There Must Be Limits to American Jewish Community’s ‘Big Tent’
JNS.org – What is the one value that the Jewish community should care most about?
To listen to many who run Jewish organizations and communal philanthropies, the answer is inclusion. At a time when it is difficult to engage young people, maintaining a “big tent” is a sacred concept. Drawing a line and declaring those on the other side to be outside the community is not merely seen as divisive, but as antithetical to the preservation of the community.
But the left-wing group that calls itself Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) seems determined to prove that inclusiveness can be a highly overrated virtue.
Some of JVP’s leaders like to describe the group as pro-peace, and ‘agnostic’ about Zionism. But there’s no doubt where the organization’s loyalties lie.
JVP is an ardent supporter of the BDS movement, which wages economic warfare against Israel. And JVP works with the most virulently anti-Zionist and pro-BDS groups in America, including the openly antisemitic Students for Justice in Palestine. JVP also promotes a narrative about the Middle East conflict that treats the creation of Israel as a “nakba,” or catastrophe, and regards the sole democracy in the region as an illegitimate state.
And while it may have started out as a marginal band of leftists, JVP’s willingness to openly attack the idea of a Jewish state has enabled it to displace J Street as the primary voice of the Jewish left.
Though J Street’s stances pit the group against the views of the overwhelming majority of Israelis, it still bills itself as both “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace.” In an era when the radical left is gaining strength among those who call themselves progressives, that’s enough to make J Street either too moderate or too Zionist for many, such as the JVP, who have bought into the lies about Israel being an “apartheid state.”
While J Street’s critics correctly see the group’s views as disconnected from reality — and often aimed at undermining solidarity with Israel — it is still rooted in the Zionist camp, albeit of the leftist variety. JVP is not. Its goal is not to change Israel’s policies or its borders, but to undermine support for its right to exist — as the one Jewish state on the planet. Moreover, by allying itself with extremist anti-Israel groups, JVP has put itself in the disgraceful position of providing Jewish cover for organizations that are guilty of flagrant antisemitism and incitement against Jewish students. Yet JVP still pretends to be a normative liberal organization.
All such pretenses were dropped, however, when JVP hosted Linda Sarsour and Rasmea Odeh at the group’s conference in Chicago earlier this month. Sarsour is a Palestinian-American activist who has become a heroine of the anti-Trump “resistance.” And she has said that Jewish women must drop their support for Zionism if they wish to be feminists.
But Odeh’s presence at the JVP event was far worse. She is a convicted terrorist, who took part in the murder of two Jewish Israelis. She was eventually released from Israeli prison, and found her way to the US. She lied on her immigration papers, and is now being deported — but JVP invited her to their conference, and cheered her speech, in which she pledged to continue fighting Israel’s existence and for the “right of return” — which Arabs hope will signal the Jewish state’s destruction.
This incident ought to convince even those who worship at the altar of inclusion that there are some lines that must be drawn.
Those who advocate for treating JVP as just another Jewish group worthy of a place at the communal table aren’t just normalizing radicals. They are setting a standard by which it is possible to make common cause with antisemites and those seeking Israel’s destruction, while still demanding the Jewish world’s respect.
The applause for Odeh ought to be remembered every time that JVP members seek membership in Jewish Community Relations Councils, or seek the right to use JCCs or synagogues to promote their cause. A community that treats inclusion as the most important value is ultimately one that will stand for nothing. A big Jewish tent is a fine thing, but there can be no room in it for the comrades of terrorist murderers.
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.