To listen to some people, the greatest blight afflicting the Jewish community is a scourge of intolerance against dissent about Israel. The alleged repression of voices expressing views critical of the Jewish state and its policies is a constant theme on the left. Academic Israel-haters and left-wing splinter groups bewail their sad fate as modern dissidents who can never get a fair hearing by the so-called Jewish establishment.
This tale of woe is, of course, pure bunk.
The idea that there is any shortage of opportunities for American Jews to vent their spleen at the State of Israel is laughable. Such attacks are so commonplace they are the moral equivalent of the old journalistic cliché about boring stories that speak of a dog biting a man. Taking a swipe at the Jewish state remains a free ticket to prominence in the mainstream media for any Jew who chooses to go that route. Writers such as Peter Beinart rail against the way they have been victimized even as they tour the country being applauded by audiences and retaining prominent perches from which they can continue to take ill-informed pot shots at Jerusalem.
Far from any active policy of repression of dissent, our communal organs tend to fall over themselves in the effort to roll out the welcome mat for any critic. Consultants are employed by federations in order to teach the community how to better listen to every voice no matter how pointless the attempt at dialogue and how counter-productive the investment of resources on outreach to those who have no real interest in getting under the Jewish tent might be.
Instead of the incessant breast-beating about the alleged silencing of a Jewish left, the real danger comes from the other direction. The growing support for a new cult of inclusion in which any group ought to be treated as a legitimate expression of Jewish communal sentiment needs to be challenged.
This dilemma was highlighted once again last week when a sinister left-wing organization called Jewish Voices for Peace showed up at the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church USA to lobby for a proposal calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel’s security forces. The problem is not just that they were undermining the work of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, which has been fighting against BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) efforts. It was that this group lent a patina of Jewish legitimacy to the attempt to wage economic war on the Jewish state. Such behavior is nothing less than aiding and abetting those seeking to destroy Israel.
While the Presbyterians rejected the motion, the narrow margin indicates that the Israel-haters may prevail in the future. That makes it clear that the real problem is not the false narrative about the left being silenced, but how far anti-Zionist groups are willing to go. While some in the organized Jewish world now treat inclusion and dialogue as almost a religious doctrine, the spectacle of Jewish Voices for Peace being given equal time in press accounts of the Presbyterian vote ought to be a wake-up call. There can be no place at the communal table for those Jews who act as a seal of approval for polices that cannot be distinguished from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice.
It is also a reminder to those liberals who have tried to play on both sides by opposing BDS but endorsing not dissimilar boycotts that are directed only against portions of Israel, such as the settlements, that they are making a terrible mistake. Such blurring of lines between legitimate debate and economic warfare on the Jews makes it harder for the community to deal with the BDS threat while influencing no one in Israel, as they claim to wish to do.
Instead of worrying about how to include the far left, Jews of every political stripe, liberal and conservative alike, need to be joining forces to combat such groups and to avoid stances that create common ground with anti-Zionists. Rather than whining about dialogue, Jews must make it clear that they will not sit at the same table or make room in the tent for those who stand with Israel’s enemies.
JNS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TobinCommentary.