Tuesday, June 12, 2018


My last post on IfNotNow's attempt to introduce Palestinian narratives into Jewish summer camp programming suggested that INN missed an opportunity to Brandi Maxxxx its putative adversaries. (The "Brandi Maxxxx" strategy is when a somewhat-marginal group or institution holds its position out as being of a kind with that of a centrist group -- in this case, e.g., emerging out of genuine love for Israel and a place of care and concern for Israel's future -- thereby forcing the centrist group to either implicitly accede to the connection or aggressively repudiate the principles).

The unnecessarily harsh and distancing statement of INN directed at Camp Ramah (one of the major Jewish camps INN had sought to work with) emphasized the gap between the two (and therefore, in effect, the non-mainstream nature of INN's position) and effectively let Ramah claim the "big tent" high ground. By contrast, if INN had suggested that they and Ramah were in agreement, in order for Ramah to disavow INN it would have to "register a much more specific disavowal of IfNotNow and discussion of the occupation in its camps, in which case -- IfNotNow has a much stronger basis for critique against Ramah and Jewish camps going forward."

But now Ramah has come out with a new statement that basically did that anyway. It is rather gratuitously nasty in tone and makes it pretty clear that it is the one taking its ball and going home, not INN. The result is that INN gains a lot more credence, in my book, when it asserts that organizations like Ramah are institutionally allergic to any serious reckoning with the reality of the occupation and Palestinian lives. It also reemphasizes something I've long railed against: that when it comes to Israel politics, the Jewish community places a border on its left flank but not its right. Ramah is rigorous and emphatic in policing how far to the left its willing to let its staff go on Israel -- but there's no indication that there's any standards they apply on the right.

(Interestingly, the commentary IfNotNow gave to this letter was I thought much better in tone than its prior response to Ramah's more moderate initial statement. It might just be a matter of comparison though -- it's easy to look reasonable and fair-minded when your interlocutor so nakedly decides to go overboard).

Monday, June 11, 2018

Second-Class Jews and the Future of the Jewish State

When I wrote my Forward article on how Israel doesn't care about American Jews, the most common response from Israeli readers was "that's right, we don't -- and fuck you for saying so."

The second-most common reply was to suggest that while American Jews certainly mattered to them, they'd never risk Israeli security in order to assuage American Jewish concerns.

If the former message was, in its pugnacious way, confirmatory, the latter response was revealing for what it overlooked. For while it's true that my article talked about issues related to "security" as one area where American Jews were routinely ignored, it quite consciously did not limit itself to that forum.
But it’s not just about questions of security. Israel has shown no interest in dislodging the Orthodox hammerlock on Israeli religious practice, despite the burdens it places on mostly non-Orthodox diaspora Jews. And the decision to renege on the egalitarian prayer agreement at the Western Wall, where we saw perhaps the single most concentrated explosion of American Jewish fury at Israeli government policy, made it abundantly clear that American Jews count for nothing in Israel’s political deliberations.
These issues do not plausibly relate to "security". And, if anything, they are doing more to drive splits between the American and Israeli Jewish community, as the American Jewish Committee recently stressed at a Jerusalem conference (the gap between how American Jews and Israeli Jews view these issues is staggering). Yet it was as if they weren't even being spoken of -- so loud was the mantra "security, security, security".

As the AJC pointed out in blunt terms, the Israeli government -- by capitulating over and over again to the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate -- is basically telling the 85% of American Jews who are not Orthodox that they don't count as Jews. The failure to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall means half the world's Jewish population is forbidden from praying at our religion's holiest site -- were it any other nation, the term for that would be antisemitism. Those of us with Jewish partners who did not grow up Jewish, those of us who were raised Jewish but lacked a Jewish parent, those of us in Jewish communities who are not acknowledged to be Jewish by the Rabbinate, we're realizing just how precarious our status as Jews is in the putative Jewish state.

And yet the Israeli government thinks that these Jews-they-don't-acknowledge-as-Jews will indefinitely go to bat for them in Congress, on college campuses, at the UN? Why? What hubris, what chutzpah, makes them believe this? How arrogant must they be to think there can be an ongoing asymmetrical relationship of heartfelt caring on one side and utter, abject contempt on the other?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

American Jews are Republican and Anti-Zionist in Roughly Equal (Tiny) Numbers

The American Jewish Committee has released its 2018 survey of American Jewish opinion (along with Israeli Jewish opinion -- and they conveniently offer a side-by-side comparison here).

A lot of it is predictable: American Jews loathe Trump, support gun control, support DACA, and oppose greater immigration restrictions. Some of it doesn't surprise me but might surprise some: American Jews think Trump is doing a lousy job handling the U.S./Israel relationship, think Russia is the greatest threat to America (well ahead of Iran and North Korea, in a statistical dead heat for second), and think caring about Israel is important to our identities as Jews.

(One area I desperately wish the AJC had polled on is on Jewish attitudes towards BDS -- both "support/oppose" numbers as well as "a lot/somewhat/a little/not at all antisemitic" numbers).

But if one digs into the data a bit more, there are some fun observations to be had. For one, American Jews continue to overwhelmingly identify as Democrats (51% versus 16% Republicans). This tracks 2016 voting patterns, where 60% of respondents voted for Clinton versus 19% for Trump.

The survey doesn't ask about Zionist identity, but it does ask whether respondents believe Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state, and then asks those who say no whether it should be Jewish or democratic. If we use the "no, and it should be a democratic state" as a rough proxy for anti-Zionist -- well, that figure is 20%.

So basically, the proportion of American Jews who are anti-Zionist is about the same as the proportion of American Jews who are Republican -- and in both cases, it is less than the proportion of Idaho voters who backed Hillary Clinton. Which is to say, in the scheme of things, both are trivial. (Incidentally, the percentage of American Jews who oppose a two-state solution "in the current situation" sits at about 30% -- not quite as tiny, but still pretty small).

Of course, that a given topical minority is rather small doesn't mean that it shouldn't have a voice, and I'm agnostic as to exactly how much of a voice such a group should have in broader Jewish communal affairs. There's a fine line to be drawn between pluralism and representativeness.

But equally-sized groups should be treated equally. As much (or as little) attention as we pay and influence we accord to Jewish Republicans is precisely as much as should be meted out to Jewish anti-Zionists. Fair is fair, after all.