Steven Windmueller
Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Managing the Jewish political reset

A major Jewish political reset is underway at this time, focusing on domestic affairs, foreign policy considerations and the increasing diversity that defines the Jewish communal orbit.  When the political environment is as unsettled as we find today, such new structural initiatives to reframe the conversation, refocus policy options, and grow the diversity of the community ought be anticipated. Such outside expressions have taken place in other time frames, impacting both the general public discourse as well as the Jewish communal response. We experience such challenges to the status quo when the political equilibrium is in disarray and when there are new and competing voices seeking to be represented and heard, whether around Israel policy questions or domestic considerations.

These new institutional options can found in the growing political nuisance shaping the American landscape. We see, for example, new communal reactions growing out of the rise of the progressive wing within the Democratic Party and its impact both on such national issues as culture and race and in connection with the more recent policy challenges in connection with US support for Israel.

The emergence of some of these types of institutional models provides moderate Democrats and more directly, liberal Jewish audiences, with alternative avenues by which to articulate and advance their interests. Specifically designed to counter the Democratic left, these responses are also constructed to push back against the actions and statements of the extreme right.

Heart of a Nation represents one of these new expressions of political organizing. Its mandate is framed through its mission:[1]

Liberalism is under assault in the United States, Israel, and around the world. As the progressive impulses in Israeli and American societies are challenged by darker forces, American progressives are drifting away from Israel and Israeli politics is just a shadow of its progressive roots. The acceleration of these trends will harm both countries, as well as advancements toward equality, justice, and peace. For these reasons, uniting in common purpose the progressive communities in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine is more urgent than ever.

As one of its communications vehicles, this new entity is committed to publishing its ideas through a journal, Heart & Soul. The focus here appears to be identifying issues central to audiences in the United States and Israel, including such themes as social and economic justice, gender and racial equality, the role of religion, climate change, police practices and criminal justice reform, and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Among its broader or overarching considerations involve the promotion of civil discourse, the reduction of conflict, and the pursuit of peace.

Indeed, as noted above, we have seen similar expressions emerge at previous moments when the political environment appeared less friendly to Jewish audiences. The rise of the neo-Conservatives in the 1970s represented a counter-cultural response to some of the policies and proposals that had been identified with particular leaders within the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party.

 Jews as White Folks:

The emergence of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values (https://jilv.org/) has been launched in the aftermath of a Jewish response acknowledging that Jews are white, privileged and by definition, racist. In opposing this collectivist reaction, critics, who helped to form this Institute are suggesting a more nuanced approach when studying issues of race and identity.

Americans have work to do in curtailing racism and inequality. We must undertake this work, however, in a spirit of intellectual honesty and integrity. Critical Social Justice — the idea that there are hidden systems of oppression in America and that only marginalized people have the standing to define them—is a rising phenomenon in the organized Jewish community. It tends to stifle alternative views and prevents due consideration of such issues as racial justice and gender identity. Absent a balanced discussion, CSJ can corrupt the core values of many institutions and lead to cultures that restrict free thought.  Such absolutist sentiment is a threat to the country and the Jewish community and fans the flames of antisemitism.

Just this week, fifty individuals joined together to frame a letter identifying the concerns and challenges associated with “critical social justice.” https://jilv.org/be-heard/

Previously, David Bernstein, the Founder and CEO of JILV, introduced a series of questions that Jewish organizations should be considering when examining the issue of racial justice.[2] When political positions appear as extreme there is often a counter-response designed to provide an alternative option; this appears to be the formula one can identify with many of these emerging structural and policy expressions.

Countering anti-Semitism:

We can also identify the presence of a series of alternative initiatives in dealing with anti-Semitism, in response to the re-emergence of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish expressions.[3] Here, the operational challenge is centered on how best to manage and respond to these contemporary forms of hate.  Several of these emergent models seek to eliminate anti-Semitism, countering the ADL’s organizing principle of seeking to contain and minimize anti-Jewish hate. Among these new expressions include Stand with Us, FCAS: the Foundation to Combat anti-Semitism, World Jewish Congress, etc..  This new attention to anti-Semitism has also brought the American Jewish Committee back into play. We need to remind ourselves that “hate” is big business, as it draws significant financial investment in supporting efforts to contain and defeat such expressions and practices.Various factors have contributed to this growing institutional investment in fighting anti-Semitism:

  • This current phase has been primarily a social media-driven expression of anti-Semitism.
  • We are experiencing expressions and actions of hate, generated simultaneously from the political left and right.
  • Most incidents of contemporary anti-Semitism have been individually initiated. In the past movement-based anti-Semitism defined the political basis of anti-Jewish action, driven by governments and ideologically connected organizations.
  • Current actions are geographically dispersed, so we can observe global expressions as well as locally inspired practice. The globalization of anti-Semitism represents a new and different feature in managing this fight.
  • We are generally seeing old images of anti-Semitic rhetoric being introduced through new delivery systems. Conspiracy theories are being reframed in this current environment reflective of the contemporary political culture.

Managing Social Justice:

 The organizing principle here suggests that when there is a significant social divide over how best to manage a political issue, one finds the emergence of multiple organizing initiatives designed to give definition and focus to the attending issue.  Secondly, when a political issue is seen as both relevant and drawing public attention, new institutional voices enter the communal platform to compete not only in seeking to be responsive to the issue but also in capturing the available financial resources available in the marketplace. The heightened visibility of an issue draws a corollary infusion of new operational responses, generating media attention and communal recognition.

Last year, the Jews of Color Initiative, a San Francisco-based organization formerly known as the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, and UpStart, an Oakland-based group that works with Jewish entrepreneurs and leaders created a new leadership program to expand the role and presence of Jews of color within the established communal system:[4]

“ ‘Leadership of Jewish community organizations today simply does not reflect the diversity of the Jewish community itself,’ ” Angel Alvarez-Mapp, director of program and operations at the Jews of Color Initiative, said in a statement. To change this, we need to support people and nurture their professional growth at the earliest stages of their careers. We are excited to work with UpStart to pursue this vision.”

Providing Insights and Information:

In an age when CRC’s (Community Relations Committees) in some cases have either disbanded or where policy options are shut down by the absence of consensus, one finds the emergence of groups such as JUDJ (Jews United for Democracy and Justice) https://www.jewsunitedfordemocracy.org/:

Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ) is a broad, nonsectarian, non-partisan cross-section of American Jews who stand together asserting a Jewish voice to safeguard the principles and foundation of our constitutional democracy, as is consistent with our core values. JUDJ was founded in the wake of the 2017 executive orders on immigration and asylum seekers as well as other threats to racial and religious tolerance, equal treatment for all in our judicial and law enforcement systems, a free and fair press, human dignity, and long-held norms of decency and civil society. While administrations have changed, we continue to face dangers posed by extremism, polarization, gerrymandering and weakening of our governmental institutions. We educate and keep people up-to-date on the major issues of our day as we collectively work toward rebuilding our constitutional democracy.[5]

Endnotes:

Across the Jewish spectrum we are beginning to identify new voices and alternative institutional expressions designed to modulate and reformulate the political options and choices in managing liberalism and in opening the Jewish community to new policy and demographic realities. This expansion of political expression comes as the communal enterprise itself is being challenged to reflect the growing diversity of thought and the changing demographic character and composition of our society and more directly, our community!

[1] https://heartofanation.io/

[2] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/six-questions-jewish-organizations-should-contemplate-before-taking-a-stand-on-racial-and-critical-social-justice/

[3] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/when-anti-semitism-arises-a-study-in-jewish-communal-behavior/

[4] https://www.timesofisrael.com/new-program-for-jews-of-color-aims-to-diversify-us-jewish-organizations/

[5] https://www.jewsunitedfordemocracy.org/

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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