David Ben-Gurion famously warned American Jewry that assimilation and acculturation into American society would be the slow kiss of death for their community. Fifty years later a more horrifying specter has reared its head. The American Jewish community has allowed hyper-partisanship to bleed into its support of Israel. In one sense, its conservative apparition is vindicating American anti-Semitic lore about dual loyalties. But more importantly it is splitting the community even beyond the sectarian fragments which already characterize Jewish life in America.
We cannot let this happen. Israel is not a partisan issue. Our Judaism is our unifying feature. It is the reason we survived to today, and it must remain our foundation if we are to survive well into the future. The partisan infighting within the pro-Israel community is alienating a new generation of American Jews who have grown up in relative privilege, sheltered from anti-Semitism as no generation before it. Study after study shows that the extreme partisanship in Washington, D.C. is driving Millennials away from politics. We cannot allow our youth to be part of that trend.
Which means it is time to tone down our rhetoric.
Let’s look at an exchange I recently had in the Times of Israel comment section. In “The Night I Divorced Rachel Maddow”, the author of the article trotted out Clint Eastwood’s line that lawyers aren’t fit to be presidents. When I pointed out that Mitt Romney had also attended Harvard Law School, he retorted that Romney had never practiced law. Fair enough.
So I listed several prominent lawyers to occupy the Oval Office (sixty-two percent of all presidents; every Founding Father except Washington), he replied that I was comparing apples to old, old apples, proceeding to call me a shill for Obama and telling me that I needed to spend more time in the United States.
I’m used to being called a shill for Obama by conservative-leaning Jews. I find the notion laughable. I opted out of working for his campaign in 2008 for class credit, instead backing a local candidate destined to fail. I’m not even an American citizen, so I haven’t – and couldn’t – vote for Obama. But because I disproved a popular Republican talking point, I am instantly transformed into an Obama puppet. That is a sad state of affairs for a people with a book of religious laws based on the virtue of discourse and debate.
Jews have historically suffered from external alienation. We cannot allow ourselves to be fragmented from within. Not over partisan politics, when we have more pressing issues. Or the new kiss of death will suck the lifeblood out of our community – youth engagement – even faster than inter-marriage.