Why the tepid Reform endorsement of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism?

Unlike Americans for Peace Now, J Street and the Workmen’s Circle or what is left of it (no pun intended) America’s Reform Movement is – for the moment – reluctantly endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism which describes when anti-Israel activity turns into anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the Reform Movement opposes its codification in law, and cautions that the IHRA definition’s examples “could divert attention from the threat of far-right anti-Semitism”.

That the Reform Movement endorses the definition at all, however reluctantly, is understandable. What money is coming into the movement, especially in the form of legacies, is old money; from old people that is. While dwindling in numbers, these generous donors are of a generation that took pride in the establishment and survival of the State of Israel. The memory of the Holocaust is still part of their consciousness as Jews. And they take comfort in the fact that the grandchildren of their Israeli peers will, unlike their own, most likely remain Jewish.

However, this elderly generation of American Zionist stalwarts will be gone in the very foreseeable future. A younger generation of Reform rabbis, and their congregants, weaned on a universalist dogma of tikkun olam, are surely champing at their bit to scuttle any endorsement of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. And not because “it could divert attention from far right anti-Semitism”, but because it could deprive them of their own freedom to target Israel, indeed to define their own progressive Jewish bona fides by way of hostility to the Jewish state.

A close examination of the attitude of the younger generation of Reform rabbis offers little reason to be optimistic about any meaningful support for Israel. For the most part – as is true for J Street – their Zionism is defined by constant criticism, virtue signaling, and active support for Israel’s Palestinian adversaries. They do not seem to view Israel as even tangential to their idea of American Jewish life. They do little or nothing to promote unity between the Jewish communities of Israel and the diaspora. When, as rabbinical students, they are (still) required to spend a year in Israel, they prefer to hang out at cafes and bars in the Palestinian capital of Ramallah.

There is good reason to be pessimistic about any long-term prospects for liberal Jewish denominations in America. But what is truly worrisome is what activity these movements will be engaged in until their formal demise by way of assimilation, intermarriage, and spiritual apathy.

As the Reform, and other liberal denominations, become increasingly inseparable, and indistinguishable, from the post-modern ethos of intersectionalism, they feel pressured to pledge their troth to the entire gamut of intersectional causes – from Black Lives Matter to BDS. The very definition of intersectionalism does not allow for any cherry-picking. In this universe you must hate what I hate. In exchange I promise to hate what you hate.

America’s college campuses are under the control of leftwing academics who teach intolerance for anything that does not conform to neo-Marxist dogma. Cancel-culture is rampant. Most Jewish students want to be a part of what is happening. And we all know how Israel is viewed on the American university campus today.

Young Reform rabbis are a product of this environment and this thinking. The very term “tikkun olam” is, for them, synonymous with intersectionalism. The last thing they want is to advocate any Jewish particularism, and nothing is more Jewishly particularistic than Zionism and Israel.

For us as Israelis this should be terrifying. For it is one thing when secular organizations militate against Israel. Such organizations can be legitimately viewed as anti-Semitic. But when major Jewish religious movements take up the anti-Israel cause they not only destroy any familial relationship with the Jewish State but they provide a strong tail wind to every anti-Semitic effort by the left.

A brilliant teacher of mine and  a devout Catholic, Professor Alice Jourdain, once told our class; “There is no more dangerous anti-Semite than an ignorant Jew.” That was over 50 years ago. How absolutely prescient.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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