droves.”
Not only did those comments further drive a wedge between the prime minister and President Obama (and the majority of American Jews who support him) but it once again left AIPAC twisting in the breeze since it has at the top of its own mission statement its commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Long-time Jewish luminaries and A-list speakers such as Thomas Friedman, Martin Inkyk, Peter Beinart and M.J. Rosenberg are now viewed as anti-Israel pariahs who would never be invited to speak at most pro-Israel groups and would be passionately booed–as Treasury Secretary and Orthodox Jew Jack Lew was at a pro-Israel conference last week.
Jews who used to be the most prized flowers in the pro-Israel garden are now being weeded out and discarded–along with most of the rest of us.
For decades, American Jews have been focused on existential threats to the Jewish community and on top of the list are issues such as anti-Semitism, intermarriage, and assimilation. Each of these issues is worth some conversation, but none poses an existential threat.
It is sinat chinam that provides the real existential threat. A phenomenon so insidious and damaging that the Talmud suggests it is worse than idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed put together.
And yet it hasn’t made it onto any of the lists and has no Federation committees studying its impact.
Next: How we got into this mess and how we get out of it