American Jewish Liberals Have Lost the Plot
Throughout the 2000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora, there has been no precedent comparable to the behavior of major liberal mainstream sectors of the American Jewish community. They are undermining themselves and provoking massive waves of resentment from Americans, many of whom were favorably disposed towards them.
The United States has been the home of the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora for nearly a century and was regarded by many Jews as the “goldene medina.” Traditional antisemitism is at an all-time low with the exception of the current anti-Israel agitation initiated on college campuses by Muslims and far-left radicals. Many Jews have become affluent, powerful and are highly respected by most Americans.
Until recently, all mainstream Jewish organizations sought to maintain Democrat and Republican bipartisanship with regard to Israel and major issues of Jewish concern. This, despite the fact that for complex historical reasons, the vast majority of American Jews were inclined toward liberalism and voted Democrat.
Even after eight years of President Barack Obama’s efforts to create daylight between Israel and the United States in order to appease Iran and the Arab countries and despite the extraordinary support for Israel expressed by all sections of the Republican Party, Jews still tended to vote Democrat. This contrasted sharply with Anglo-Jewry, whose members defected in droves from the British Labour Party when it became anti-Israel/antisemitic under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
Regrettably, a number of mainstream US liberal Jewish organizations broke with all tradition and displayed unprecedented and extreme partisanship in the recent US election and its aftermath. This may have disastrous long-term repercussions on the standing and influence of the American Jewish community.
The Anti-Defamation League, a previously respected body whose principal mandate is to combat antisemitism, began crossing red lines as soon as its new CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama aide, assumed leadership after the retirement of Abe Foxman. Even before the elections, Greenblatt assumed a J Street profile and introduced left-wing policy initiatives, including pontificating about and criticizing Israeli policies, which were totally beyond his jurisdiction.
At the same time, he opposed legislation to prohibit anti-Israel boycotts, suggesting that many of its supporters were misled idealists seeking to promote the peace process. He also minimized concern for the rabid antisemitic platform of the Black Lives Matter movement, excusing it on the grounds that it was engineered by a small minority.
More significantly, he downplayed the escalating anti-Israelism and antisemitism on the college campuses initiated by Muslim and far-left groups — highly ironic for the head of the organization whose raison d’être is to combat antisemitism. But it was in the course of America’s most bitter and brutal electoral race that a number of liberal Jewish groups, headed by the ADL, initiated a partisan campaign against Republican candidate Donald Trump and his supporters.
Like most Americans, many Jews were distressed and polarized by the shameful and vulgar behavior of candidates. As individuals, American Jews have every right to express their political feelings. But officially, as Jewish mainstream organizations – as distinct from politically left Jewish groups – they had no right to speak on behalf of the Jewish community on issues unconnected to Jewish rights or interests.
It is also understandable that many Jewish long-time supporters of the Democratic party were bitterly disappointed with the unexpected outcome of the elections. But to hysterically proclaim the demise of democracy and the rise of fascism, or to compare the Trump ascendancy to the 9/11 attacks and imply that Trump supporters – half of the electorate – are extremists, is sheer lunacy. Indeed the despair and frenzy reached such levels after the elections that a number of Conservative and Reform synagogues conducted formal mourning ceremonies. This is truly collective madness.
Yet ADL officials, together with Reform and Conservative leaders, also publicly exploited antisemitism as a vehicle to slander the Trump campaign, hurling accusations of antisemitism and fascism. In so doing, these groups may have caused irreparable harm to the Jewish community from among Trump’s supporters, who comprise half of the American people, many of whom had previously been positively inclined toward Jews.
The false allegations and innuendos of antisemitism were accompanied by counter-productive hysteria, warning of the threat emanating from marginal right-wing antisemitic groups, implying that these few hundred extremists were a critical component of Trump’s support and thus the entire party was compromised.
The campaign against the extremist fringes and the national media exposure to these relatively unknown marginal neo-Nazis and degenerates, such as David Duke and Richard Spencer and the email hate peddlers, achieved the undesirable result of catapulting them into the national spotlight, which they could never have dreamed of occupying.
Stoking the fires of hysteria after the elections, Greenblatt proclaimed at an ADL conference that antisemitism in the United States had never been as bad since the 1930s. He was not relating to the real threat of burgeoning campus antisemitism at the but referring to the few hundred Ku Klux Klan lunatics, white supremacists and neo-Nazis allegedly empowered by Trump. Whatever his failings may be, Trump is certainly no antisemite. He has a daughter who converted to Judaism and is religiously observant and he is surrounded by Jews.
The real threat to the Jewish community on which the ADL should be focusing, is at the college campuses where anti-Israelism initiated by Muslim and far left groups has now morphed into open antisemitism with increasing manifestations of violence. Freedom of expression is being denied to pro-Israeli speakers who are frequently howled down by these “progressives.” Given that graduates from these institutions will become the leaders of the future, it is truly worrisome that they are being nurtured in such a hostile environment and that it requires courage to support Israel on many campuses.
Displaying double standards, incredibly the ADL provided an imprimatur to Congressman Keith Ellison to become the new head of the Democratic National Committee. Ellison is a Muslim who previously had ties with Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan and has a long record of anti-Israeli hostility. Yet Greenblatt went so far as to describe Ellison as “a man of good character… an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.” Instead of combating antisemitism, the ADL was whitewashing an opponent of Israel with an antisemitic background in order to promote its leftist agenda. However, the public outcry was so overwhelming that that a week later Greenblatt was forced to state that after seeing “disturbing” remarks expressed by Ellison, the ADL now had “serious doubts about his ability to faithfully represent the party’s traditional support for Israel.”
Alas, the extent to which the Democratic Party has veered from its traditional pro-Israel stance was exemplified by the fact that the Charles Schumer, the incoming Jewish Senate Minority Leader, shamefully reiterated that “I stand by Rep. Ellison for the DNC chair…”while I disagree with him on some of his past positions”.
Fortunately, the new administration is unlikely to be antisemitic. Aside from other factors, Trump is surrounded by Orthodox Jewish officials who are also passionately pro-Israel. But nevertheless, these partisan mainstream Jewish interventions and refusal to accept the outcome of a democratic election create major tensions and have the potential to severely undermine the standing of the Jewish community.
The only major organization explicitly condemning this behavior is the Zionist Organization of America headed by Mort Klein.
To their credit, following the elections, Malcolm Hoenlein on behalf of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee called on Americans to reunite as a nation, encouraged Trump to calm the passions, and asked that the incoming administration be judged on its actions.
This enlightened approach is highly commendable. But it is unlikely to suppress the hysteria among those sections of the community that define their Judaism as comprising liberalism and universalism while placing the welfare of Israel low among their priorities. Moreover the links with Israel, which until now were the primary source of Jewish identity for non-Orthodox Jews, will tragically continue to erode.
In addition to the polarized division between Orthodox Jews and the rest of the community, the assimilatory tendencies will further increase, which will lead to the ongoing contraction and quality of the Jewish community.
Far left-Liberals are as free as anyone else to engage in political campaigns, but those heading mainstream Jewish organizations must be compelled to cease exploiting their positions and using antisemitism as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda.
They should also ask themselves one question. Who represents a greater threat to democracy and American Jews? A handful of marginal neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who nobody had ever heard of or a Muslim with a long record of antisemitism and hostility to Israel who heads the Democratic National Council?
American Jewry is the most successful, powerful and respected Diaspora in Jewish history. If organizations like the ADL refuse to hearken to the wise counsel expressed by leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein, Mort Klein or David Harris but maintain their current politically partisan policies, American Jews will be marginalized and be perceived as the extension of a Democratic Party that is drifting increasingly further away from its traditional pro-Israel policy.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post.