By Saul Golubcow
Various news stories recently have called attention to a quandary facing the Jewish community in knowing when to confront or walk away from a seeming ally with whom we believe we have common cause but who also appears hostile to a core part of ourselves. The difficulty is even greater when our Jewish sense of justice is mediating for assisting that ally.
Two instances point out these challenges.
The appropriation of the Women’s March movement by blatant anti-Semites and Israel haters such as Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour — who have stated openly that one cannot be a Zionist and a feminist, who have shamelessly associated themselves with Louis Farrakhan, and who gallingly forced Starbucks to drop the Anti-Defamation League as a contributor to anti-bias training — appears to have become an intersectionality almost too far for most Jewish women associated with that movement.
Carly Pildis, a strong voice for Jewish social advocacy, writing a few months ago in Tablet frames her problem as follows: “Pitching a big tent is critical to creating a movement that can mobilize for change. I have partnered with people and organizations I have fierce policy disagreements with in order to win big victories. That said, there are lines that can’t be crossed in the name of progress.” Yet for Pildis and many others who see themselves as Jewish social justice warriors, the crossing of the anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism line does not create a total break with supposed “allies” who have venom in their hearts and ill-intent against Jews.
Winning “big victories” overrides the menace Pildis recognizes as she claims to “have forgiven people for engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric in my local community.”
A second example involves a trip last July by members of T’ruah, The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, to the Mexican border to ally with Mijente, a Latino group protesting immigration policies. Mijente leadership praised the Jewish contingent for showing up and “supporting the young kids throwing rocks at all borders,” a blatant reference to scenes of Palestinians throwing rocks and incendiary devices at Israeli soldiers. These anti-Israel aspersions were met with Jewish silence.
Following the protests, Rabbi David Hoffman, a vice chancellor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, concluded that despite feelings of discomfort at hearing anti-Israel rhetoric, he did not rue his silence because he did not want to miss an “opportunity to build foundations for a real transformative exchange of ideas,” a motivation very similar to Pildis’ having Mallory to dinner.
It’s interesting how choices are made when one’s argument comes neatly wrapped in a moral imperative that also supposedly militates against speaking out against one’s own people’s welfare. T’ruah, after Charlottesville last year, appropriately called President Donald Trump to task for his “lackluster statement … which refuses to condemn white supremacists [and] only encourages these dangerous racists.” As T’ruah set an example of finding even a lackluster response to anti-Semitism unacceptable, shouldn’t T’ruah have also had only one response to the Mijente anti-Israel rhetoric: zero tolerance?
The difference may be that T’ruah views the cause Mijente espouses as part of a progressive, social justice vanguard that is excused for being incorrect when it comes to Israel and anti-Semitism because other interests match.
The Talmud teaches us, shtikah k’hodaah, silence means consent. The Mijente leadership, hearing no counter response, reflecting on no pain or anger or repudiation from its Jewish allies, would they not conclude that the silence means that even the Jewish folks are with them, not only on immigration policy but also on the negative way they feel about Israel?
Because the T’ruah rabbis and Pildis are Jewish leaders and role models, how they respond to anti-Semitism and Israel delegitimization is critical, particularly for our Jewish youth.
Many of our children on college campuses are attacked and made to feel guilty with accusations of white (Jewish) privilege, economic class exploitation and fifth-column behavior in support of Israel. Cowed into silence, insecure in their emotions and at times succumbing to a Stockholm syndrome affiliation with their bullies and accusers, our vulnerable youth are left reeling and in need of defenders.
As they waited to see what their own leaders would do, did they not need a champion to say, “The words we are hearing from Mijente leadership are absolutely unacceptable!” If they hear that Mallory sat at Pildis’ table uttering useless deflections, what will the acceptance of that coarse sophistry do to their resolve in standing up to anti-Semitism?
It’s difficult to argue with someone like Hoffman who claims as an explanation for his inaction that “focusing on our shared humanity” is a righteous impulse.
When one’s family, people, community and homeland is in danger, seichel should serve as a counter balance to the well-meaning impulses toward the welfare of others so that we also consider the safety of our own. While saving others, pursuing justice, and protecting the stranger are core Jewish values, the Torah also states, “You shall keep My laws and My rules and live by them.”
Today, in our cultural and political environments, we must find ways to ally with others to accomplish certain objectives.
But allies respect strength and resolve from their partners, not a one-way street.
Not responding to Mijente’s anti-Zionist drivel exhibited self-abnegating weakness in the relationship and was a missed opportunity by Jewish participants to have educated a community that has a poor understanding of our history, love of Israel, the danger Israel faces in being surrounded by enemies vowing its annihilation and our pain in listening to the diatribes aimed at us.
Pildis extending hospitality to Mallory demonstrates a misplaced generosity of spirit.
As we ally with other communities, we must stand up proudly and make it clear that there can be no friendship between us if you spew anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing sentiments regardless of how much agreement exists elsewhere.
Saul Golubcow is an attorney living in Potomac, Md.