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O My America: Pride and Prejudice in the Jewish Community

May 2, 2014
by Lawrence Bush JFSJI read yesterday about J Street being turned away for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations, and I thought, Time to renew my membership in J Street. For heaven’s sake, this is an organization that has, in six short years, organized chapters in forty cities and on sixty college campuses, a rabbinical council of 800 rabbis, and several of the best-attended annual conferences in Jewish life — all in the name of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the only reasonable, humane, and just solution possible. For this they’re excluded? — and with fewer than half of the Conference’s fifty members voting in favor of J Street, which would have needed support from two-thirds? Happily, the most prominent membership organizations within the Conference voted yes to admitting J Street, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), the National Council of Jewish Women, and HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. And in the long run, J Street’s rejection means bobkes, as the Conference of Presidents does little more than issue periodic rightwards-leaning statements to the New York Times by its executive vice-president (since 1986!!) Malcolm Hoenlein. What the exclusion of J Street does that is most damaging is to pile up the alienation that most non-devout and progressive young Jews already feel from “the Jewish community,” which presents a public face that is Israel-obsessed, controlled by wealth, insincere in its liberalism, enraptured by power, and indifferent to the ethical and change-the-world teachings of the Jewish tradition. Add the Conference’s decision to the same-day news about Jewish basketball owner Donald Sterling’s racism, and you walk away from your daily newspaper with a sense of Jewish intolerance and close-mindedness that is downright revolting. “In the long run,” said J Street after its rejection, “it does a grave disservice to the American Jewish community to drive some of our brightest young people away and to tell them that there is no place for them in an ever-shrinking communal tent where the conversation on Israel’s future is limited.” How true — while beyond those bright activists of J Street stands the 48 percent of Jewish Americans who, according to the Pew Research Poll, believe that Israel is NOT making a sincere attempt to make peace with the Palestinians, and the 25 percent of Jews ages 18-29 who believe that the U.S. is TOO supportive of Israel. Behind them, furthermore, are the many, many liberal American Jews who couldn’t care less about “Jewish” any more because the visible leadership of the Jewish community constantly betrays the larger community’s liberal instincts. “Yesterday’s action” by the Conference of Presidents, said Gideon Aronoff, CEO of Ameinu, a progressive Zionist organization that is a member of the Conference, “is a victory of a particular ideology over inclusivity and calls into question if the Conference can truly serve its role for the Jewish community and Israel. Ameinu looks forward to conferring with colleagues in the Conference to develop a focused plan of action so that, for Israel’s sake, the voice of progressive Jews is not marginalized, but is a dynamic part of a vibrant American Jewish community debate.” Let’s hope so — for the Jewish left, in the broadest sense, really does need to increase its visibility to offset the damaging blows to American Jewish identity that groups like the Conference of Presidents regularly inflict. So let’s do our little part to increase that visibility — hadar-white-house-arrest-action-2Also yesterday came a report that Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action (a Washington, DC unit of Bend the Arc, which used to be called the Jewish Funds for Justice), had been arrested outside the White House for demonstrating against inhumane deportations. You can read about Bend the Arc’s campaign to pressure President Obama to back off on his terrible deportation policies, and sign a petition, by clicking here. And then there’s the indominable Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, who has organized more than 100 Jewish leaders, including more than seventy rabbis, to commit themselves to moving their personal and organizational money away from banks, corporations and investment vehicles that invest in oil, coal, and other fossil fuels and to invest instead in companies that support green and sustainable energy. You can learn about “Move Our Money to Protect Our Planet” and join the campaign (and make a donation!) by clicking here. I can’t help but wonder what would have been the fate of J Street’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents had it been determined through a petition drive . . . Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and JEWDAYO.