Thursday, April 11, 2024

Rabbi Michael Broyde Responds

Some Thoughts in Reply by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde

Pro Palestinian demonstration (PBS)
A few days ago, I posted my thoughts about Rabbi Michael Broyde’s op-ed on the subject of anitsemtsim versus anti-Zionism in America. His response to my thoughts follows in its entirety:

I deeply appreciate the engagement Emes Ve-Emunah undertook with my op-ed in Haaretz and the thoughtful response Harry Maryles presents. I understand and respect the optimism that underscores his perspective, and I too cherish the resilience and moral fiber of our liberal democracy in the United States. However, my concerns regarding anti-Israel sentiment stem from broader and more nuanced observations of global and historical trends, not just current or localized events.

The comparison between the fight for LGBTQ rights and the struggle against antisemitism, while illustrating many noble aspects of liberal democracy, might oversimplify the complexities surrounding Israel's geopolitical situation and the nature of anti-Zionism, both in America and world-wide. The latter often intersects with deeply ingrained political, religious, and cultural narratives that transcend the admirable American ethos of equality and justice for all. 

Furthermore, while the notion that anti-Zionism is a fringe element destined to wane holds emotional appeal, empirical evidence suggests that it has, regrettably, found a more substantial foothold in various segments of Western societies – even in America -- than one might hope.  Furthermore, the younger one is, the more statistically noticeable this is.  This makes it much harder to think it will ‘go away.’

This is not to say that the anti-Israel approach will dominate or run indefinitely, but rather that they pose a significant challenge that requires vigilant, sustained, and sophisticated engagement. They will not be crushed and go away, like overt racism mostly was years ago and which I predict will be the fate of overt antisemitism – Wassim Kanaan schooled me when he noted to the New York Times that “This has nothing to do with the Jewish faith.  It has everything to do with the policies of the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. But there’s a weaponization of antisemitism allegations to silence advocates for Palestine.”  No one wants to be labeled an antisemite, even opponents of Israel.

The resurgence of anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism in certain academic and political circles, particularly under the guise of legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, necessitates a nuanced response that acknowledges the complexity of the issues at hand while steadfastly opposing bigotry in any form: we need to make sure that we do not become the bigots we oppose. So too, it's crucial to differentiate between valid criticism of Israeli government actions and the delegitimization of a nation's right to exist.

Of course, as one of my friends noted, the true wild card in the entire equation is a factor that American Jewry cannot control; namely the decisions that Israel makes since October 7th. We are constantly forced to explain or justify policies that we do not shape and are not concerned with our needs. In fairness, we are not facing the challenges and dangers that Israelis face daily, but this often leaves us in a politically precarious spot. Do we reflexively defend all the IDF’s actions (out of both solidarity and an appreciation of the larger dangers that Israel encounters) or are we critical as well sometimes even though we are inadvertently joining with true “haters” of the medina? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to that question.  Neither mindless support nor harsh criticism is helpful, and the golden mean is hard to find.

Your faith in the pendulum swing of public opinion and the inherent goodness of the American people is both admirable and shared. Indeed, the values of democracy, freedom, and innovation that Israel embodies are morally compelling and should be more widely known and appreciated. This, however, does not negate the need for proactive measures to combat the rise of anti-Israel sentiment in America, which have and will continue to erode the very foundations of support upon which Israel relies on. Furthermore, I have little illusions that we will clearly win this battle.  Yet, we need to wage this political battle: American support of Israel helps America in countless ways, and we need to work as hard as we can to explain that, for Israel and Americas sake.

Additionally, those of you who think that if this or that candidate wins the next election, then the matter will go away, are deeply mistaken.  The matter will ebb and flow I suspect for more than a decade and we need to be prepared for both the ebb and the flow.

The alliance with evangelical Christians, while significant, is not a panacea. It is but one part of a broader strategy that must also include engaging with those who do not share their views, including many within the progressive community who might be swayed by a more comprehensive understanding of the issues.  Furthermore, these convenient alliances never win consistently and when they lose, payback for whom one’s allies are is a normal part of the political process, and a great deal of care is needed.

We really really need to exercise a lot of due care.  Just between us, I have my doubts that the political leadership of our American Jewish community has been battle-tested for these conditions.  I worry that we are behind the well-fortified Maginot line and the unexpected water cannons are approaching the Bar Lev line. Our strategies do not reflect the realities we actually face, and our tactics are already out or date, unbeknownst to us. Sometimes I worry our political alliances turn us into the proverbial gang member who is instructed [by someone who wants him dead] to come to a gun fight holding a knife – armed enough to be shot, but not armed enough to actually defend hilself.  In sum, I am scared.

In closing, while I share your hope for a future where both antisemitism and anti-Zionism are relegated to the margins of society, I believe that this is not achievable in the short term.  If we work hard and marshal resources well, I hope and think we can mostly suppress the antisemitic uncaged lion that is roaming the fields.   Anti-Israelism is here for the longer run, I suspect. The work ahead is considerable, and it demands a concerted effort from all who cherish democracy, freedom, and the right of all peoples, including the Jewish people, to religious freedom and self-determination.

Thank you again for your engagement and for prompting this essential dialogue. It is only through such exchanges that we can hope to foster a more informed and compassionate understanding of these complex issues.

Rabbi Broyde's most recent Torah article is on whether there is a bracha when seeing an eclipse.