|If I am not for myself who will be for me?
By Matthew M. Hausman and Ted Belman
Recently, a group of left-wing Jews created a new organization and called it, Jewish Canadians Concerned about Suppression of Criticism of Israel. Evidently, they were upset that B'nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress attempted to suppress their criticism of Israel on the basis that the people who organize Israel Apartheid Week or support an academic boycott of Israel are anti-Semites. They believed that this serves to deflect attention from "Israel's flagrant violations of international humanitarian law."
It issued a statement which included the following;
One-hundred and fifty prominent Jewish intellectuals signed on. One must ask why they were so quick to condemn Israel based on what "many have called war crimes," particularly after such claims were largely debunked.
Leaving the charge of antisemitism aside, what motivates these Jews to be front and center in the attack on Israel?
As we know, many Jews openly align with the aspirations and narrative of the Palestinians and work actively to bring about the end of the Jewish state. Included among them are the likes of Finklestein, Chomsky, Gordon and Pappe. For them Zionism is racism.
Not all Jews on the Left are so radical.
Jewish Voice for Peace describes itself as "a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights." Its members believe that:
Israel must end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, completely withdraw from these Occupied Territories and relinquish all its settlements, military outposts and by-pass roads.
Jerusalem has to be shared in a manner that reflects its spiritual, economic, and political importance to both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as to all Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The plight of Palestinian refugees needs to be resolved equitably and in a manner that promotes peace and is consistent with international law. Within the framework of an equitable agreement, the refugees should have a role in determining their future, whether pursuing return, resettlement, or financial compensation. Israel should recognize its share of responsibility for the ongoing refugee crisis and for its resolution.
Thus, they consider Israel to be wholly responsible for the lack of peace. History suggests otherwise, but they aren't concerned with objective history. Nor are they concerned with Israel's legal claim to the "Occupied territories" or its superior claim to Jerusalem or the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Israel Policy Forum is another "progressive" group whose "core beliefs are that:
2) resolving these conflicts is in the strategic, national interest of the United States."
Nothing wrong in holding such views, but to argue that what's good for America is good for Israel, as this group does, is a bit of a stretch. Furthermore, this group has no regard for what the Jewish Israelis want and vote for.
J Street, which was recently formed as an alternative to AIPAC, proclaims that it "is the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. We believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole" and that such a goal requires "meaningful American leadership." In other words, J Street advocates for America to force a solution on Israel. To clear some space for themselves in the Jewish kaleidoscope, the J Streeters began "The Battle to redefine "Pro-Israel."
Who are these people, what motivates them, why do they think they are morally superior to the "settlers" or nationalistic Jews who want to fight for their rights? Apparently, they prefer to fight for the rights of the other.
Common Ideological Threads
The common thread binding the platforms of these progressive groups is that they put Jewish self-interest second to Arab interests, which raises numerous interesting questions. Can a Jew politically identify with the left and remain committed to Jewish ideals? Is left-wing belief antithetical to the continued safety and existence of the Jewish People and the State of Israel? Can one be a committed progressive and an identified Jew? Can one criticize Israel without appearing antisemitic? These are all legitimate questions and troubling for the progressive mainstream.
Some radical leftist Jews acknowledge that their politics contravene traditional Jewish beliefs but justify their positions as a rejection of those beliefs in order to atone for past collective sins allegedly committed in the name of Jewish particularism. Yet, most non-radical progressives, such as those groups above, scoff when accused of ignorance or self-hatred, arguing instead that their actions are legitimate expressions of tikkun olam. The extreme radicals are troubling but easy to analogize to apostates of past ages whose personal issues took them away from the Jewish people. But the more moderate progressive are more alarming because they claim to embrace Jewish social values and specifically invoke tikkun olam, although their expression of the concept deviates dramatically from the traditional view.
"Secular" Tikkun Olam
In progressive circles, the concept of tikkun olam, or "repairing of the world," refers to social action, but in practice is divorced from its original spiritual and mystical roots. For progressives, repairing the world in and of itself is the spiritual endgame, not part of a greater process predicated on Jewish self-awareness and reliance on traditional values. Indeed, the mission statement of the Tikkun Institute headed by Michael Lerner states as follows:
Our analysis will draw from the wisdom of the world's spiritual traditions, as well as the insights of contemporary social science, to generate ideas that will help to achieve greater care and depth in our nation's public discourse and policies.
We will also work to understand and counter the sources of personal and political alienation that lie at the root of most destructive activity, and ultimately represent the biggest threat to our collective security.
The Jewish left clearly eschews all Jewish parochial concerns in favor of universal utopianism.
Conspicuously absent from this mission statement is any mention of core Jewish values, despite great care given to emphasize the "emotional and spiritual dimensions of life." Ironically, the spirituality implied here is not religiously based, but rather is identified with social and political paradigms arising from the social and intellectual foment of 1960s radicalism and more current "New Age" sensibilities. The spirituality implied by the foregoing statement is of a uniquely secular nature. The Tikkun Institute is perhaps more radical than progressive groups such as J Street, but its concept of tikkun olam is similar in its focus on "repairing the world" without giving voice to the spiritual underpinnings.
Although secular progressive tikkun olam devotees do not see themselves as self-haters or even necessarily as bad Jews, they are either unaware of the spiritual nature of tikkun olam or are committed to supplanting it with secular values to avoid any appearance of Jewish insularity. They attempt to accentuate the universal while rejecting the parochial. But social action devoid of its religious mandate is not truly tikkun olam, and can never be advanced as the pure expression of Jewish values. Moreover, there is nothing inherent in the concept of tikkun olam that requires its practitioners to ignore Jewish-self interest, particularly when it involves the safety and security of Israel.
Common among the groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street and Israel Policy Forum is their willingness to sacrifice the safety and security of Israeli Jews for whom they have no standing to speak. There is nothing in the concept of tikkun olam that permits the sacrifice of fellow Jews to enemies who have consistently rejected the rights of Jews to govern themselves in their homeland, and who continue to act on their rejectionism.
What is True Tikkun Olam?
The term "mipnei tikkun ha-olam" in the Mishna incorporates advocacy on behalf of the disadvantaged in fulfillment of the mitzvot governing the Jew's responsibility for his fellow man. The mystical purpose of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is to ingather the "divine sparks" said to have been scattered throughout the universe at creation. This "ingathering" is to be effectuated through the understanding, contemplation and performance of the commandments. Many of these commandments require Jews to be responsible for others, but no less important are those dealing with the Jew's responsibility to live and act as a Jew. The ultimate purpose is not simply to repair the world, but to restore an equilibrium in which the Jews' presence is essential.
Whether one believes in the mystical aspects, traditional Judaism holds that Jews are responsible for acts of righteousness and kindness, as evidenced by the biblical injunctions to leave ungleaned the four corners of the fields, to show care and kindness to the widow, the orphan and the stranger, and to redeem the captive. Despite their responsibility for others, however, Jews are also expected to maintain their character as individuals and their identity as a people without whom there would be nobody to promote the universal aspects of the Torah. In order to engage in good works in accordance with the Torah's teachings, Jews must also observe its particularistic aspects, or those elements that keep them identifiable as a people and focused on the meaning and purpose of mitzvot.
This bifurcated concept of self was most famously articulated by Hillel who said: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Secular Jewish progressives often misquote Hillel to justify their rejection of the "self" for the benefit of the "other." The progressive element is willing to ignore the rights of the Jews in favor of the needs of others, and to put Israel's needs second to the perceived desires of the Palestinian Arabs. In the eyes of these people, favoring Israel's needs and history would constitute the triumph of parochialism over universalism in violation of Hillel's dictum. However, this attitude evidences a gross misinterpretation of Hillel's statement.
A more informed interpretation of the sage's words is that Jews are first obligated to understand who they are and what is expected of them as Jews before they can know their place in the world and the purpose of their mission. If they cease observing that which makes them a unique people, they ultimately lose their sense of mission and their ability to engage in repairing the world. That is, one cannot fulfill a universal mission if he denies his particular needs and obligations. Those who disagree need only look to world history to see what happens in socialist or communist regimes, borne of revolutions supposedly motivated by demand for social justice, which without exception have led to totalitarianism and suppression of dissent.
J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and Israel Policy Forum have probably convinced themselves that they are acting on the Jewish imperative to "repair the world," albeit solely through secular efforts. And in support of their understanding, they often point to liberal religious leaders who have proclaimed that progressive political agendas reflect intrinsically Jewish values. Or, they cite the historical overrepresentation of Jews in liberal or left-wing political movements to show an affinity between those movements and Jewish ideals.
Yet, progressive ideals do not inherently reflect Jewish values, and left-wing movements historically have been hostile to Jewish religion, culture and national aspirations. None of this is relevant to radicalized groups such as Tikkun or the Network of Spiritual Progressives, for whom even atheism does not bar admission to their spiritual enclave. Neither is it relevant to the more moderate progressives of J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and Israel Policy Forum, who are intent on promoting their views as the authentic voice of the Jewish mainstream. What these progressive groups have done is to rewrite the terminology and recast the concept, and then claim that their particular agenda speaks for the best interests of the Jewish people here and in Israel. Their logic is circular, however, because their support of the Palestinian narrative can only be justified within the articulated parameters they themselves created.
In order to advance their agenda, these groups have defined a politically correct "pro-Israel" view which they claim to be a viable alternative to AIPAC. J-Street's revisionist definition of "pro-Israel" policy, though, is based on a two-state solution in which bi-nationalism would be an acceptable scenario.
In order to claim that this position indeed constitutes pro-Israel advocacy, these groups conveniently ignore the history of past partitions of the Palestine Mandate, including the illegal creation of Jordan by the British, as well as Arab rejectionism before and after 1967. Likewise, they ignore the failure of the Palestinians to lobby for their own state when the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, and pretend that Islam itself poses no problem for the dhimmi who reside within its midst.
Are any of these scenarios consistent with Israel's concern for security and maintaining her Jewish character? Certainly not; but by redefining Israel's reality from the armchair comfort of North America, these so-called advocates can proclaim themselves "pro-Israel" within the context of their politically-skewed, self-created paradigm.
Ironically, there seems to be plenty of room in this paradigm for those who consider themselves "post-Zionist" or "anti-Zionist," but not for those who adhere to Zionist principles. Just as ironically, there is never any discussion that anti-Zionism is indeed antisemitism, because it denies the right of the Jews, of all the peoples in the world, to control their own destiny in their historic homeland. In other words, only the Jews are not entitled to national liberation.
Nevertheless, none of this means that truly committed Jewish progressives are automatically self-hating rejectionists. Those who identify as progressives but don't know their history may very well have no legitimate frame of reference for measuring their affiliations or evaluating their jaundiced views of Israel as a Jewish state. If Israel truly were a colonial power or an apartheid state, they might even have some legitimate points of criticism. But objective analysis shows that Israel is neither of those things. Thus, the litmus test for whether progressive criticism crosses the line into Jewish antisemitism or self-loathing is whether it ignores history, distorts facts or refuses to review objective evidence in the face of unsubstantiated rhetoric and propaganda.
Passive ignorance is not necessarily an indictment, but willful ignorance or affirmative distortion is. Those Jewish progressives who uncritically adopt the Arab historical and political narrative, who proclaim "we are all Hamas" and deny the Holocaust, who distort or misrepresent facts that challenge their world view, who fail to challenge expressions of antisemitism spouted by leftist political allies, or who condemn Israel's character as a Jewish State while not similarly condemning the religious or national character of the 22 Muslim-Arab states in the Middle East, are not simply guilty of passive ignorance. Their persistence in clinging to unequal standards bespeaks of gross malice.
The more "moderate" progressives, such as J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and Israel Policy Forum, are not as extreme as the radical leftists. Nevertheless, their world view is predicated on either ignorance or a renunciation of Jewish history and Israel's historical rights. As former Harvard president Lawrence Summers succinctly stated in 2002 in his speech on antisemitism: "Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent." While these progressives may not feel that they are "Jewish antisemites," their views certainly cannot be promoted as being pro-Israel and are certainly not within the scope of tikkun olam.
Ted Belman is the editor of Israpundit. This is Mr. Belman's and Matthew M. Hausman's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.
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