How the Grinch Stole Hanukkah
A Hanukkah party co-hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Embassy of Azerbaijan next Wednesday is causing a stir among left-wing Jews.
One might have expected liberals to laud the theme of the event – “freedom and diversity” – and even welcome the participation of a Muslim-majority country in the holiday celebration. But no. Because the festive occasion is being held at a Washington, DC hotel owned by President-elect Donald Trump, it is being denounced and boycotted by several groups. Among these are the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) — the rabbinic arm of the Reform movement — and IfNotNow, a self-described group of young American Jews who came together during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014 to demand an end to Israeli “occupation” and “freedom and dignity for all.”
Other organizations in an uproar are the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the National Council of Jewish Women, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu and the Workmen’s Circle.
CCAR explained its objections by stating, “We will not be attending or supporting the Hanukkah party…which is supposed to represent the diversity of Jewish organizations. Holding this event at Mr. Trump’s hotel is at odds with that idea and with many policies and values of Jewish life and community. Especially as representatives of a community that has been so deeply impacted by the history of both the Holocaust and immigration, we believe that all Jewish groups must fiercely and consistently oppose any normalization of bigotry. Certainly, the theme of the Hanukkah party, ‘freedom and diversity,’ is at odds with the language we are hearing from Mr. Trump’s inner circle and appointments. Until Mr. Trump denounces the anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and sexism that have plagued his campaign and his transition, we join with our colleague Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union of Reform Judaism in asserting that this is an inappropriate venue for a Conference of Presidents event.”
Responding to the hysteria, Conference of Presidents Executive Vice-chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in an interview with JTA that the Azerbaijani embassy selected the venue based on its proximity to the White House, since many of the 150-200 guests will also be attending President Barack Obama’s Hanukkah party, which is taking place the same evening. Other hotels nearby were not available, Hoenlein said, or could not meet the requirement for kosher food.
But for these Jewish leftists, whose utter despair at last month’s election results knows no bounds, such arguments carry no weight. As far as they are concerned, any association with Trump – even one that involves eating jelly doughnuts in a building with his name on it – is worse than partaking of pork, a Jewish dietary no-no that many of them enjoy regularly anyway.
To justify their outrage on ostensibly sounder, more “legitimate” grounds, two of the groups — Americans for Peace Now and the Workmen’s Circle – lashed out at Azerbaijan. You know, a Muslim country with increasingly close diplomatic and strategic ties to Israel. The Workmen’s Circle revealed its innate hypocrisy in a letter to Hoenlein, first bemoaning Trump’s attitude towards Muslims, and then decrying Azerbaijan’s human rights record. It is interesting that this organization and its bleeding-heart counterparts have had a very different view of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, an anti-Semite with radical Islamist leanings, who is running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.
But then, what can we expect from members of the tribe whose rabbis held services at their synagogues to mourn Trump’s election?
Thankfully, not all Jews in the United States have lost their dreidels. Take the American Sephardi Federation, for example. In a statement issued to praise the event, it wrote, “ASF, which proudly represents the voice of Greater Sephardic Jewish communities (including Azerbaijan’s) in the Conference of Presidents, is honored to stand with Azerbaijan in the tradition of tolerance exemplified by Sephardi pioneers of trade, diplomacy and scholarship throughout the ages.”
For his part, Hoenlein has been puzzled — perhaps foolishly, given his years of experience with Jewish leaders — by what Isi Leibler this week called “collective madness” on the part of whose swaths of the Reform and Conservative movements.
“What are you going to do?” Hoelein asked rhetorically. “Boycott the next president of the United States in everything?”
Judging by the ruckus that a simple party is causing, I would wager that the answer is a resounding yes. In which case, let the Jewish Grinches stop trying to steal Hanukkah, and leave their saner co-religionists to celebrate the miracle of Jewish survival under siege in peace.
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.