I am not the typical attendee of the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York City. I am a graduating college senior with mostly liberal views. I did not attend out of any ideological commitment to the right-wing newspaper, but rather because I was interested in engaging in a discussion about Israel with a broad range of people. To that end, the organizers of the conference deserve credit for lining up an impressive and diverse cast of speakers.
One of those speakers was Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Apart from being a stellar Treasury Secretary and one of the few actors on the international stage promoting an attitude of rational compassion toward Greece, Secretary Lew is a longtime supporter of Israel. As Natan Sharansky later reminded us, Mr. Lew’s support for Israel goes back three decades, when as an aide to then Speaker Tip O’Neill, he assisted in helping Soviet Jews escape persecution.
In the collective judgment of a significant minority of the audience, this is a man who merited being called a “liar,” and most disgracefully, a “court Jew”. I cringed in my seat each time he was rudely interrupted by people old enough to be my grandparents. How can this be happening? How can a man who’s expressing largely mainstream views on the US-Iranian nuclear negotiations be shouted down like this? Has our community lost the ability to debate in a civil manner?
Earlier in the morning, WJC President Ron Lauder received applause when he condemned college students who have shouted down Israeli and pro-Israel speakers on campuses across the country. How was the infantile behavior toward the Treasury Secretary any different?
It’s not as if I agreed with everything with the Secretary had to say. For example, I strongly disagreed with his characterization of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani as a moderate. But I would never dream of interrupting him. Not only is he an honorable member of our community, but he’s a decent human being, a husband, and a father. Against the backdrop of his character, the shameful treatment he received at the JPost conferences requires an explanation.
JJ Goldberg, whose presence at the conference perhaps deprived me of the honor of being the conference’s most left-leaning attendee, offered this thoughtful analysis: “There’s only so many times that a newspaper [JPost] can publish accusations of self-hate, treason and anti-Semitism against fellow Jews, Israelis and Israel’s essential allies before the witches’ brew blows up in our collective face.”
Where I grew up, what happened at the JPost conference would be called a “Chilul Hashem,” or disgracing God’s name. I hope the religious Jews among the hecklers find a way to ask Secretary Lew for forgiveness before Yom Kippur. The non-religious among them should be equally ashamed of themselves for treating a decent person the way they did.