The #MeToo and political correctness movements have descended into a modern day witch hunt, with the twenty-teens are paralleling the late 1940s and 1950s. The forties and fifties was when the smell of communism was enough to blacklist any public figure and McCarthyism reigned supreme, as Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover’s anti-Communism unleashed a reign of terror on the political world, the entertainment industry and anyone else in their way. Now with the #MeToo movement any accusation of sexual harassment or impropriety, or racist overtones also places one on a blacklist. Since this movement began in the fall of 2017, we have seen powerful men fall faster than the loose leaves of the season. The movement expanded to any distasteful social media post that fails the standards of political correctness loses jobs and careers. Recent articles are even questioning whether the #MeToo movement has gone too far.
Although Jewish men have been at the forefront and listed as some of the worst offenders in Hollywood, to mention the correlation was to be branded an anti-Semite even if one is a Jew. As Jewish women were accusing men within the Jewish philanthropic world of misconduct, one was not allowed to talk about it; I know I was refused publication of an article on the topic. All this changed with the scandal surrounding Hebrew Union College Professor; Sociologist and Jewish Demographic doyen Steven M. Cohen, who is now facing accusations from eight women for sexual harassment and misconduct. Similar to the other #MeToo exposés, the New York Jewish Week published the big reveal on July 19, 2018, in an article entitled, “Harassment Allegations Mount Against Leading Jewish Sociologist” the subtitled claimed, “Women academics cite long pattern of sexual improprieties at the hands of Steven M. Cohen, who has expressed ‘remorse’ for his actions.”
Instead of denials, Cohen decided to admit his behavior, saying in his statement, “I recognize that there is a pattern here. It’s one that speaks to my inappropriate behavior for which I take full responsibility. I am deeply apologetic to the women whom I have hurt by my words or my actions. I have undertaken a critical and painful examination of my behavior. In consultation with clergy, therapists and professional experts, I am engaged in a process of education, recognition, remorse, and repair. I don’t know how long this teshuva process will take. But I am committed to making the changes that are necessary to avoid recurrences in the future and, when the time is right, seek to apologize directly to, and ask forgiveness from, those I have unintentionally hurt.” Professionals and academics believe genuine repentance and apologies to their victims might rehabilitate and save #MeToo offenders rather than just write them off forever.
Subsequently, Cohen resigned from his position as Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University. The Jewish College paper, New Voices removed Cohen from their board. He has been removed from speaking at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies summer program at Brandeis University, and as a keynote speaker at the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) annual conference. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion launched on July 2, a Title IX investigation against him. Like most men accused in the era of #MeToo, his career and credibility are now almost non-existent.
Cohen had a monopoly on the study of Jewish demographics. He was the lead consultant on the often quoted and influential 2013 Pew Research Center survey on American Jewry. The survey’s most glaring conclusion was assimilation and rising intermarriage rates were rampant. The community was identifying less religiously as Jews and intermarriage rates soaring near 60 percent for the millennial generation, with a majority not choosing to raise their children religiously as Jews. Cohen’s frequent studies often looked at the same theme of Jewish continuity, assimilation, intermarriage, and Jewish identification.
Now three historians and professors, Kate Rosenblatt and Ronit Stahl and Lila Corwin Berman are making the connection between Cohen’s actions against women and linking it to wider sexism by the leaders of the Jewish community, who they say just created a Jewish continuity crisis to control women’s lives and their most personal choices. Rosenblatt, Stahl and Corwin Berman are arguing a wider conspiracy in their Forward article, “How Jewish Academia Created A #MeToo Disaster.” They claim, “We cannot hold an entire culture responsible for the misdeeds of an individual. Nor can we allow that individual’s unacceptable behavior to blind us to the shortcomings of a patriarchal power structure that enabled his work and worldview to set the American Jewish communal agenda. It’s time to acknowledge that a communal obsession with sex and statistics has created pernicious and damaging norms.” In their article all they are doing is manufacturing a plot that Jewish academia just created a crisis as a way to keep Jewish women in their place, linking the rise of the intermarriage crisis with the rise of feminism.
Cultural critic and playwright Rokhl Kafrissen took their argument one step further in her Forward response article “How A #MeToo Scandal Proved What We Already Know: ‘Jewish Continuity’ Is Sexist.” Kafrissen is making the connection between Cohen’s actions against women and linking it to wider sexism in his academic work, making an assumption that his conclusions on intermarriage were a way to control all Jewish women. Kafrissen writes, “These allegations compel us to ask how deeply are Cohen’s sexist attitudes and allegedly abusive behaviors embodied in his work?… These latest accusations force us to reckon with the darker, even more problematic, gendered aspects of Cohen’s continuity-driven agenda.” To Kafrissen “It becomes very hard to disentangle the sexism of the alleged abuse from the patriarchal agenda Cohen spent decades pushing.”
Jewish continuity is not barbaric and neither should we discredit Cohen’s academic work because of it. Former State Department Speechwriter, Melissa Langsam Braunstein in her response in the Forward, entitled, “Jewish Continuity Isn’t Sexist — It’s Necessary” sees Cohen’s only problem as the way he treated women. Being rational, Langsam Braunstein argues, “Cohen’s promoting Jewish continuity or in-marriage doesn’t mean that his research data was inherently flawed, or that Jewish continuity isn’t vital. Unlike other major world religions, Jews don’t proselytize. So, by definition, Jewish adults (primarily mothers, but also fathers if we include patrilineal descent) need to procreate if we want to continue to exist. And personally, I’m a fan of survival.” With a high-powered job, Langsam Braunstein sees the importance of Jews in-marrying and having children, and the problem with millennials opting out.
Rosenblatt, Stahl and Corwin Berman and Kafrissen’s arguments reek of assumptions and conspiracy theories. As historians and academics, they know better than to make assumptions, leaping hypothetically to presume that the study of Jewish assimilation and intermarriage was only based on a political and social motivation and agenda, rather than a genuine academic inquiry based on facts. It is a baseless argument to make without proof if their students would hand them in papers with such flimsy arguments they would fail them. While Kafrissen presuming to know what motivated Cohen in his mind with his particular research area is beyond the realm of reason. Admitting his guilt, the only presumption one can make is like other the accused men of the #MeToo movement Cohen enjoyed his position of power, over his female co-workers and colleagues. A professor of mine once said there are two sides to an individual the public and private, Cohen was on the personal side a harasser and on the public side a leading academic.
Rosenblatt, Stahl and Corwin Berman and Kafrissen’s conclusions are the anti-Communist movement and McCarthyism at it is worst, where a possible connection to a movement meant that those accused were trying to infiltrate Communist ideology into every facet of their work. This was point was used particularly against Hollywood screenwriters. Cohen’s studies and work have always been more than just him; he often worked with a partner or in a team, associated and sanctioned by universities, think tanks, Jewish organizations and trusted sources like the Pew Research Center, and his work appeared in every major Jewish publication. Cohen’s conclusions were not assumptions or twisting words or text for meaning but based on statistical information and social science research methodology. To ignore his work is to claim that everyone involved and working on those studies lacked any academic or professional integrity.
A former graduate student assistant of Cohens’ finds it a far stretch to question the integrity of Cohen’s academic work. In the New York Jewish Week response article, “Don’t Dismiss Steven Cohen’s Research” Michelle Shain declares, “Studying fertility is a feminist and a Jewish enterprise.” According to Shain, “There are those who have started declaring Steven’s body of work treif, who want to excise his books from our libraries and purge his insights from Jewish communal discourse. His research on marriage and fertility has come under particularly heavy fire. The idea that studying family formation patterns is sexist, exploitative, patriarchal or misogynistic is simply ludicrous.” Shain concludes there is no correlation to Cohen’s personal behavior and research area, writing, “Helping the Jewish community understand the contemporary context for childbearing is a noble goal that is in no way consistent with sexual predation.”
Just last week, as the Cohen scandal broke, the Knesset passed the Nationality, Jewish-State Law and Conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun was detained for questioning over a marriage he performed outside of the Orthodox auspices. The loudest objections were coming from liberal American Jewry. I wrote an article for The Times of Israel blogs entitled, “Outrage, our Jewish community of contradictions” linking the reaction to liberalism and the problems with assimilation and intermarriage, while comparing the highly different makeup of American and Israeli Jewry. I concluded the “outrage” by American Jewry was because it offended their increasing irreligious lifestyle, and that Israel was right to defend Judaism and Jewish continuity because, who else will since American Jewry has lost their religious guidance.
My article relied heavily on Cohen’s work, yet I caved while mentioning his studies I never mentioned his name, changing my choice of quotes just to avoid the controversy, afraid his burgeoning scandal taints anyone who mentions him in any positive light. I was wrong, just as Rosenblatt, Stahl and Corwin Berman and Kafrissen are for different reasons. Liberal Jewry is trying to justify their behavior too. intermarriage is halachically wrong according to Orthodox Judaism, but Rosenblatt, Stahl and Corwin Berman and Kafrissen are making an illusion to Orthodox as the problem and the threat to Jewish continuity a personal assault of feminism and women’s rights, a political football of liberal versus conservatism rather than good for our entire religion and people. We are Jews, Jewish continuity is part of our belief system, it is one the key messages in a Jewish education, in the day schools, summer camps and even dare I say Birthright Israel, were all studies by Brandeis University’s Leonard Saxe examine success by how much more involved alumni are with Judaism, continuity, and Israel. Take the continuity out of Judaism, and what is there left? Are we self-destructing a 5,000-year-old religious position for political correctness, liberalism and social inclusion for all?
According to the liberal Jewish viewpoint, I am a contradiction; I am a modern Orthodox Jew, a Zionist, and a feminist. I believe in Jewish continuity, I do not see the problem with marrying a fellow Jew and having a Jewish family, being a feminist means having it all on one’s own terms. I think it is empowering to have religious convictions but secular goals. I have done graduate work in Jewish studies, where I studied strong Jewish women left on a home front to combat an enemy some using any means possible, some assimilated, few intermarried, and most did not. This was not in the twentieth century, but the nineteenth deep in the American Civil War, where Jewish women in the Confederate South, often a militant tone to survive against the encroachment of the Northern Yankee soldier. Eugenia Phillips was the epitome of the nineteenth-century feminist, she married a fellow Jew, had nine children, yet stood up to Union General Benjamin the Beast Butler. Jewish history is filled is strong feminists, who did not compromise their religion. Neither do I believe assimilating is going to solve the anti-Semitism problem, which is alive and well. I just had an experience this past week, filled refusal of service as soon as my religion discovered and shylock stereotypes, in the twenty-first century, Montreal, Canada. Equally, I saw how within the Jewish community there was denial and excuses because of the disbelief in my story. We want to believe we are beyond it but we are not, and are arguing for feminism does not erase the fact that the Jewish community is stronger together.
The #MeToo movement has blurred the professional and personal to the extreme, not too long away liberals were the most ardent defenders of separating the two. This year marked the twentieth anniversary of then-President Bill Clinton’s near fall from grace and the presidency over his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, who was at that time in her early twenties. The story consumed his presidency for a full calendar year, still, the public supported him and his numbers barely dipped in the polls at the height of the scandal, and the Democrats gained seats in the 1998-midterm elections unprecedented in a president’s last half of his term. By the time, the House of Representatives conducted their impeachment trial public support for Clinton was at a high. Although the Senate acquitted Clinton, he became the only the second president impeached in American history.
At the time, the investigation into the president was considered a witch hunt by the Republican majority with a conservative agenda, as First Lady Hillary Clinton claimed: “a right-wing conspiracy” trying to destroy the popular president and what he did in private. Defender extraordinaire, attorney and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz even coined the term with a book, “Sexual McCarthyism.” Now the tables have turned and it is the Democrats and liberals in charge of the witch hunt. Recently, in light of the #MeToo movement, there has been a reconsideration of Clinton’s conduct, even his former defenders in the Democratic Party now believe he should have resigned from the presidency for his conduct. Clinton’s comments on a book tour this spring did not help the matter, his defiant claim that he does not need to apologize to Lewinsky led to a backlash, which prompted Clinton to backtrack on his comments.
Liberals are now taking any transgression and looking to eradicate that entire person’s work. Should we stop watching every movie produced by accused rapist Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax films or stop reading, looking and mentioning any other artist’s work, creation, writing, every academic’s studies, or any business or political accomplishments because of their personal behavior? Similar to the way liberals want to eradicate and destroy every Confederate monument and wipe out every pro-slavery persona in American history. One by one, we are banishing the talents of this past century, a finger point, a tweet, a smell of any wrongdoing and gone. Like Roseanne, who make a career of insensitive foul-mouthed comedy, a seemingly racist tweet, and everyone forgets she ever created her successful show; now she no longer exists. Just this past week Disney is repeating their anti-Communist past firing director James Gunn from working on Guardians of the Galaxy 3 because of his past offensive social media posts.
I am not defending anyone’s behavior, but it is going too far, when will it stop, when we boycott everything and everyone that we find offensive? I do not condone Cohen’s behavior neither do I have any sympathy for his fall. I have my #MeToo story from university filled with harassment and intimidation, I have experienced how Jewish males in academia and in superior positions have functioned as gatekeepers, altering my career for the worse with roadblocks, degradation and instilling self-doubt of my abilities. I have experienced in my personal and professional relationships being used to further a man’s career, and there is still one man that constantly pilfers from my writing knowing he can get away it with because of his standing and no one will dare accuse him of plagiarism. Should I too be looking to rid the academic and professional world of these men because of their harassment? That is the #MeToo philosophy everyone is living by now.
We cannot, however, boycott everyone that has wronged, we cannot blacklist everyone and everything that offends; we have to separate the consequences of microaggressions and real aggression. Tarana Burke, who originally created the #MeToo movement before actress Alyssa Milano’s October 2017 tweet believes the movement has gone too far and too wide and should go back to its original purpose. The Atlantic wrote on July 4 in an article entitled, “Is #MeToo Too Big?” claiming, “Burke, the movement’s founder, wants it to return to its original—and specific—purpose: to serve as a counter to sexual violence.”
Author and academic Joanna Williams believes the movement and feminism have gone too far in their actions. Speaking to Canadian CBC News in January, Williams pointed out the negatives. William said, “I think bringing back an age where we have curfews and chaperones and restrictions and single-sex accommodation and an environment where women and men don’t feel comfortable to flirt, to talk to each other, to engage in all kinds of relationships … you know, I think there’s so much that women could potentially lose here.” Williams worries about a “clumsy flirtation” leading to a “black mark” on men. There is more on the line than to be concerned about mere reputation and the end of flirting. As with everything that is overdone, women are risking losing their credibility.
The movement is starting to feel a backlash, and when the men fight back, it all seems like back where women started. In the 1950s, McCarthy fell because his inquiry went too far, creating too much of a hysteria, causing too much damage with a mere accusation. Playwright Arthur Miller inspired by the witch hunt blacklisting his fellow writers and fear of being accused with the lot wrote the play “The Crucible” based on the original American witch hunt in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts. Miller presented the past to give the public a perspective and reality check they needed. We are supposed to learn from history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Americans and American Jewry need a history lesson respectively, that there repercussions to mass hysteria and finger-pointing, and reintroduce themselves to the importance that Judaism is rooted in its history and traditions unless by the time they get the reality check they have had erased it all.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.