In the wake of the Palestinian terrorist political party HAMAS firing 4,000 rockets into Israeli towns and the subsequent spike in anti-Semitism in the United States, freshman Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-NY) came to the home of a Westchester rabbi to talk to his constituents.
One would imagine that Israel and anti-Semitism would have been at the top of the agenda considering recent events. But that is fanciful thinking and detached from the reality of much of the non-Orthodox liberal Jewish community today.
The rabbi’s husband welcomed the crowd of roughly 40 people to his home. He began with the importance of combatting climate change as he introduced the congressman. Jones then spoke about his “lived experiences” and need to have an economy that worked for everybody and that combatted police violence. He discussed initiatives which he was advancing such as the America Rescue Plan and the child tax credit. He emphasized that government can be “transformative if the right people are in power.”
He then took questions.
The Jewish crowd began with a question about funding libraries. It then moved to immigration and how people can get more Democrats elected. Jones touched upon how things really move in Washington and the problem of the filibuster. Voter suppression, the infrastructure plan which included “human infrastructure” like childcare was discussed passionately. Jones suggested targeting Senator Marco Rubio of Florida (one of the most pro-Israel senators) and others on the next election cycle.
Far advanced into the meeting someone asked a question about foreign policy. They wanted to know about Afghanistan. Well, not really Afghanistan and terrorism. The question was will the U.S. provide immigration for Afghanis who provided assistance to the American war effort all these years.
With five minutes left in the hour meeting, someone brought up Israel.
Jones said he supported Israel’s right to defend itself and would oppose any conditioning of aid to Israel. Moreover, we would support funding the restocking Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system which is important for its security.
He then launched into a series of worries, such as his discomfort with Israel’s leadership. He was concerned about discussions about annexing parts of the West Bank. He was upset about Arabs being forcibly evicted from their homes and the dignity of Palestinians. He concluded by saying that Israel has to stop treating Palestinians as though they are not human beings.
No one said a word or batted an eyelash at his contention that Israelis don’t think of Arabs as human. Instead, they moved on to the final question and then asked for money to support Jones’ reelection campaign.
The host concluded the talk with noting that the attendees (White Jews) were very happy with the replacement of Rep. Nita Lowey in their district and Rep. Eliot Engel just south of them – two White Jews replaced with Black non-Jews – as the ceding of power to another minority group was in order and appropriate for the times. In any event, all liberal priorities seemed to remain in place. [Note to reader: Rep. Jamaal Bowman who replaced Engel could not be more to the opposite extreme of Engel’s strong pro-Israel positions].
So a progressive Black gay freshman congressman came to address liberal Jews immediately after a mini-war from Gaza and a terrible spike in anti-Semitism in the U.S., and the crowd focused on a host of liberal issues over and above Jew-hatred and Israel.
If a congressman sees that Jews in his district do not prioritize anti-Semitism or the Jewish State, why should he?
Perhaps it is time to reintroduce some basic principles to parts of the liberal Jewish community such as from Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14: “Hillel says, ‘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?‘”
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“But that is fanciful thinking and detached from the reality of much of the non-Orthodox liberal Jewish community today.”
Don’t kid yourself. The issue isn’t Orthodoxy. It’s what you call “liberalism.” I call it illiberalism. I find most of the Orthodox community to be apathetic and cowardly at best when it comes to Israel.
Israel is a great place to visit and send your kids for gap year. But when they get to college they are lost in the face of Israel hatred. Parents teach their kids – keep your head down; get good grades. They copy their parents who have adopted the same “Converso” tactic to protect their jobs and standing in the Orthodox community. It didn’t work too well for the Spanish Jews of yore.
Pro Israel activists are to be found in every Jewish denomination. In fact in my community I’d say I knew more who were not Orthodox, some totally unaffiliated. The Orthodox I know who really care about Israel are often too afraid to even say they supported Trump because he was so good for Israel. They are afraid of their jobs and the way people would treat their kids. Ditto Bibi.
I recommend Liel Lebovitz’s article linked here. It’s called “Us and Them” and says everyone now has to unequivocally pick a side.
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