Aryeh Cohen, a leading voice in the left-wing Jewish social justice movement, has pointed out a hypocrisy on the left that has baffled some Jewish conservatives for a while. He doesn’t stand with Women of the Wall–a liberal organization in Israel looking to establish egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall (Kotel)–because it is seeking to advance Jewish rights in an area not only “occupied,” but where an Arab neighborhood once stood. In other words: how can Jewish liberals promote Jewish egalitarianism in a place they don’t even believe Jews should be?
Beyond the particular question of egalitarianism, Cohen’s article in Sh’ma in fact speaks to the wider issue of American Jewish liberal treatment of Israel. How are the competing claims of Jews and Arabs to be decided? “In some other world in which peace and justice reign, and nobody harbors any agendas aside from bettering the good of all,” Cohen writes, “everybody would be able to pray together, or as they wished, at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount itself.” Unfortunately, as Cohen points out–and many conservatives would agree–this is not currently possible. The conclusion seems, then, that for now the will of one side must prevail over that of the other. The problem is that the American Jewish left believes the side that should prevail is that of the Arabs. If only one side of this conflict can pray on the Temple Mount, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have access to the Kotel, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have sovereignty in parts or all of the Land of Israel, they say, it must be the Arabs.
This sentiment crosses the border of self-effacement into the region of self-hatred. To insist that the Jews owe so much to others and are themselves owed nothing is to ask of one’s tribe to be nothing more than a doormat. Such an analogy might describe much of Jewish history, yet now that, thanks to the achievements of the modern State of Israel, it may no longer be applicable, the American Jewish left is prescribing it. If rights are to clash in the Middle East, they declare, the Jews should sacrifice theirs. This, we are told, is “justice.”
We are also told it is “peace”–thus compounding the perverseness of these liberals’ recommendations. If the route to reconciliation in the Middle East is through the elevation of one side’s claims over the other’s, is peace likely to emerge from Arab hegemony, under which Jews are denied most rights (including, as it happens, the right to pray on the Temple Mount, which is administered by an Arab authority), or through Jewish democracy, where Arabs are afforded maximal rights?
(Those who contest this last point are referred to Cohen’s admission that “Nothing in Israel, or in the Middle East, is disconnected from anything else,” yet these issues are treated by North American Jews as if they “exist in a vacuum.”)
The Jewish left may think that the answer to Israel’s problems is to go back to the 1940s. Others, though, think “peace and justice” might come a different way.