Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Supporting David Friedman Sells Out Young Zionist Jews

Berkeley is not the easiest place to be a Zionist Jew. To be sure, it is not the cataclysmic warzone it's sometimes portrayed as. Still, it's not exactly home turf. Being referred to as a Nazi due to one's position on Israel is not an everyday occurrence, but it's not a hypothetical concern either. A two-state solution respecting both Jewish and Palestinian self-determination rights is probably the median position, but it is not one you can take for granted.

Jews at Berkeley, and at other campuses around the country, have listened to many exhortations by our communal leaders about our need to stand strong in such climates. And we have, under difficult circumstances. Anyone paying attention to campus politics now knows the awkward position Jewish students are in, how concerns about Israel are often wedges that freeze Jews out of our own academic communities, how standing firm on principle regarding anti-Semitism puts us at odds with otherwise allied groups.

While we acted, our communal representatives promised that they had our backs. Referring to a Jew as a Nazi is intolerable anti-Semitism -- there can be little more horrifying, for a Jew, than being compared to a Nazi or Nazi collaborator. The two-state solution is a boundary that demarcates friend from foe. It may be hard, it may be awkward, but we were told that these were lines that could not be crossed. Ultimately, they expected us to police those lines. And we did our part, to the best of our ability.

And then David Friedman was nominated as Ambassador to Israel.

David Friedman, an avowed opponent of a two-state solution. David Friedman, who referred to large swath of American Jewry as "far worse than Kapos". David Friedman, who called the oldest American Jewish civil rights organization "morons" for standing up to clear anti-Semitic rhetoric in the presidential campaign. David Friedman, who enlisted the Holocaust to deflect attention from boasts of sexual assault. David Friedman, who -- in word and in deed -- seems to detest most of the Jews in his own country -- especially the young liberal Jews who inhabit our college campuses.

Now it was time for those communal representatives to have our backs. Now it was time for them to enforce those lines on our behalf. Now it was time for them to show courage in perilous waters, and say that this is the line, and David Friedman crossed it.

And suddenly, these representative groups clammed up.

Well, not all of them. Aside from the usual right-wing suspects, the World Jewish Congress endorsed Friedman today. The WJC's motto is "All Jews are responsible for one another." We now know the seriousness with which it takes that commitment. The bare minimum of being responsible for other Jews is to have their back when they're condemned as Nazi collaborators. If the WJC isn't willing to do that, it can forget about any talk about "responsibility".

As for other mainstream organizations, so far many of the main players have maintained, at best, a studious silence. AIPAC hasn't said a word. The AJC's statement was mush. The ADL has nothing on its page (Jonathan Greenblatt was on MSNBC tonight to talk on the nomination, but it doesn't look like he came out against).

I've talked a bit with folks on the inside of these organizations. They're not happy. But they stress the difficult position these organizations are in. Donor pressure. A need to appear even-handed. The importance of working with the new administration.

I get it. It's hard. But it was hard for us too, and we held the line. Because, we were told, this was the line the Jewish community had drawn.

And today, when adhering to those lines gets difficult for Jewish organizations, they had the opportunity to stand strong too.

When they fail to do so, it's worse than a disgrace to their stated principles. It's worse than a failure of political courage. It sells out the Jewish community they claim to protect. It abdicates their responsibility to the Jewish community to be our ally and shield regardless of political creed or partisan ideology. Millions of Jews now know that if they are tarred as Kapos or worse, the WJC will not have their backs. Indeed, it might proudly join hands with their slanderer. We are left wondering where the AJC or the ADL will be. Until proven otherwise, we cannot count on them anymore.

This is betrayal. And it is those of us in places like Berkeley, who have bravely fought on behalf of a Jewish and democratic Israel in an inhospitable climate, that will suffer the most from this act of deep, profound cowardice. The principles we fought for -- which we , relying on the representations of these communal bodies, declared were representative of American Jewry -- have been pulled out from under us. And for what? For access? For donor satisfaction? It is disgraceful.

I honestly don't know if these groups realize the peril they are in. They hear about angry Jewish millennials and think of the IfNotNow sorts, the JVP types, and conclude it's all a loud fringe. I am not IfNotNow and I'm certainly not JVP. I'm a committed Zionist in my politics and deeply institutionalist in my orientation. But in talking to other Jews like me -- proudly Zionist, proudly pro-Israel, connected to the inside baseball of Jewish life and aware of the realities of political machination -- there is a growing sense of rage at their supposed representatives that is on the cusp of bubbling over. They see that political capital is never spent on our behalf, that principles we're expected to cleave to on pain of exile are waived without hesitation when the right flouts them.

This cannot stand forever. It cannot indefinitely be the case that Jewish communal policy is set by a quarter of the Jewish community which openly holds two-thirds of us in contempt. And it cannot indefinitely be the case that Jewish communal representatives refrain from backing the American Jewish majority for fear of alienating that right-wing fringe. David Friedman puts that in stark relief -- backing him means selling us out. Policy disagreement can be mended, but this sort of betrayal -- finding out that it's actually a-okay to call us Nazi collaborators -- will not heal easily.

David Friedman does not represent a hard case. David Friedman represents the straightforward application of the principles mainline Jewish groups have long espoused, now to a right-wing provocateur. Simple as that.

For those groups which fail to rise to the challenge, it isn't going to matter at the end of the day whether they were lying about their professed principles or were simply too fearful to enforce them. We need Jewish organizations that are representative of American Jews. If the old guard can't do it, then the old guard will cease being relevant.

UPDATE: Here's the link to Greenblatt's segment on Friedman last night. It's, if anything, worse than I anticipated.

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