The Moral Bankruptcy of Reform’s Religious Action Center

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) is the “social justice” arm of the American Reform movement (it has a parallel organization here in Israel, the IRAC). Although it claims to be “completely non-partisan,” if you look at the issues that the RAC is interested in, you will find that they are exactly the same ones that occupy the progressive wing of the Democratic party: immigration, minimum wage, climate change, LGBTQ rights, the 2-state solution, abortion, gun control, separation of church and state, antisemitism (from the Right) and of course “Islamophobia.”

This is not news. The Reform movement was created in 19th century Germany in the hope of easing the acceptance of Jews into the larger society. The promise of emancipation made in the early part of the century had not been fulfilled, and Jews were still severely discriminated against unless they converted to Christianity. So the reformers changed or eliminated practices that made Jews stand out, including distinctive clothing, religious services on Saturday, kashrut, and more. But the intention was not to assimilate but rather to prevent assimilation. The hope was that German society would then become more tolerant and grant Reform Jews the same rights as their Christian neighbors, while allowing them to remain Jewish.

As the movement developed over the years in America, the focus became different. American Jews in the 19th century did not face the same kind of pressure as European Jews. In America the problem was a lack of Jewish knowledge and education. The founders of the movement were formerly traditionally observant, knew how to pray in Hebrew, and had a many scholars among them. Most Eastern European immigrants to the US around the turn of the 20th century brought some traditional background with them from Europe. But many members of the post-WWII generation of American Jews, busy becoming Americans – although still very conscious of being Jews – did not have the tools to be traditionally observant. The Reform movement was a good fit for them.

But by the 1960s, it became clear that something had been taken out of the Judaism they were practicing. When the ritual went away, so did the spirituality. There were numerous Jews who turned to Eastern religions like Buddhism in search of something transcending the mundane. At the same time, many Jewish liberals were active in the civil rights movement, and some even became involved in more radical political activity.  The idea developed that some of the political fervor could be brought into the temples, to fill the vacuum. After all, there are “social” commandments and a prophetic tradition in Judaism which can be emphasized to compensate for the de-emphasis of the “ritual” commandments. And so what has come to be called “tikkun olam Judaism” arrived, whose basic ethical principles coincided more or less with those of liberal Protestantism and secular humanism, and in which “social action” replaced Jewish ritual.

At the same time, Reform Judaism became more accessible to non-Jews. Reform Judaism accepted a child as Jewish if either the mother or father were Jewish, as long as the child received a certain amount of (Reform) Jewish education. Conversion classes were offered to non-Jewish spouses or others who wanted to become Jews; the students learned some Jewish history (from the Reform perspective), they learned about observing the major holidays, and a few Hebrew songs – and it was explained to them that Judaism had moved beyond old-fashioned ritual, and was now concerned primarily with moral issues. Since most of these converts were already liberals, they felt very comfortable with the tikkun olam Judaism that they were taught.

The removal of the differences between Jews and non-Jews caused by the de-emphasis of ritual commandments helped accelerate the amount of intermarriage in the Reform world, so that today something like 50% of married Reform Jews have a non-Jewish spouse (among all non-Orthodox Jews, including those who are secular, the rate is close to 70%).

In part because of the universalist, anti-nationalist strain in the secular humanistic ethics of tikkun olam Judaism, and perhaps also because of the increasing number of converts and non-Jews (spouses that chose not to convert) in the Reform population, there is a weaker connection to the Jewish people as a whole. If you ask an orthodox Jew what the primary attributes of his identity are, he will almost always say that the highest priority is that he is a Jew. An American Reform Jew might be almost as likely to place something else first, like their American identity, their political creed, or even their profession.

The feeling of peoplehood is considered atavistic among liberals, including Jewish liberals. Sometimes they place themselves so far above it, that they actively disdain those Jews that do have a strong connection to their people, either through traditional observance or Zionism.

So it was not surprising to me to read that the RAC had invited to speak at its recent “Consultation on Conscience” a man who had been an active antisemite, an enemy of the Jewish people, someone who had actually incited violence against Jews on more than one occasion, Al Sharpton.

Sharpton has never admitted that he did more than “say cheap things to get cheap applause,” but the three-day long Crown Heights riot that he inflamed in 1991 was arguably the closest thing to a pogrom America has ever seen.

Sharpton, styles himself a version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but he does not deserve to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as the nonviolent civil rights leader. And yet, because he represents himself as a spokesman for one of the “oppressed” groups that progressive Democrats see as part of their coalition, they are able to ignore the anti-Jewish acts for which he never apologized.  This is because they identify more closely with the progressive movement – although this movement rejects them as “white” and takes the side of the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel – than they do with the Orthodox Jews of Chabad, who were the victims of the Crown Heights riot.

Indeed, after expressions of outrage from Orthodox rabbis and relatives of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Chabad student that was stabbed to death during the Crown Heights riots, RAC clearly expressed its solidarity with progressivism against the Jewish people. In the words of Rabbi Jonah Pesner, RAC director:

That there are members of our Crown Heights family and our Chabad family that are in pain over this actually creates a lot of pain for us, and we’re sorry about that…

At this moment — when children are being separated from their parents at the border, and Jews are being murdered in the synagogues, and people of color are being gunned down in their churches, and people in mosques are being firebombed — we need to stand together, and Reverend Sharpton has stood with us these past couple of years.

Pesner hit all the progressive notes, including the obligatory swipe at President Trump’s immigration policy and the nod to the must-mention issue of “Islamophobia.”

But for his Jewish brothers in Chabad, whose blood has never been avenged (the stabber of Rosenbaum was acquitted of murder in a series of trials reminiscent of those that acquitted murderers of civil rights workers in the South, and ultimately spent 10 years in jail on federal civil rights charges), Pesner only has these words: “Sorry about that.”

Posted in American Jews | 1 Comment

More worries for American Jews

Dr. Guy Bechor is an Israeli political and legal analyst who specializes in the Middle East. He often appears on Israeli television and his articles are found in various newspapers and websites; however, much of it is not translated into English.

This interview (video with subtitles and transcript), in which he focuses on the predicament of American Jews, is an exception. His argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. Most US Jews joined Roosevelt’s minority coalition in the 1930s, which cemented their bond with the Democratic party.
  2. Demographic change – a decline in the relative number of Jews compared to blacks, Hispanics, and now especially Muslims – has made them less influential in the party.
  3. Some members of the other minorities in the coalition – for example, Muslims like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, as well as some blacks that admire Louis Farrakhan, have expressed themselves in antisemitic – not just anti-Zionist – ways. The party, apparently having made its calculation of the relative number of votes involved, did not support the Jews against them. This came as a shock to many liberal Jews.
  4. At the same time, extreme anti-Zionist positions, including support for BDS and even terrorism against Israel have become a requirement for “progressive” credentials. “They hate Israel,” Bechor says.
  5. A few Jews have responded by moving to the Republican party. Some others don’t know what to do and have taken a break from politics. And some have chosen to join the progressive bloc that now dominates the Democratic party.
  6. Those in this third group have adopted the extreme anti-Zionist position of that bloc. They had no choice – it is a requirement to be accepted (Bechor compares this to the pressure for European Jews in the 19th century to convert to Christianity).
  7. They have placed themselves in the forefront of the movement against Trump and his supporters. Many Trump supporters understandably see a “Jewish conspiracy” against the president.
  8. This also feeds the violent antisemitism of the extreme right, who find Jewish names in all of the progressive causes that they despise, and then attack the most obvious manifestations of Judaism, like synagogues and Chabad houses (but see my remark below).
  9. Jews no longer have a safe home in America. Both the Left and the Right despise them.

Bechor continues, saying that American Jews have “brought this on themselves” by embracing progressive causes. I disagree. The anti-Jewish extreme Left and Right will hate Jews regardless of what they do; this is the nature of antisemitism, and it has always been so. However, it is true that when Jews join the extreme Left, they alienate non-antisemitic American conservatives that might otherwise support them.

He goes as far as calling prominent progressive voices like Peter Beinart, Thomas Friedman, The NY Times, J Street, and so on, “our [Israel’s] enemy” who are “more dangerous to Israel than Iran.” They are perhaps not dangerous at the present time, when the American administration is pro-Israel, but when the Democrats regain control of the government – which at some point they will – one can expect anti-Israel policies such as were followed during the Obama Administration, or worse. And they will have the full support of Jewish progressives and media like the NY Times.

Bechor expects that the position of the Jews – caught between the Right, the Left, and the Muslims – in America will worsen quickly, as it has in Europe, and they will have no place to go except Israel. And he expects that the tepid reaction to antisemitic expression on the Left in the public sphere will send a message that it’s acceptable. He compares the Democratic Party to Labour in the UK, which is hemorrhaging Jews and decent people as a result of the antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn and his followers.

Bechor advocates that Israel seek support among the Evangelical Christians in America, who strongly support Israel (although there are efforts underway in the US to end this support).

He notes that Israel’s Law of Return includes the provision that a visa may be denied to a person who

(1) is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or
(2) is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State.

He thinks BDS supporters among progressive Jews fit this definition. I do too, but as you will see, I don’t expect that many of them will want to come to Israel.

***

Predicting another Holocaust gets people’s attention, but history never repeats itself in precisely the same way. America today isn’t Germany of 1938, and American Jews aren’t European Jews. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is not a disaster that will cause American Jews to flee to Israel en masse. Yes, antisemitism will continue to increase. Street violence against identifiable Jews, attacks on synagogues and other Jewish institutions, and the prevalence of anti-Jewish stereotypes and discrimination will all become more common. But barring a literally revolutionary change in government, it’s impossible for me to imagine that the institutions of the state will ever encourage or even turn a blind eye to violent manifestations of Jew-hatred. There will be no purges and no Nuremberg laws. It will not become impossible for a Jew to live in America. Things will get worse, but Jews will get used to it. They always have.

At the same time, the current process of cultural extinction of non-Orthodox Jews will continue, thanks to their below-replacement birthrate and an intermarriage rate near 70%. The problem of antisemitism will soon become moot for them, because even those that still identify as Jewish will be barely distinguishable from non-Jews. The members of “If Not Now” will not be beating on the gates of the Jewish state to enter, because they will be just another anti-Israel organization. Nobody will care if their grandparents were Jews.

For Orthodox Jews, today about 10% of American Jews, I expect that there will be increased friction with non-Jewish neighbors, who will continue to harass them as well as oppose the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods. Densely populated Jewish neighborhoods, reminiscent of European ghettos, will come into existence. Some Orthodox Jews may go to Israel, while non-Zionist factions will have no option but to concentrate in rural or urban areas that they will fortify however they can.

The Golden Age of American Jewry, which I somewhat arbitrarily designate as the period from the end of WWII in 1945 to the Pittsburgh Massacre of 2019, is over, although many American Jews haven’t noticed. Jewish history will continue, but its center will be here in Israel. Where it belongs.

Posted in American Jews, American society, Jew Hatred | 2 Comments

What’s in the Future for European Jews

If American Jews are going to have it tough in the future, things look worse for Europeans.

The recent attempted murder of a Jewish woman in Sweden, apparently committed by a Muslim man “known to the police” and possibly motivated by antisemitism, brings up yet again the question of whether Jews are safe in Europe.

They aren’t – but neither are non-Jewish native Europeans.

For Jews, it isn’t a problem. They have a country, whether they like it or not. It is here waiting for them. Europeans, on the other hand, are stuck where they are, especially if they want to preserve their historic cultures. There are too many of them to go to America or Australia, even if they wanted to.

The massive migration of people from non-European cultures, especially Muslims, into Europe, threatens to overwhelm the native cultures. Some may think that these natives deserve what they are getting, considering their history of colonialism and genocide, but nevertheless there is great value in what has been accomplished by the West over the centuries since the Middle Ages, and it would be a pity to see it become like the countries of the Middle East and Africa, with their kleptocratic identity politics and general barbarism.

This position is anathema to most educated Westerners, who tend to believe that treating everyone equally is a fundamental moral value. They believe that the migrant from Somalia should have exactly the same rights and receive the same treatment as the native Swede or Briton, sometimes even receiving extra benefits to compensate for a lower socioeconomic starting point.

Looking at the situation from the standpoint of an individual, it is hard to disagree. Nothing justifies discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or national origin (I am deliberately leaving out ‘race’ because I see this concept as cognitively meaningless and emotionally loaded). But it’s different to consider the impact of a mass of individuals from a different, and possibly inferior (yes, I said that) culture.

As an example, there are cultures where rape is rare, and there are cultures in which it is commonplace. If you introduce a large number of individuals from the latter kind of culture into the former, you will have a problem. This is not an abstract example. There has been a marked increase in the number of rapes in Sweden correlated with the growth of the migrant population (although precise numbers are hard to come by because so many are not reported and the conviction rate is so low).

Crime, especially sexual crime, gets people’s attention, but there are many other aspects of non-European migrant groups that are as problematic or more, such as a political culture of identity politics and corruption. Add to this the prevalence of radical Islamism, which advocates the replacement of democratic regimes with shari’a-based theocracies. Islamist organizations and individuals frequently commit terrorist acts, which makes the impact of a culture clash greater.

It is a fundamental principle of Islamic shari’a that Muslims have more legal rights than non-Muslims. Some Muslims believe that this gives them the “right” to victimize non-Muslims, increasing friction between groups of Muslim migrants and native Europeans.

There are also highly violent and less violent cultures. Here in Israel we are very familiar with the hyper-violent Palestinian Arab culture, which often expresses itself by random stabbings of Jews or honor killings of Palestinian women.

Some people dogmatically insist that it is a moral axiom that no culture is superior to any other. I suspect that the reason they say this is that they are conflating this with the legitimate principle that no individual can be prejudged to be superior to any other individual. When one considers a large group of individuals, however, statistical considerations make it possible to draw conclusions – not about particular individuals, but about the group as a whole.

Saying this would get me banned or shouted down at many Western universities. And I haven’t even brought up the possibility – no, the certainty – that some “cultural” properties are actually genetic.

One of my favorite examples is the fact that statistically speaking, Kenyans are good long-distance runners. Whether or not there are social factors involved, it’s certainly true that to a great extent they are born that way. We know that a great deal of human nature and abilities is genetically determined. Why shouldn’t groups of people that share a gene pool have similar behavioral characteristics?

Immigration into Europe is slowing since it peaked at about 1 million in 2015. But due to the low birth rates of native Europeans (the overall rate in the EU is 1.6, far below the replacement rate of 2.1), it may be too late to do anything to prevent the collapse of native European societies, and their transformation into something more like the culture of the migrants. And if it is going to be bad for the natives, it will be even worse for the Jews.

I would advise European Jews to make aliyah. Not only because you’re likely to be physically more secure than in Sweden or the UK or France – you could still be stabbed to death here by a terrorist or blown up by a rocket from Hamas or Hezbollah – but because here you can be spiritually secure. Unlike in Europe, you don’t have to feel the existential anxiety of living where you do not belong and are not wanted. This might be part of the reason the Jewish birthrate in Israel is about twice as high as that in Europe.

Israel is not close to a perfect society, but it’s yours, even if it doesn’t seem so welcoming once you get here. The fact that there is a state belonging to the Jewish people, dedicated to the ingathering of the exiles, where every Jewish person has an irrevocable right to live, is nothing less than miraculous.

Posted in Europe, Islam, Jew Hatred | 1 Comment

What’s in the future for American Jews

One of the favorite myths of American antisemites – of both the left and right – is that the Jews push America into wars for the sake of Israel, or for the sake of the Rothschild fortune*, or both. Take this newly-announced candidate for the US Congress, for example.

So President Trump’s recent tough talk about Iran is red meat for antisemites. Nevertheless, Trump is right to pressure Iran to end its nuclear program. If you are the US President, and a country that chants “Death to America” every day several times before breakfast is clearly developing nuclear weapons (despite a worthless “deal”), the rational thing to do is make them stop, right? How hard is this?

OK, Obama didn’t agree, but then … never mind. I’m talking about today.

Trump is being accused of dragging America into war, and Israel – and by extension the Jews – are dragging trump. That is precisely the point of the hateful antisemitic cartoon that created such a furor when it appeared in the NY Times International Edition recently:

I am sure PM Netanyahu and a majority of Israelis, me included, would be happy to see the US destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. The US has the power to do it, and Israel would doubtless offer to help.

But this doesn’t imply that the US would be doing it on behalf of Israel, or even more so, on behalf of the Jews. The US, as a general rule – like other nations – does what it does to advance its interests. In this case American self-interest includes protecting itself and its allies, as well as preventing the rise of a hostile caliphate in the Near East, and keeping Iran from taking control of a big chunk of the world’s oil supply.

Saudi Arabia has as much or more influence in the US than Israel, and has had a “special relationship” with the US since February, 1945, when Franklin Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud on board a Navy destroyer in the Suez Canal. Indeed, when the Saudis went head-to-head with the vaunted “Israel lobby” over the sale of AWACS airborne warning and control systems aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1981, Israel lost.

The Saudis, who are presently fighting Iran in a proxy war in Yemen, are perhaps even more worried about Iran than Israel is. But that is less interesting to those who want to blame the Jews.

A conflict with Iran could result in attacks on American bases in the region – there are more of these than you may think – or terrorism against the homeland. If this were to happen, there’s no doubt that it would be used as an excuse for anti-Jewish acts. It’s ironic that even those Jews that supported the Iran deal, hate Trump, and have no connection whatever to Israel, would find themselves targeted (ironic, yes, but it serves them right).

This is something that today’s American Jews are not ready for. Having grown up during the Golden Age of American Jewry, they are not expecting irrational, unfair treatment. They are not expecting the kind of crazy conspiracy theories that blame the Jews for 9/11 to become mainstream. They are not expecting their ideas and opinions to be discounted because they come from Jews, their children rejected from elite schools – or admitted, and then tormented and threatened there. They are not expecting to be cursed or even knocked down in the street if they look Jewish, something that seems to happen on a daily basis now in New York City.

Most do not understand, yet, that every Jew is responsible for every other Jew, and that – as someone recently said – “when visibly Jewish people are victimized, then every Jewish person is victimized.” And finally, they almost never realize that, whatever they think about it, the Jewish state – not Brooklyn and not Los Angeles – is the center of the Jewish world.

But they will learn. Either the US will follow the courageous policy of the Trump Administration and confront and defeat its enemies (who are also the enemies of Western civilization overall), or it will return to the cowardly strategy of appeasement and obsequiousness of the previous administration.

Either way, the Jews will be in the middle and it will be hard for them. And they will either learn to stick together and fight against the antisemites, or they will save themselves by giving up their Jewishness, insofar as this will protect them (it didn’t during the Nazi period).

What’s changed in the last two millennia or so?
—————————————————–
* Full disclosure: My daughter is married to a Rothschild. They both work and are saving up to buy their own apartment. Apparently he is not one of those Rothschilds.

Posted in American Jews, American politics, Iran, Jew Hatred, War | 1 Comment

They want to win. Do we?

Earlier this week I wrote a long article explaining why dealing with Gaza is such a difficult task, and describing a solution in general terms (short answer: a massive blow to force Hamas to disarm, followed by a “light” military occupation).

I thought that this time – after all, for once we have an American administration in our corner – it would be different, this time the IDF would follow through, and do more than just “mow the grass.” Bibi was talking tough, armored forces were poised at the border, and, after all we had just absorbed some 690 rockets, $14 million in damage, and four dead Israelis.

But I was wrong. We barely trimmed the weeds, with the IDF ordered to end the fighting before the Memorial Day and  Independence Day celebrations this week, and the Eurovision song contest which will begin next Tuesday in Tel Aviv. In particular it is being reported that the IDF was forced to “give up on striking Hamas’ long range missile storage facilities,” which seems to me remarkably counter-productive if one wants to prevent disruption of events in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Some kind of ceasefire deal was reached, which probably means that Israel must facilitate the transfer of millions of dollars to Hamas from Qatar, and who knows what other concessions.

Government officials insisted that nothing was less important to their decisions than Eurovision. But of course, nothing was more important.

Bibi and the others are absolutely aching to present Israel as an advanced European or North American style country, a country where (perhaps unlike the Europe or America of today) the chance of terrorism or war is minuscule, and where we put on massively excessive spectacles like Eurovision as a matter of course.

This isn’t true. We are a small country that has been at war since 1948, where successive negligent governments have allowed dangerous terrorist proxies of our enemies to flourish on our borders, and where terrorism and flare-ups of violence happen on a regular basis. We are not quite the first-world country we aspire to be, either (you can see this in the poorer neighborhoods of our cites or the so-called “periphery”).

Do you get the feeling I think we have our priorities wrong? You’re right.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad organization understand the reasons for our reluctance to engage with them: because we fear a wider multi-front war, because we don’t appear to have a satisfactory plan for Gaza if Hamas collapses, and because we don’t want to be embarrassed by terrorism during – or even aimed at – Eurovision. So they made their demands and we gave in. Call it extortion or call it jizya, but they got what they wanted.

The residents of Sderot and other communities near Gaza have been remarkably patient as this happens over and over. It has been going on for decades: the first rockets were launched at Sderot in 2001, and the attacks increased in frequency after Israel abandoned the Strip in 2005, and still more after the Hamas coup in 2007. Every few months the residents’ lives are massively disrupted. Their children – who have been insecure since birth – are suffering from PTSD. It’s remarkable that so few families have fled. How long can we expect them to be patient? Of course it is hard to get a fair price for a home in the region, so maybe many of them not only feel anxious, they feel trapped.

And the zone of conflict is growing as Hamas and Islamic Jihad improve their rockets and increase their range. It used to be only Sderot and the local kibbutzim and moshavim, and now it is as often Ashkelon, where two of the four deaths – murders – occurred this week. They have rockets that can reach Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, although there are fewer of them. Today.

The government tells us that yes, it’s terrible, especially for those who have lost family members, but it’s not existential. And look at how many people are killed every year in traffic accidents. Meanwhile there are so many reasons that nothing can be done now; but we have a plan and it will be implemented real soon.

No. Enough. The most basic obligation of a government under the social contract is to protect its citizens, and they aren’t doing it. Don’t tell me that it is impossible. Why are the barbarians of Hamas and Islamic Jihad able to outthink us, to put us in a trap that we can’t escape? Do we have the wrong generals? The wrong government? Are all the smart people in high-tech? Is the problem, as some say, that every commander must have a lawyer by his side? We are stronger, we have an air force that is qualitatively the best in the world, we have a fleet of drones, tanks, the best weapons in the world. Why can’t we fix this?

Well, here is one possible reason. It’s illustrated by this recent news item.

Tuesday night will begin Israel’s Memorial Day for 23,741 fallen soldiers and terror victims with a ceremony in Jerusalem. This is a deeply moving event for Israelis, since there are few families that have not lost a friend or family member to war or terrorism.

An organization called “Combatants for Peace” (CFP) organized an “Alternative Memorial Day” event in which both Israelis and Palestinians from the territories who lost relatives in the conflict will mourn them together. CFP is funded almost entirely by foreign contributions, from the American New Israel Fund, and German and Swiss groups.

The implication is that there’s no moral difference. Someone who is shot to death trying to stab a random Jew in the street is a victim of the conflict, just like the Jew he stabs. The Palestinian who is killed when he plows into people waiting at a bus stop deserves the same respect as the ones he murders.

Unsurprisingly, many Israelis find it obscene to equate fallen soldiers, police officers, and terror victims with the Palestinian terrorists that murdered them. PM Netanyahu rejected a request for entry permits to allow Palestinians to enter the country for the ceremony. He cited security reasons, but I suspect that he felt that national self-respect required it.

The Supreme Court, in response to a petition from CFP, overruled the PM and ordered the government to grant 100 permits.

The members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad want to win. They want to kill Jews and eliminate the Jewish state. They want this with all their hearts.

Do we want to survive as much as they want to destroy us?

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Society, Terrorism, War | 4 Comments