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?