Has the (unorthodox) organized Jewish community fallen off the rails?

In Numbers 10:35-36, the Torah describes the years of exile and wandering when the Children of Israel were exposed to those who sought to cause them harm. Moses would say the following when the Ark was set out: “Advance, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered, and may your foes flee before You!” This prayer is said today in synagogue services when the Torah is taken out of the Ark. Upon its return to the Ark the prayer continues: “Return, O Lord, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!”  The rabbis explain that during tranquil times, when the danger is not persecution but assimilation, the prayer is a homiletic interpretation, “O Lord, return the thousands of Israel who have strayed.”

Unfortunately, too many of our co-religionists have indeed strayed and continue to drift so much so to the left that the question is: Has the (generally unorthodox) “organized” Jewish community’s religion become Leftism? There are disturbing trends.

Isi Liebler cogently summarizes several prominent recent examples of such behavior with regard to the latest violent Gaza protests:

What is truly macabre is the behavior of sections of Diaspora Jewish communities. Fringe groups in both the U.S. and U.K. have been publicly demonstrating in favor of the Hamas killers and even holding surreal recitations of the mourner’s kaddish, naming the individuals killed. This is the equivalent of reciting kaddish for dead SS soldiers who shared the same genocidal objectives against the Jews as Hamas – truly a chilul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name. Even beyond this demented fringe, many Jews are publicly expressing grief at the death of the terrorists. Yet they do not express any sadness that our adversaries are obscenely providing human sacrifices by positioning women and children in the line of fire to capitalize on casualties so as to demonize Israel for public relations purposes.Rabbinical sermons have referred to the bulk of those killed as innocents, even though Hamas leaders themselves claim that 85% of them were their operatives.

On May 14 at its graduation and ordination ceremony, the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College shamelessly chose as its guest speaker the fiercely anti-Zionist author Michael Chabon.

Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt wrote that “it is a horrific tragedy that so many people have been killed and wounded at the Gaza border.” Would Greenblatt have said this about the masses of Nazis and German civilians killed in the course of World War ll?

There is a serious sickness among Jews when so many feel more concern about the death of those seeking to kill us than anxiety for their own kinsmen.

What many are conveniently, willfully, ignorantly or negligently forgetting is that the most basic right of any nation, Israel included, is to defend its citizens. The Bible makes this very clear: “If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.” (Deut. 22:26). Hamas’s stated goal was to breach the fence and kill Jews.

Brendan O’Neil writes that western liberals bear some responsibility for the violence in Gaza:

Hating Israel has become a kind of negative moral framework through which many in the West now advertise their virtue. Being anti-Israel has become the baseline requirement for membership of the dinner-party circle. It’s one of the key ways liberals and progressives demonstrate their decency. This is why they must clog up their Twitterfeeds with images of Palestinian suffering and hashtags condemning Israel. This is why they must take to the streets over Israel in a way they never do over Turkish or Saudi militarism. This is why they will refuse to buy Israeli fruit or watch Israeli plays or movies. Because that’s how you show you are a clean, moral person: by being Israel-free, and Israel-hating.

And in order to sustain this simplistic moral framework, this framework through which many Westerners now make sense of their own morality and political outlook, proof of Palestinian suffering is frequently required. And in steps Hamas to provide it. On one side, Western moralists almost addicted to stories of Israeli nastiness, and on the other their dealers: Hamas.

Westerners’ obsession with this conflict, and with an infantile reading of it as evil vs innocence, has helped to warp the conflict itself. It has twisted its dynamic, helped to deepen it, and created a situation where Palestinian leaders know there is one surefire way to garner international sympathy for themselves and hatred for Israel: let Palestinians go into harm’s way.

Virtue-signalling on domestic issues might be irritating – in the international realm it becomes positively dangerous. The Western progressives currently crying ‘Why must Palestinians die like this?’ should take a look in the mirror every now and then, because this is the terrible truth: they are partly dying for your moral and political gratification.

Another recent example which Gregg Roman of the Middle East Forum describes: the Jewish Community Relations Council in Nashville inviting the co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center for a talk on hate speech. As he notes, the SPLC, once a champion of human rights, bankrupting white-supremacists and neo-Nazis, has devolved into an organization premised on “intersectionality” that refuses to call out the most threatening form of anti-Semitism, namely American Islamists and their vast ideological hate network. Instead, SPLC:

has allied with the very wolves in sheep’s clothing it should be warning against…

the SPLC has systematically refused to distinguish principled opposition to the totalitarian ideology of Islamism from crude bigotry against ordinary Muslims.

SPLC has condemned those who fight and call out this Islamofascism and triumphalism as haters themselves- thus giving them a pass.

Then there is the disturbing attempted infiltration at Jewish summer camps by some former campers, now college students and staff, from a group called IfNotNow which focuses much of its energy on public and often disruptive protests of large American Jewish organizations. It  convinced Camp Ramah directors that they were indoctrinating a one-sided pro-Israel narrative and not telling the “full story,” including the Palestinian narrative.  Ramah agreed to a training session with the group. Per Mitchell Cohen, national director of the Conservative Movement’s Camp Ramah, “To the extent that there are liberal opinions that are critical of Israel that are not Zionist, anti-Zionist, we would never allow that at camp,” he said. “First we teach a love for Israel. Then we teach the nuances and the conflict.” OK.

Yet, another camp consultant, Noam Weissman, a senior vice president for education for Jerusalem U, a video-focused pro-Israel advocate and education organization, says kids need to learn about the diversity and complexity of Israel, but from a place of love. Loving Israel, he said

builds in a real confidence of Jewish peoplehood, a love for oneself and a confidence for oneself….We want to be able to ask tough questions, but we want to do it in a contextualized way that says we love Israel, we care about Israel… The occupation needs to be discussed and the different perspectives on the occupation need to be discussed, but the foregone conclusion that the occupation is ‘bad’ is indoctrination just like anything else that they’re claiming is indoctrination.

Bad. What “occupation”? Really?

A local Conservative rabbi and friend of mine made the following comment in response:

There is an important difference between understanding and having sympathy for Palestinian individuals and families (many of whom live in miserable conditions) and having sympathy for the Palestinian narrative. We want our children to recognize and work for universal human rights, and we also want them to understand the root causes of the problems of the Palestinian – most of which are caused by the Palestinian leadership and lack thereof.  

Yes, as Jews we can certainly sympathize with innocents who are harmed, but we do not have to mourn those who intend to be our killers. Israel is the most moral army in the world, trains extensively and fights to curtail civilian casualties even to its own detriment and risk. It is therefore not surprising that there were not more casualties and how surgical the IDF was in killing Hamas operatives and minimizing those of civilians, who were warned beforehand to stay away.

Nuance is good but only in full context, if we educate our children first in our own history to be proud Jews and Zionists and respect that Israel is a sovereign democracy. You cannot formulate intelligent opinions if you are ignorant and do not have a true grasp of the facts.

Is Israel a perfect country? Of course not, but it is striving to do better. But to hold it to impossible standards that no country can live up is duplicitous. Yet despite being surrounded by enemies who are sworn to its destruction, including its so-called “peace partner” the Palestinian Authority, Israel upholds the dearest of progressive values that should be applauded and not vilified: respecting women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, a robust free press, independent judiciary, first class education, health care and economic opportunities, which its Arab citizens enjoy—more rights than they have in any Arab country.

The problem is that Leftism cannot distinguish between good and evil, and in fact rejects calling out evil. It conflates the arsonist with the firefighter. To the Left, it is all about moral triumphalism. The opposition is no longer merely wrong, they are morally suspect. Feelings rule facts and victims are heroes no matter what. Thus, Israelis are aggressive and bad, Palestinian Arabs are poor, defenseless, not responsible for their actions and good. That Hamas, which rules Gaza, is a genocidal entity whose own charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish People is irrelevant and ignored.

We are fighting for nothing less than the soul of the Jewish people and community. What concerns me is this obsession to show liberal-left bona fides by upping the ante, to prove how much more moral they believe they are, whether due to guilt over “white privilege” or the universal sentiment of tikkun olam (to repair the world), or the ultimate striving for the amorphous “social justice” – even if that all means cavorting with the enemy who wants to destroy us. There are certainly kernels and cherry-picked elements of these ideals in Jewish tradition, but it is being stretched to a whole new level which is now completely out of balance and is putting our community in dire straits. This strand of secular Judaism is a new religion.

Israel indeed wants peace, but our rights and security come first. Apparently, this is painful for leftists to digest. It was internal dissension and baseless hatred by our own People that the rabbis say caused the destruction of the Temple and will prevent the coming of the Massiah.  It is   frustrating and stomach churning to see the leftist Jewish community losing its way right before our eyes. Can they be saved and return to the fold? Sadly, I am harboring my doubts these days.

Lee Bender is the co-author of the book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z” (Pavilion Press 2012), co-developer of the website and app, www.factsonisrael.com, and co-president of the Zionist Organization of America – Philadelphia.

About the Author
Lee S. Bender co-authored a book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z” (Pavilion Press) with Jerome Verlin, and has been speaking about anti-Israel bias and activities to numerous schools, synagogues, churches and civic groups, and written dozens of articles published in local and national media. He is Co-President of the Zionist Organization of America-Greater Philadelphia District, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, Israel Advocacy Committee of Jewish Federation among other organizations. A former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, he has been in private practice as a trial attorney in Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 1995.
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