IfNotNow Does Not Support Peace — or Israel
Reading the recent Algemeiner op-ed about the anti-Israel group IFNotNow (INN), I thought about the long-forgotten Abraham Cronbach.
Born the son of German-Jewish immigrants, Cronbach studied for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and became a dedicated pacifist after seeing the anti-German hysteria during World War I.
During the 1920s, Cronbach failed to establish his Jewish pacifist organization, “A Pledge for Jewish Pacifists.” But he succeeded with the “Peace Heroes Memorial Society” honoring pacifists, which persisted in Cincinnati until 1941.
But did Hitler’s rise give Cronbach pause about his pacifist convictions? The effect was exactly the opposite.
Like the American Quakers — who were blinded to the enormity of Nazism because they were paralyzed by fear of another world war — Cronbach, in 1935, called for a conference between Nazis and Jews in Philadelphia for the purpose of brotherly reconciliation. He also worked with the Friends Service Committee for a Relief Fund to evenhandedly aid German Jews and “persecuted” Austrian Nazis.
In 1942, he helped found the Jewish Peace Fellowship, which he described as a “religious organization of Jewish persons who believe war to be as futile as it is fiendish.” Immediately after the Allied victory, Cronbach addressed letters to Jewish organizations (the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Conference, and American Jewish Congress) asking that they not seek punishment of Nazi war criminals.
Though Rabbi Cronbach was an honorable (if misguided) man, and 1960s protesters may have been right about the Vietnam War, I cannot say the same for today’s INN leaders.
The INN’s chosen symbol is Moses’ Burning Bush. In Chapter 3 of the Book of Exodus, the Angel of the Lord appeared in a blazing bush that was miraculously not consumed. The Lord then said to Moses: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt … and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
The problem for INN is the consensus among Biblical scholars that the Lord was promising the whole of the land to the Hebrew children, whereas IfNotNow appears to believe that the Lord wants us to give it all back.
INN propaganda never once mentions Jerusalem, much less any Jewish claim to it. INN also ignores the history of Arab armies invading Israel and Palestinian terrorism, and nowhere recognizes Israel’s “right to exist.”
Peter Beinart, a born-again anti-Zionist, has favorably compared IfNotNow to Black Lives Matter (BLM). BLM’s founding manifesto accuses Israel of genocide. Some comparison.
When it comes to defending Israel from its enemies, INN’s answer to Hillel’s question — “If Not Now When?” — is never to defend the Jewish state or people. The only thing that matters is “liberating” Israelis and — more importantly — young American Jews from alleged sins against the Palestinians, including their parents’ complicity in supporting Israel.
The only place in the Talmud that recognizes Jewish pacifism is Ketubot 111a, recounting that in response to the persecutions of the second century CE, the Jewish people agreed to take a pacifist oath because non-resistance can sometimes be the best guarantee of survival in response to total political defeat.
For millennia, we Jews have prayed “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Now, Jerusalem is ours to defend. We are not going to give it up to appease the war weariness of young Jewish Americans who have never seen battle — except on their video game consoles.
Winning a Rockefeller Foundation grant as agents provocateur on behalf of Palestinian empowerment, INN has proven instead to be made up of humorless pranksters further eroding Israeli confidence in peace. They should not be taken seriously.
Historian Harold Brackman is co-author with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).