The Impossible Liberal Standard

I was amused by a post that a friend shared from The Onion called “Area Liberal No Longer Recognizes Fanciful, Wildly Inaccurate Mental Picture Of Country He Lives In,” which poked fun at liberals who were dismayed at the election of Donald Trump.  The piece relayed that the Republican victory led an uber-liberal “to call into question everything he thought he knew about his spectacularly unrealistic, wholly imaginary conception of the nation he calls home.

That comedy is the unfortunate reality of many liberal Jews when it comes to Israel.

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman speaking at the Temple Israel Center
in White Plains, NY on November 9, 2016

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, which describes itself as a “pluralistic center of research and education deepening and elevating the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.”  It does this by bringing together roughly 70 scholars in different areas of Judaism.  However, in reviewing the bios of the scholars, one would be hard-pressed to find any Yemenite, Syrian, Tunisian (actually any Mizrachi Jew which constitute over half of the Jews in Israel), Ethiopian or any ulta-Orthodox Jews in this “pluralistic center.”

No matter.  It identifies itself as progressive.

Rabbi Hartman came to talk to New York Jews about “Israel and the Future of Jewish Peoplehood.”  His 35-minute talk was passionate and interesting (at least to me). He advanced an argument that Jews have a “Covenant of Being,” in which every Jew is defined as such by birth, as well as a “Covenant of Doing,” which relates to how a person engages in Jewish values.  The Covenant of Being connects all Jews to the Jewish State by DNA, while the Covenant of Doing fosters a more complicated relationship with Israel, as every denomination in Judaism focuses on different values (or to use Rabbi Hartman’s terminology, they all have “different Torahs.”)

Hartman said that he hoped that everyone would find a way to respect the various opinions and values as it relates to Judaism (which is easy to accomplish in the US), and in Israel (which is a much harder task).  He alluded to “tools” and studies that the Institute developed to enable constructive dialogue and respect.

He then took a few questions.  His responses did not offer a particularly welcoming view of Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces

In response to a question about the challenge of Israel on the world stage, Hartman stated that he was unimpressed with the notion that Israel should be “a light unto the nations. Let it just be a light.”  He seemed to be dismissive of Israel’s morality in the absolute, let alone relative to the world.  He belittled the arguments about Israel’s army, the IDF. He snorted, “‘Israel has the most moral army in the world.’ Really? More than Finland? More than Canada?


When was the last time that Finland fought in a war? World War II? When were terrorists launching missiles into 80% of the population centers of Canada? Have either Finland or Canada been threatened with annihilation and being wiped off of the map? Are terrorists firing into their countries from United Nations schools?

For those familiar with his writings, Hartman had stated in the past that he sees no immediate path towards peace with Palestinian Arabs. “Like many Israelis, without absolving in any way my country’s failures and responsibilities, I am increasingly hard-pressed to justify the claim that the Palestinians desire to live side-by-side with me. It is not the terror of individuals, but its aggrandizement by too many, including the Palestinian Authority, which makes me doubt whether peace can be a reality in my lifetime. If someone who attempts to murder my people is considered by Palestinian leadership “a martyr who watered the pure earth of Palestine with his blood,” where does the future lie?

If Hartman believes that Palestinian Arab leadership endorses terror, why is he dismissive of Israel’s defense?  Why belittle the disproportionate DEFENSES of Israelis and Arabs? How can he suggest that the Israeli army should behave like a country that hasn’t been fired upon since 1945?

Even if Hartman had no interest in hasbara, advocating on behalf of Israel, is it too problematic to acknowledge that Israel’s peers and neighbors are not the same?

The Ultra-Orthodox / Charedi Jews

Another question posed of Rabbi Hartman related to his thoughts about a “demographic time bomb” in Israel that could threaten its position as a Jewish State and a democracy.

He responded that there is no risk of the Arabs outnumbering Jews in pre-1967 borders (he advocates for giving up Judea and Samaria).  He continued that the real demographic time bomb in Israel comes from the ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) community which has very large families.  According to him, they are the real threat to the Zionism that he loves.  He assured the audience that the Hartman Institute is doing everything it can to advance a Jewish and democratic state that will minimize the corrosive effects that ultra-Orthodox Jews may have on the state.

Quite a view from a “progressive” think tank.  Its staff has more Arabs than Mizrachi Jews, while it seeks to undermine the viewpoints of Charedim.  These liberals have excluded – by accident or design – the majority of Jews in the country (Mizrachi) while they develop thought pieces that will marginalize the fastest growing group of Jews (Charedi).  These elitist Ashkenazi Jews then congratulate themselves on their progressive, open-minded ways.  How? I don’t know.

The Hartman Institute is not The Onion.  Its leaders do not perform stand-up, and the speeches are not parodies.  The institute stands as a progressive think tank that considers itself at the forefront of Jewish thought.  And for some reason, it will not congratulate Israel on being the most liberal country for a thousand miles in any direction.

American liberals, ensconced in their echo chambers, imagine a fictitious America, and Jewish liberals dream of an Israel that cannot exist in today’s reality. The former feels that America has fallen short by electing Donald Trump, while the latter refuses to believe that Israel is greater than it imagined.  What each group of liberals has in common is the belief that it is enlightened and open to all points of view, even while ignoring the opinions of the majority.

Related First.One.Through artciles:

Liberals’ Biggest Enemies of 2015

The Color Coded Lexicon of Israel’s Bigotry: It’s not Just PinkWashing

Obama’s “Values” Red Herring

A Flower in Terra Barbarus

Israel: Security in a Small Country

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16 thoughts on “The Impossible Liberal Standard

  1. I just read this post coincidentally after coming home from Rabbi Hartman’s speech in South Orange NJ. I would like to discuss this subject more with you. I was very puzzled by the presentation also. Please contact me.


  2. In point of fact, the last time Finland fought a war for its survival was the Winter War, in the mid-1930s.

    Most Charedi are also very dismissive of Sephardic Judaism and resent the deeply-held – and correct – belief amongst Yemenites and other Mizrahis that the Charedi iteration of Judaism, deeply steeped in Yiddish and miscellaneous weirdness invented in medieval Eastern Europe, is inherently inauthentic.

    Mizrahi Israelis tend to be gainfully employed and concentrated at the lower end of the economic ladder. Like lower-middle class Americans, they are therefore more resentful of Charedi on welfare who DO NOT WORK than those for whom the cost of welfare for others is less significant to their own standard of living.

    This article is less about the legitimate topic of radical pseudo-Jewish leftists, and more about the prejudices and arrogance of the Charedi, which – and they refuse to recognize this – is why they lost the power to the Reform in the first place.


  3. This is a vicious and unfair attack on the esteemed Rebbi Hartman. As you can see from the AIPAC banner in the photo, this speech was sponsored by the biggest American pro-Israel entity in America, AIPAC, so it must be good. Hartman is simply trying to get that stupid “Jewish State” notion out of the Israel he loves. Democracy holds primacy.

    Why does Hartman promote the notion that the threat to “Zionism,” “Democracy” and “Pluralism” in Israel is the the Ultra-Orthodox (OU)? Why does he not discuss the “Eastern” or “Sephardic” Jews? Because those demographic groups are the biggest threats to his ideology, one that is at odds with Orthodox Judaism. The Conservative and Reform (CAR) are fighting for equal footing with Orthodox Judaism (OJ) in Israel. From CAR’s hostility to the recent Israeli “Foreign Agents Law,” and refusal to support legislation stating that “Israel is the Jewish State” one could conclude that the CAR movements are actually war with the notion of Israel as the “Jewish State.” Rather, they see is as a country with “Jewish values” whose population is mostly Jews. This explains Hartman’s preoccupation with Israeli demography.

    Refusal to identify Israel as the Jewish State and hostility towards Halachic Judaism are at the heart of Hartman’s anti-Orthodox ideology. Thus is understood his ideology and the reasons behind the seemingly peculiar positions he does or doesn’t espouse.

    The Sephardic Israelis, even those who are not “religious” in the classic sense, are invariably more respectful of and show more love for Religious Zionism and Judaism than the modern Ashkenazi secular Israelis. That would explain the relative paucity of Sephardim in the Harman Institute. It’s ideology either makes no sense to them or they (correctly) recognize it as outright hostile to their nationalistic and religious ideals.

    The hostility to Israeli OJ because they don’t serve in the Army is a red herring. By law they are not required to serve in the IDF, although they may voluntarily enlist which some have begun doing. In fact, the Army doesn’t want them.

    The OU Jews are only a threat to Zionism if one refuses to define Israel as “The Jewish State.” If one strives for Israel to remain the Jewish State then this internal influx of Jews would welcome rather then deride this population.

    Sadly Hartman and his allies still don’t understand the reason Israel was created, and why it must continue to exist. It is the Jewish State.

    Thank you so much for this informative post.


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