There is a troubling development occurring in the Jewish world over the past few years that has led to an unprecedented phenomenon in my lifetime. I believe it is the cause one of the biggest divides among the Jewish people since the advent of Reform Judaism. But this time the split is not theological. It is political. I’m talking about Jewish attitudes toward the State of Israel.
Not that there hasn’t been any controversy in Jewish circles on this issue in the past- even within Orthodoxy itself. One need only look at Satmar and religious Zionism to see Polar opposite views about the State. In fact one might be tempted to say that there are as many views about the State of Israel as there are Jews in the world.
But whatever those differences might be – except for a few radical elements that are out of the mainstream of Orthodoxy- most Orthodox Jews have been united with our non Orthodox brethren in generally supporting the State in how they defend themselves and in their cautious approach to peace.
Even among the most religious of circles where criticism of the State of Israel has at times been vehement it has always been internal. When it came to attacks from the outside - the vast majority of us - whether religious or not - stood united in defense of it. We all saw attacks against Israel as attacks against the Jewish people. When Israel was attacked – we were all attacked.
That has changed.
A fellow Jew by the name of Peter Beinart (pictured) has famously articulated this unfortunate new phenomenon in a recent article. He argues that one’s Judaism which he claims is guided by liberal principles are in stark contrast with the views of the current Israeli leadership. The traditional knee-jerk automatic support that we Jews always seem to give to Israeli actions – is in conflict with our liberalism.
Support for current Israeli like actions by other governments would normally garner our condemnation. We cannot - he argues – be inconsistent with ‘our liberalism’. Criticism we apply to other governments must be applied equally to Israel. He concluded that we ought to consistent when Israel departs from liberal values. As such we have an obligation to be just as hard on Israel as any other government.
If I understand correctly this is in fact the philosophy of J-Street – a new movement of Jews whose support of Israel is based on principles of liberalism and whose support is not automatic.
I agree that supporting an Israeli government that is not in concert with one’s political philosophy is an inconsistency. But to equate Jewish values to liberal values as Peter Beinart seems to do is the height of arrogance – if not complete ignorance. Just as it would be if someone tried to equate Judaism with political conservatism. The truth is that Judaism cannot be classified either way. It has elements of both - and rejects elements of both. Judaism is a way of life based on the principles of the Torah – independent of political viewpoints.
This new attitude is indicative to me of the bankruptcy of non Orthodox Jewish education. It is an education that is woefully lacking in actual Torah content to see Judaism in only liberal terms. They have little or no knowledge of the Talmud - our repository of Jewish law, tradition, and philosophy. At best their knowledge of the Talmud is limited to only its expressions of liberal values.
It is a sad fact of reality that generations of non Orthodox Jews have been weaned on political liberalism and believe it to be the essence of their religion. Liberalism seems to have replaced the Bible as Peter Beinart’s article demonstrates. This has caused a split of unprecedented proportion among the Jewish people. We now have sincere Jews who are saying and even doing the kinds of things that in the not too distant past were said and done only by our enemies.
This is why we have artists supporting boycotts. And ships full of Jews trying to break a blockade of Gaza. This is how one can end up with a Jewish and respected former judge - whose daughter lives in Israel - issuing a condemning UN report about how Israel conducted its most recent military defensive action in Gaza.
This attitude has also given rise – and license to non Jews to heap even more outrageous condemnation of Israel under the ‘cover’ of liberal Jews who say the same thing. Most recently in a disgusting ‘Pink Floyd’ video wherein ‘Roger Water’s performance of 'Goodbye Blue Sky' (were) accompanied by images of planes dropping bombs in the shape of Stars of David and dollar signs…’
He cannot be accused of anti Semitism when there are so many Jews who basically agree with him!
The rampant and virulent anti Israel attitudes that have dominated university campuses in recent years where many young Jewish minds are influenced against Israel could not have happened if these young Jews had a proper Jewish education.
But their lack of it combined with a politically liberal indoctrination from their parents and heterodox rabbis surely contributes to this phenomenon and has legitimized rhetoric approaching anti Semitism - from university educators who are themselves liberal and strongly supportive of the Palestinian cause while de-legitimizing the Israeli cause.
I don’t know what to do about this phenomenon. It is truly a sad development that does not bode well for Israel’s well being. Israel cannot afford to make decisions under siege – even if it is only a verbal siege. And it is becoming much more than verbal as boycotts and the like are beginning to pop up.
Nor does it bode well for the well being of the Jewish people when Israel is so harshly criticized from so many different corners of the world -increasingly including many respected Jews. Because when Israel is condemned we are all in the same boat. We are one people and that is the boat we should be in.