The contentious political climate in which we find ourselves today places a majority of Jews in some combination of liberal / leftist / Democratic spheres. Combined, they represent nearly three quarters of American Jews. The enthusiastic participation of so many of these leftist Jews in causes of very questionable interest to the future of Jews in America is something I find gravely disturbing.
Surely I have mercy (rachmunis) for innocent Syrian refugees, the victims of mass chaos in the Middle East resulting from the gross foreign policy mismanagement of the Obama years. The former President’s false “red lines” have resulted in the mass migration to the West of a population apart from western values, history, and institutions. Through proper vetting, individual refugees merit the historical promise of America, but not the fomentation of the type of ethnic imbalance we’ve seen in most European nations. Do liberal Jews ask why it is in the Jewish interest to invite large numbers of people to the U.S. who intrinsically despise them, and Israel?
My parents, and my wife’s parents, all survived the Holocaust. For them, and for those like them, “welcome the stranger” in scripture referred to those eager to integrate into their new homes, not potential enemies.
But now I see things getting confused, and inappropriately linked. I see a Jewish majority proudly marching, working, and making coalitions with spurious partners – assisting the Black Lives Matter movement, cooperating with jihadists like Linda Sarsour (a virulent anti-Semite who would deny Jews their self-determination), and supporting participants in the BDS movement – in short, a potpourri of anti-Semites. Where is the simple instinct of dignity to at least demand reciprocity for Jewish goals in exchange for Jewish support? It’s not quid-pro-quo, it’s basic coalition maintenance. It’s not extortion, it’s decency.
In the name of “social justice,” those very Jews whose descendants are increasingly unlikely to be Jewish fight government tax incentives which would benefit Jewish education, while also being pro-choice advocates, and in the forefront of opposition to public charter schools. I am certainly pro-choice, but, for example, how twisted is it that liberal Jews march with Islamists alongside Planned Parenthood when those Islamists have no tolerance for Zionism?
And now Linda Sarsour, the Brooklyn organizer with an increasingly national profile, insists that one cannot be a feminist if also a Zionist. Her Stalinist insistence on litmus tests for ideological purity has liberal Jewish feminists – likely a redundant term, as there are probably no liberal Jews who aren’t feminists – twisting themselves in academic knots rather than simply being outraged.
There are many more “symptoms” of this wretched Jewish world view, but I am more interested in attempting to describe the cause:
Jews who came to America over a century ago were infused with a Bundist, leftist ideology. As Jews had been so persecuted throughout Europe, some believed that communism would be their savior. These Jews became a mainstay of the Democratic Party and the left. The American descendants of Jews who remained in Europe through the Holocaust, and those who lived under the communists of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, become more Republican.
The strange alliance between lefty Jews and Islamists – including such luminaries as Bernie Sanders, George Soros, the notorious Blumenthals, Jill Stein, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and many other self-haters, is unfathomable to other faiths and communities. You can imagine outsiders thinking to themselves “who does this to themselves?” Jewish liberalism and leftism may have made sense in the era before labor unions, social security and other components of the basic social safety net. In fact, Jewish liberalism can be responsibly described as the booster rocket that propelled those vital social services into being. But today, the inheritors of that activist legacy are the backbone of the BDS movement and other causes inimical to Jewish survival. What’s happened?
Jews in the reform, conservative and orthodox movements used to be mostly in sync on core Jewish survival issues. However, as the conservative and reform movements began to see largely empty pews on Sabbath, their leaders concocted an expanded concept of “tikkun olam,” without the self-respect of insisting on reciprocity. Instead, “tikkun olam,” as opposed to the direct and simple injunction of God’s sovereignty in daily prayers, has morphed to Palestinian rights, Black Lives Matter, and “intersectional” partnering with deeply questionable causes. Legitimate social movements, even very discomforting ones, have become intertwined with violence against police officers, and now bizarrely under the umbrella of Jewish liberalism.
I am not some perfectly-practicing orthodox Jew, but the fact is that the conservative and reform movements are disappearing, with their leaders having created an alternative religion through what the late Professor Stephen Plaut of Haifa University dubbed the “tikkun olam fetish.” We NEED the conservative and reform movements’ members – we need them to be more Jewish-focused – but the movements suffer from a self-destructive “replacement theology.” As Jews, we end up advocating for our enemies, and expecting no reciprocity, nor receiving it. I call it “tikkun olam for thee, but not for me.”
What other racial / ethnic / religious / national group would foolishly do for others while receiving betrayal in return? For our critical role in the Civil Rights movement, because it was right thing to do (not because of the tikkun olam fetish), we now merit Black Lives Matter partnering with our enemies?
Aside from some prosperous demographic zones such as Great Neck, Roslyn, Dix Hills, and White Plains, how many conservative and reform synagogues remain in the NYC communities where so many of us live or are from? Again, this is NOT to denigrate the conservative or reform movements, a person’s level of observance is their own business, but to make clear that people should go to synagogue for authenticity, not politics that undermine.
As Mort Himmelfarb opined, “Jews like to live like Episcopalians, but they vote like Puerto Ricans.” Norman Podhoretz (not orthodox either) was more pointed, noting, “The problem with reform and conservative Judaism is that it’s become too much like the Democratic Party with a few holidays thrown in. It’s kind of like the Democratic Party at prayer.”
If there are a majority of American Jews who wish to proclaim their liberalism or leftism, that’s their business – just don’t falsely attribute their philosophy and actions to scripture. Our scripture DOES remind us, “your enemies shall emerge from within you.”
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, is a wealth manager and former senior aide to Governor George E. Pataki, Senator Al D’Amato, Mayor Ed Koch, Congressman Tom Manton and Borough President Claire Shulman. He sits on the board of several national Jewish organizations.