Commentary Magazine


Topic: Judaism

BDS Drops Its Veil: Campus Anti-Semitism

The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

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The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

Horwitz may have removed Israel from her Facebook persona but couldn’t escape being classified as a Jew and was therefore suspect in the eyes of those who have come to treat support for the war on Zionism as a litmus test of liberal bona fides. But the significance of the incident lies not so much in the snub of a Hispanic student (she was adopted from Paraguay and considers herself both a South American and a Jew) by a coalition that is supposed to exist to support such persons simply because she is also Jewish and unwilling to disavow Israel under questioning. Rather, it is the insouciance with which the members of the student group—including the chapter president of the NAACP—regarded the inquisition of a Jewish student about her faith as being not only acceptable but something that should be expected.

Horwitz has demanded a public apology, but she shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for it. Nor should she expect much comfort from the university that has also been asked to investigate what happened. The reason is that so long as support for a movement that singles out the one Jewish state in the world and its supporters for discriminatory treatment and opprobrium is not merely tolerated as an opinion but treated as a reasonable point of view about which decent people may differ, we can’t be surprised that Jew hatred is being normalized.

Had the coalition merely asked Horwitz about her stand about divestment without connecting it to her faith, that might pass the anti-Semitism smell test even if it would still be troubling that blacks and Hispanics have adopted the attack on Zionism as their own cause. But by linking this issue to Judaism they have acknowledged the fact that the divestment cause is not merely a political criticism of Israel’s government or its policies but primarily focused on singling out Jews for biased treatment.

Stanford’s Student Senate has already endorsed divestment from Israel, a move that places all supporters of the Jewish state on the defensive. But in the course of the battle over this attack on Israel, it’s clear that advocates of divestment have ceased being careful about trying to separate their campaign against the right of the Jews to have a state in their ancient homeland—a concept that is not denied to any other people on the planet—from one against anyone who openly identifies as a Jew. The Stanford Review has reported that the Students of Color has asked candidates for student offices to pledge not to affiliate with Jewish groups. In doing so, and in quizzing students about their Jewish faith, such persons are not merely advocating for a discriminatory practice—divestment—but making it clear that any Jew who chooses not to join the gang attack on the Jewish state will be stigmatized.

This is not the first time students at a major university have been caught practicing anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, a Jewish student at UCLA was similarly interrogated by a student committee interviewing candidates for a campus judicial committee and was asked if her Judaism would impact their conduct. That case was caught on film, making it easier to call out the offenders–something that didn’t happen at Stanford, thus allowing Horwitz’s inquisitors to claim they were misinterpreted.

The Anti-Defamation League is calling the Stanford incident “an important teaching moment” in which the “university needs to make it clear to students and student groups that singling out identity and questioning on those kind of issues is discriminatory.” They’re right about that, but the problem won’t be dealt with by ignoring the clear connection between the worldwide BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement and anti-Semitism. That’s a stand that many supporters of Israel have refused to take believing that crying anti-Semitism will cloud the issue and make it harder to advocate for Israel. But divestment advocates are making it increasingly obvious they have no scruples about the link between Jew hatred and treating Israel as a pariah state. BDS isn’t about a political dispute within Israel, its borders, or sympathy for the Palestinians. It’s a war on Jews.

So long as an ideology that is aimed solely at discriminating against the Jewish state is treated as acceptable opinion and not one rooted in bias, these incidents will not only keep popping up; they will spread and become the norm on campuses and in those parts of society where elite academic opinion has influence.

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The Future of Jewish Conservatism

If you’re not familiar with Mosaic magazine, you should be. Devoted to Jewish issues and ideas, it’s one of the outstanding publications on the American scene today–beautifully edited and endlessly fascinating, including (and sometimes especially) for a non-Jew like myself. To prove my point, consider this month’s full-length essay by Eric Cohen (which Seth Mandel has previously written on) and a response by Yuval Levin.

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If you’re not familiar with Mosaic magazine, you should be. Devoted to Jewish issues and ideas, it’s one of the outstanding publications on the American scene today–beautifully edited and endlessly fascinating, including (and sometimes especially) for a non-Jew like myself. To prove my point, consider this month’s full-length essay by Eric Cohen (which Seth Mandel has previously written on) and a response by Yuval Levin.

The essay and the response focus on Mr. Cohen’s argument that in both America and in Israel, the liberal faith of too many Jews has put at risk the Jewish future–and what is needed is a serious and thoughtful alternative grounded in Jewish conservatism. According to Cohen, liberalism has weakened Judaism in both America and Israel; for the most part, conservative critics of Jewish liberalism have not proceeded to formulate an adequate response to it; and for a Jewish conservative movement to take root and alter how Jews look at family life, nationalism, and economics, the animating principles of Jewish conservatism, which he argues are relevant to all Jews, need to be articulated. Mr. Cohen’s elegant essay provides the linkages among these core ideals, demonstrating both what Jews have to teach and what they have to learn.

Which brings me to Dr. Levin, who writes that “if Judaism is to be both student and teacher, the necessary underlying glue” need to identified. And what might that underlying glue be?

Perhaps what is needed is a Jewish case for the conservative disposition itself—the Jewish case for anti-utopianism and high-minded skepticism of worldly perfection. Such a case would reinforce the argument for the family by highlighting the practical impossibility of all alternatives; it would strengthen the case for moral realism in world affairs by emphasizing the permanence of evil in the human experience; and it would diminish the lure of radical egalitarianism by showing that no technocratic fantasy could do more for the poor than a market economy. But it would not ultimately be a case about the family, world affairs, or the economy. It would be an anthropological argument—a case about the human person.

As someone who is something of an outside observer, I want to be careful about thrusting myself into the middle of an intra-Jewish debate. Yet as a conservative who feels a deep kinship for the Jewish people and reveres the Jewish state, for reasons both tied to and apart from my own Christian faith, I do believe it’s appropriate to say that this project, as laid out by Cohen and refined by Levin, is immensely important. A very great deal rests on how these things will unfold in the years to follow. But it seems to me this is just the right way to think about shifting the trajectory of events.

Nothing will happen overnight, and as Cohen himself admits, what he’s arguing for “run[s] against the grains of the times.” But times change, intellectual and moral fads fade away, and eventually human nature and the truths about human nature reassert themselves. And because conservatism is more aligned with human nature than liberalism, what people like Cohen and Levin are attempting to do is not only vital; there is a reasonable chance that with time, effort, and wisdom, it can succeed. The embrace of a coherent Jewish conservatism can happen. But read both pieces and decide for yourself.

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Dress Codes and the Naked Public Square

In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

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In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

Over at National Review, Katherine Timpf notes the latest in an ongoing story: the attempt to label school dress codes as part of “rape culture.” This particular incident has to do with a female student at Orangefield County High School in California who was sent home for wearing a shirt over knee-length leggings. But the issue isn’t new, and the branding of dress codes as “rape culture,” as strange as it may sound, is fairly mainstream in American liberalism today.

The idea is that it’s wrong to tell girls to dress in ways that would be less distracting to boys because teenage boys should just keep their eyes on the blackboard. (Teenage boys being famous for their studious self-control in the name of overthrowing an oppressive patriarchal order.) But of course, as Timpf writes, it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition: you can tell girls to dress appropriately while also telling boys to be respectful. (And, by the way, you should tell boys to be respectful.) Additionally, condemning dress codes as stigmatizing is one thing; blaming them for sexual violence is quite another.

And yet the left has made this leap. In 2013, a blog at the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress included the following paragraph:

When most Americans think about “rape culture,” they may think about the Steubenville boys’ defense arguing that an unconscious girl consented to her sexual assault because she “didn’t say no,” the school administrators who choose to protect their star athletes over those boys’ rape victims, or the bullying that led multiple victims of sexual assault to take their own lives. While those incidences of victim-blaming are certainly symptoms of a deeply-rooted rape culture in this country, they’re not the only examples of this dynamic at play. Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently “distracting” to the boys who simply can’t control themselves. That approach to gender roles simply encourages our youth to assume that sexual crimes must have something to do with women’s “suggestive” clothes or behavior, rather than teaching them that every individual is responsible for respecting others’ bodily autonomy.

Notice how the authors have to guide you gently away from reality. When you think of rape, the authors allow, you probably tend to think of rape. But have you considered thinking of things that are not rape, instead?

The more disquieting part of all this is this sentence: “Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently ‘distracting’ to the boys who simply can’t control themselves.”

And what attitudes recognize–sorry, just assume–that boys can be distracted by girls? Well, for one, religious belief. I attended Jewish schools that not only enforced dress codes but also educated boys and girls in separate classrooms. This is in part because, apparently unlike the Center for American Progress, my school administrators had met teenage boys. But it’s also because modesty in dress is part and parcel of a respectful religious atmosphere that recognizes and channels human nature instead of ignoring it.

But the truth is it doesn’t really matter as long as educational institutions can just go their own way. What the left is trying to do with the “rape culture” allegation is to drive those on the wrong end of the false accusation from polite society. Practicing observant Judaism is, according to the left, perpetuating “rape culture.”

The other troubling story is yesterday’s New York Times article on the fear that now governs the public actions of those opposed to same-sex marriage legalization. The left has come a long way from (correctly) pointing out that terrorism-related detainees at Gitmo deserve legal representation just like any other defendant:

Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.

In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.

John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of massacring colonists. But now defending the position held by, among others, Barack Obama just a few years ago is untenable for a major law firm. Again, we’re not even talking necessarily about actually opposing gay marriage in principle. We’re talking about providing legal representation to those who hold that view.

There will be lawsuits stemming from the legalization of gay marriage because religious institutions will want to at least go on practicing their religion in private. But there’s no such thing, anymore. A church or a synagogue or a mosque will be ostracized just as will their legal representation. And traditional religions will be equated with the promotion or enabling of rape.

The future of the public square is bleak.

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Imagining a Jewish Conservatism

There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

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There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

Public fasts are not to be ordered to commence on a Thursday, in order not to raise the price of victuals in the markets; but the first fasts are to be on Monday, Thursday, and [the following] Monday; but the second three fasts may follow on Thursday, Monday, and [the following] Thursday. R. José says, “Even as the first fasts are not to be commenced on Thursday, so also are the second and last fasts not to commence on that day.”

Beginning an unscheduled fast on Thursday would raise prices just when people need to begin their grocery shopping for Shabbat. According to this logic the second fast can be a Thursday because it’s known in advance, giving shoppers time to prepare ahead of time and causing less havoc in the markets.

What we have here is a rather amazing case of Jewish law being set according to market economics and the principle of unintended consequences. You could call such ideas “conservative” or “classically liberal,” such as they are–but of course they preceded thinkers like Milton Friedman by almost two thousand years.

We’ll come back to Friedman in a moment, but first: this month’s fantastic Mosaic essay. In it, Eric Cohen argues for a Jewish conservatism as a political project in response to the threats–demographic, security, and otherwise–the Jews face today. A summary can’t really do the essay justice, so read the whole thing. Cohen talks about the role of the family in fostering continuity; the purpose of Jewish nationalism; the primacy of economics; and other conceptual areas of this political program. But he also says, as well he should, that: “What such an agenda would look like—its programmatic content—is a task for a separate essay and another occasion.”

Cohen’s purpose is to establish the principles, and he does so with great insight and erudition.

But we should still think about how to fill in the blanks, and also make one important distinction. Cohen’s essay is so valuable because it weaves together disparate elements into a “Jewish conservatism.” Yet part of any program of “Jewish conservatism” will also be conservatism as practiced by Jews. And for that, we really do have some idea how it would look.

Israel is the most obvious testing ground for Jewish conservatism. It is a country ever in the process of breaking free from its socialist shackles, but the seeds were planted earlier.

When we discuss the promotion of democracy abroad, we often hear objections like: “There are no Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons in Iraq.” True. And what makes the United States and Israel such easy allies is the fact that Israel did have Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons (though it needed more of them; it could have used a full constitution, for example). One such founder was Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Jabotinsky rejected socialism and had a fuller appreciation of individual liberty than virtually any other Israeli founding father. Here is Jabotinsky on representative democracy:

What is especially difficult to understand is the mentality of those who yearn for “leaders.” The situation was completely different and better in my youth. We believed that every movement was made of people of equal worth. Each one was a prince, each one was a king. When election time came, they chose, not people, but programs. Those who were chosen were nothing but the executors of the program. We, the masses, would follow them and listen to them, not because they were “leaders,” but specifically because they were our “servants”; when you, of your own free will, chose a group of people and order to them to work for you, you had to help them–or remove them. Because you were obeying not their will, but only your own will, which was expressed in the election. … This philosophy of my youth was perhaps a complete fiction (like all human philosophies), but I much prefer it; it had more genius and more noblesse, even though it bore the name, whose prestige has declined–democracy.

When your nationalist movement has such men at the forefront, democracy and freedom are in the DNA of the state that eventually comes into being. Jabotinsky’s vision might not have been described as “conservative” then, but it sure is now. This focus on nationalism and democratic accountability is falling out of favor in the West, but any aspiring political program would do well to swim against that tide.

But we can get more specific than that, with examples, once the state was actually founded–actually, when the right finally won an election nearly thirty years after the founding of the country. Shedding the country’s socialist skin was not easy. But Israeli rightists were willing to take on the challenge, at least incrementally. Menachem Begin was the Likud’s first prime minister after the 1977 elections. He called on–you guessed it–Milton Friedman for assistance.

Avi Shilon’s biography of Begin probably has the best rundown of the Begin government’s economic plans. A brief summary is as follows.

Begin wanted Friedman’s help with his New Economic Reversal. Friedman called Begin’s reform plans as “daring as the raid on Entebbe.” Subsidies were eliminated. This was politically brave, since lower-income earners were a crucial voting bloc in Begin’s electoral triumph. Also cancelled were foreign-currency controls to open up trade and investment. In order to try to alleviate the deficit, Begin also raised the value-added tax.

But Begin still did not go far enough, and inflation hit. Shilon writes:

The desire to create a free market in an economy that had not known many changes since the establishment of the state was expressed, among other things, in the fact that the linkage mechanism that compensated wage earners for price increases and that had been in existence since the days of Mapai was not eliminated, thus negating the effect of the built-in mechanism of inflation, by which rising prices were supposed to reduce demand and inflationary pressures.

He was also hesitant to push a fuller privatization program. Additionally, he wouldn’t cut government spending where it needed to be cut to help manage the debt. “I want social justice without socialism,” he had said. It was a start, anyway.

Israel took a big step forward with the Economic Stabilization Program beginning in 1985. Though Labor’s Shimon Peres was prime minister that year, he was heading a national unity government at a time when Likud had the upper hand, and the program was overseen by the Likud finance minister, Yitzhak Moda’i. It was instituted to boost the shekel, and rein in government spending through various mechanisms. It also had the assistance of the Reagan administration.

The stabilization was successful. More such programs finally took place in 2003 when Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time the finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, instituted more reforms by cutting taxes and increasing privatization while keeping government spending in check. And of course we can’t forget Israel’s reputation as a “start-up nation,” in which the opportunity to take risks and innovate is a mark of pride.

Back in the U.S., many American Jews are already positively disposed toward market economics, which has given them unprecedented freedom and prosperity. But other issues, such as school choice and religious liberty, will play an increasingly significant role in their lives. On those issues, the conservative positions may become more attractive to practicing Jews.

I’ve deliberately left off support for Israel. Although these days the American right is far friendlier to Israel than is the left, there is nothing specifically “conservative,” just as there is nothing specifically “liberal,” about support for an ally and a fellow democracy like Israel. It ought to be part of any conservative political program, but I hesitate to say it’s conceptually conservative.

There are other examples I’m sure I’m missing, but it will only help to put meat on the bones of a Jewish conservatism that we have so many real-world examples of Jews practicing political conservatism. With that combination, a real Jewish conservatism can take shape.

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The Holocaust, White Privilege, and American Jewry

This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

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This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

The column, by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, was titled “The Holocaust Doesn’t Discount Jewish White Privilege Today” (it appears to have been changed at some point to “Does the Holocaust Discount Jewish White Privilege?”) and is specifically responding to two points in a recent Tablet column by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The general thrust of the piece was about being pro-Israel in liberal environments and how some Jews in such situations feel safer closeting their Zionism. Bovy’s critique of it is an exercise in missing the point.

The first point Bovy is responding to is Brodesser-Akner’s assertion that many pro-Israel Jews suffer in silence: “My DM boxes on Twitter and Facebook are filled with people like me—liberals, culture reporters, economics reporters—baffled and sad at the way the cause of Jews avoiding another attempt at our genocide has gone from a liberal one to a capital-c Conservative one.”

Bovy’s response is to find fault in the imputation of achdus:

When it comes to Israeli policy especially, it seems not just inaccurate but dangerous to suggest that the American Jews who aren’t, say, rah-rah for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in public are thus in private. It would play into stereotypes of Jews having dual loyalties, or all holding the same (far-right) views when it comes to Israel.

You’ll notice Bovy got everything in that excerpt wrong, from Brodesser-Akner’s intended point, to its implications, to conflating support for Israel with loyalty to Israel’s government, and even to the mistaken characterization of the views in question.

The second point Bovy is responding to, and which is relevant to the question of the Holocaust, is the following tweet, which Brodesser-Akner sent out recently and expounded on in her essay:

Bovy then does what all helpful leftists do: declare someone else’s privilege and minimize their suffering. Here’s the crux of her case against Brodesser-Akner:

It’s entirely possible for a Jew whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust to benefit from certain aspects of (for lack of a better term) white privilege. That the Nazis wouldn’t have considered you white doesn’t mean that store clerks, taxi drivers, prospective employers, and others in the contemporary United States won’t accord you the unearned advantages white people, Jewish and otherwise, enjoy. That your ancestors were victims of genocide in a different place and at a different time doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the victimizing caste in your own society, any more than having had impoverished forbears means that you can’t have been born into money. (Not, to be clear, that all Jews are!)

Again, talk about missing the point. But what I think many of Bovy’s critics are missing is that her argument, crucially, fails on her own terms too, and those of the social-justice warriors of the left. If you think “white privilege” can be reduced to the ability to get a taxi, then sure, Brodesser-Akner is probably privileged. Bovy is making what seems like an obvious point: if you’re one of the many Jews who don’t wear identifying garments, you can make white America think you’re one of them.

Bovy is also surely not the first to tell Brodesser-Akner that her ancestors might have been victims but she can also “be part of the victimizing caste in [her] own society”–this is the accusation leveled at Israel and its supporters every day, though in far uglier ways than this. More interesting is that the arguments of the social-justice left have become so rote and mechanized that they no longer seem to understand them as intellectual concepts, just bumper-sticker slogans to be deployed as trump cards.

And understanding a fuller picture of what is usually meant by white privilege–beyond benefiting from the supposed casual racism of cab drivers–is helpful here. One of the better pieces on white privilege in recent months was Reihan Salam’s column in Slate back in December. He was writing after the controversial grand jury decisions, in Ferguson and New York, not to indict police officers who killed a black man while on duty. Salam noted that white privilege was not just about law enforcement, but that there was an economic element to it as well.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but here is the part that jumps out at me in the context of Bovy’s Holocaust remark:

Even white Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves. In his influential 2005 book When Affirmative Action Was White, Ira Katznelson recounts in fascinating detail the various ways in which the New Deal and Fair Deal social programs of the 1930s and 1940s expanded economic opportunities for whites while doing so unevenly at best for blacks, particularly in the segregated South. Many rural whites who had known nothing but the direst poverty saw their lives transformed as everything from rural electrification to generous educational benefits for veterans allowed them to build human capital, earn higher incomes, and accumulate savings. This legacy, in ways large and small, continues to enrich the children and grandchildren of the whites of that era. This is the stuff of white privilege.

He also points out that “all kinds of valuable social goods are transmitted through social networks.” How is this relevant to Brodesser-Akner? Well, if you’re an American Jew in Brodesser-Akner’s age range you probably descend from parents or grandparents who were less the beneficiaries of white affirmative action and more the targets of anti-Semitism, in their professional lives at least, that greatly reduced your family’s share of the wealth and access that could be passed to future generations. You are, in other words, on the outside of white privilege looking in.

And specifically, someone with few surviving relatives due to the Holocaust is someone who might not have the extended network–familial and otherwise–that would facilitate economic advancement, especially for someone dealing with the generational legacy of past discrimination.

Of course, Jews have been quite good at building networks, a skill picked up in response to societal exclusion. In this, they have much more in common with other recent immigrant groups than with “the victimizing caste” in white America.

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“Orthodox” as a Pejorative: The Democrats and the Jews

Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s controversial comments at the J Street conference–a gathering seemingly formed for the purpose of disparaging the rest of the Jewish community–deftly illustrated a couple of uncomfortable truths about modern liberalism’s increasingly rocky relationship with religious belief. Liberalism itself has become a religion, and so the left generally seeks to either coopt or delegitimize competing religious practice. At J Street, Schakowsky engaged in the latter.

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Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s controversial comments at the J Street conference–a gathering seemingly formed for the purpose of disparaging the rest of the Jewish community–deftly illustrated a couple of uncomfortable truths about modern liberalism’s increasingly rocky relationship with religious belief. Liberalism itself has become a religion, and so the left generally seeks to either coopt or delegitimize competing religious practice. At J Street, Schakowsky engaged in the latter.

As JTA reported:

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois apologized for referring to a one-time political rival as an “Orthodox Jew” in casting him as a threat to liberal interests. …

“In 2010, I had an election within our community. That is, I ran against a Jewish Orthodox Tea Party Republican who made it very clear that actually, Jan Schakowsky was anti-Israel because of the positions that she took,” Schakowsky said. She thanked J Street because it “came to the rescue” with money and moral support.

Schakowsky in 2010 faced Joel Pollak, a conservative activist, in her suburban Chicago district.

After JTA tweeted a reference to Schakowsky’s comments, the Orthodox Union asked her for a clarification.

“In the context of her remarks and speaking to such an audience, the Congresswoman’s use of the term ‘Orthodox’ was a negative term – as negative for that audience as Tea Party and Republican,” the O.U.’s Washington director, Nathan Diament, said in a statement.

To her credit, Schakowsky offered a sincere apology, though she did deny the obvious intent of her comment. But it was important and revelatory. The lede of the JTA story gets it exactly right: Schakowsky saw her opponent’s Orthodox faith as a threat to her view of proper politics and governance.

There are a few points to unpack here. The first is that this is further confirmation of what Norman Podhoretz called the “Torah of Liberalism.” Many left-leaning Jews have elevated their political ideals to the level of scripture.

A related point is what follows from that: they have demoted scripture to the level of politics. That’s why Schakowsky–who is Jewish–thought it relevant to add “Orthodox” to the list of political modifiers that included “Tea Party” and “Republican.” To Schakowsky, and no doubt to many liberal Jews, Pollak was a political opponent because of his level of private religious observance.

It’s entirely appropriate that her comments were made at a J Street event. Back in 2010 the Washington Jewish Week noted that J Street had launched a website dedicated to personally attacking Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer. The site “highlights the pair’s stances on gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and the separation of church and state,” and left even liberal Jews confused. But they shouldn’t have been confused: J Street has always been a Democratic pressure group, of which Israel is only one excuse to smear political opponents and settle scores. It’s why they saw fit to launch a campaign to promote abortion while selling themselves to donors as a “pro-Israel” lobby.

The liberal positions on these issues have nothing to do with Israel, but they do conflict with strict adherence to Jewish law and tradition. And so they were targeted.

The only strange part of Schakowsky giving this speech to J Street, in fact, was that she certainly didn’t need them and they certainly didn’t ride to the rescue. In 2010 she won about 66 percent of the vote in a district Roll Call rates as “safe.” She was never in danger of losing, notwithstanding the nefarious Orthodox Jews lurking about her district.

One of the prevailing myths of the liberal view of history is that religious conservatives–especially evangelical Christians–greatly increased their activity in the public square in order to attempt to force religious doctrine into legislative governance, rather than as a reaction to what they saw as a bureaucratic intrusion into private religious practice. Jewish participation seems destined to follow a similar trend, but the real numbers of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. mean they won’t have a tangible impact on national political contests in the immediate future, even if they continue wading more into the public sphere.

That would be true, at least, as a standalone bloc. But Orthodox interests align with many conservative Christian interests as well, which align with certain libertarian interests, for example with regard to the debate over religious freedom and forced compliance with regulations that violate religious liberty. Seen in that light, then, the raw numbers of politically aware (and right-of-center) Orthodox Jews aren’t nearly as significant as what they represent: the expansion of a broad conservative alliance pushing back on encroachments on constitutional freedoms.

Israel is only part of this story, because it has long been a bipartisan cause. But it’s poised to become a larger part if Democrats continue distancing themselves from support for Israel and casting Israel as a litmus test of partisan loyalty, as President Obama has done.

And that’s a more likely justification for Schakowsky’s professed gratitude toward J Street for her reelection campaign. She didn’t need them for votes, or really anything tangible. She needed cover from an ostensibly “pro-Israel” group because her party’s traditional support for Israel is waning, and J Street is dedicated to improving the political viability of declining support for Israel.

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Don’t Ignore Nonviolent Anti-Semitism

The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

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The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

As Joel Kotkin explains in a column for the Orange County Register, the global Jewish community is rapidly becoming a regional Jewish community. According to Kotkin, four out of every five Jews now lives in either Israel or the United States. In 1939, that number was one in four. Rising anti-Semitism throughout the world–and not just Western Europe–has combined with a dwindling birth rate to produce demographic decline in most of the world’s Jewish communities. Kotkin writes:

Overall, nearly 26,500 Europeans immigrated last year to Israel – a 32 percent increase from 2013. In Britain, a Jewish population of less than 300,000 has not grown for a generation. With recent polls showing close to half of all Britons holding some anti-Semitic views, a majority of British Jews now feel there is no future for them in Europe; one in four is considering emigration.

Other historically significant Jewish communities, such as that in Argentina, also are losing population. The number of Jews in the South American republic has fallen from roughly 300,000 in the 1960s to 250,000 today. This demographic decline will likely be accelerated now that the current Peronista regime has been accused of collaborating with Iranian terrorists implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. The government is widely suspected of complicity in the murder last month of the prosecutor investigating the bombing.

Argentina and France aren’t the only nations with formerly large, now-shrinking Jewish communities. In 1948, Iran was home to 100,000 Jews; now it’s a tenth of that number. In South Africa, the population reached 119,000 at the end of apartheid but since has dropped by roughly half. The largest numerical losses were in the former Soviet Union, where, in 1980, there were some 1.7 million Jews; now, as few as 250,000 remain. Most have resettled in Israel or the United States.

Still, France emerges as the canary in the coal mine–if, after the 20th century, the Jews of Europe need such a canary at all. It’s the largest European Jewish community, and it saw 7,000 of its Jews make aliyah last year alone. The numbers keep climbing, however. And there’s a reason beyond the violence.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher terror attacks in Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivered a beautiful speech on what French Jewry means to the French state. He spoke out forcefully against resurgent French anti-Semitism and accused his country of historical blindness. And he was clear on France’s responsibility to the Jewish community.

And yet, there is a lingering sense that the endemic anti-Semitism in France has already reached a point of no return. I wrote in response that although Valls’s speech was laudatory and, at times, even inspiring, his framing of the issue left a bad taste. He spoke of France as the “land of emancipation of the Jews,” but that calls into question whether non-secular Jews will ever feel at home there again. I wrote: “A Frenchman who happens to be a Jew at home cannot be the only Jew who feels at home in France.”

A video making the rounds today demonstrates my point. A Jewish reporter for the Israeli news outlet NRG put on a yarmulke, untucked his tzitzit fringes, and walked around various neighborhoods of Paris for ten hours filmed by a hidden camera (and flanked by an undercover bodyguard). Here is what he encountered in more heavily Muslim neighborhoods of Paris:

Walking into a public housing neighborhood, we came across a little boy and his hijab-clad mother, who were clearly shocked to see us. “What is he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know he will be killed?” the boy asked.

Walking by a school in one of Paris’ neighborhoods, a boy shouted “Viva Palestine” at me. Moments later, passing by a group of teens, one of the girls remarked, “Look at that – it’s the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing.”

Walking down another neighborhood, a driver stopped his car and approached us. “We’ve been made,” I thought. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “We’ve had reports that you were walking around our neighborhood – you’re not from around here.”

In one of the mostly-Muslim neighborhoods, we walked into an enclosed marketplace. “Look at him! He should be ashamed of himself. What is he doing walking in here wearing a kippa?!” one Muslim merchant yelled. “What do you care? He can do whatever he wants,” another, seemingly unfazed merchant, answered. Over at a nearby street I was lambasted with expletives, mostly telling me to “go f*** from the front and the back.”

At a nearby [café], fingers were pointed at us, and moments later two thugs were waiting for us on the street corner. They swore at me, yelled “Jew” and spat at me. “I think we’ve been made,” the photographer whispered at me. Two youths were waiting for us on the next street corner, as they had apparently heard that a Jew was walking around their neighborhood.

They made it clear to us that we had better get out of there, and we took their advice.

The video also suggests there was a fair amount of spitting in their direction throughout the day. The reporter, Zvika Klein, was spared violence by adhering to threats that were probably not empty. But even without violence, what you see in the video is a pervasive sense of almost distaste for a Jew wearing a kippah. I received similar stares at the airport in Paris once when I thought I could use the time before my flight to don my tallis and tefillin. I was not received warmly (by the Frenchmen nearby, that is; the other non-French tourists were fine with it).

But I don’t live there. What does Manuel Valls plan to do about his country’s obvious, pervasive, rank anti-Semitism? Staging security forces or police outside Jewish schools is all well and good, but they’re there for a reason. They won’t make French society less anti-Semitic, and they won’t make Jews feel more at home in a place where being identifiably Jewish has become not an expression of French multiculturalism but an act of defiance that requires a bodyguard.

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Conservatives and the War on Modesty

By now, you’re probably aware that first lady Michelle Obama did not wear a headscarf when she and President Obama met with new Saudi king Salman on Tuesday. You may have heard that this was a scandal; or you may have heard that it was not. You may have heard that this was practically revolutionary; or you may have heard that it was simply protocol. But whatever you’ve heard, there’s one question to which I’ve been searching, in vain, for a good answer: Why are we hearing anything about it at all?

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By now, you’re probably aware that first lady Michelle Obama did not wear a headscarf when she and President Obama met with new Saudi king Salman on Tuesday. You may have heard that this was a scandal; or you may have heard that it was not. You may have heard that this was practically revolutionary; or you may have heard that it was simply protocol. But whatever you’ve heard, there’s one question to which I’ve been searching, in vain, for a good answer: Why are we hearing anything about it at all?

The fact of the matter is that Michelle Obama’s decision to forgo a headscarf was nothing new. Laura Bush did the same, as did Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, etc. So why is it a big deal for Obama to follow in their footsteps? Here’s the Washington Post’s case:

But Obama is much more associated with clothes and fashion; she sets trends and boosts brands. And in the age of social media, she has an unparalleled global audience. …

Keep in mind that Michelle Obama does not make fashion choices lightly, particularly on the world stage. Her fashion choice comes as the late Saudi king Abdullah’s legacy on women is considered in light of the ascension of Crown Prince Salman to the throne.

Nonsense. I don’t have any desire to play armchair psychologist and go into the Obamas-Kennedys-Camelot fixation. But it is true that Obama received plaudits from both sides of the aisle for exposing her hair to the Saudis. Some women with roots in the Muslim world cheered her for what was treated as a silent protest on their behalf. On the right, politicians like Ted Cruz expressed their admiration. At Hot Air, Allahpundit supported the move but asked a more interesting question as to whether the significance was not in Obama breaking from the past but that she might be the last not to.

And this gets at the problem with celebrating this decision one way or the other: it’s just a different kind of conformity.

To be clear: I don’t think Michelle Obama should be forced to wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia. But I also don’t think she should be pressured not to wear one. I simply don’t see what’s wrong with the choice–emphasis on choice–to cover one’s hair in a voluntary show of respect.

I get the opposition to bowing; it suggests subservience. But I don’t think the headscarf does, at all. I understand that many women in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are forced to cover up, and that this is a form of subservience. But so is, by this logic, being precluded by law from wearing one, as was once the case in Turkey and which has been discussed in Western Europe, though in the latter case only a ban on covering the face tends to be politically viable. Covering the face is obviously different than covering the hair, and this difference is recognized throughout the world.

Covering the head, in fact, is something that religious cultures often require of the men as well as the women, and so a headscarf does not strike me as a violation of feminist principles, such as they are. (I’m an Orthodox Jew, and cover my head–though not my hair, and yes I acknowledge the difference there. And plenty of Orthodox men wear hats, covering their whole head anyway.)

Is it offensive when Barack Obama wears a yarmulke at the Western Wall? If not (and it isn’t), then it shouldn’t be offensive if Michelle Obama chooses to wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia (though she didn’t). One mistake too many conservatives make is to conflate any outward expression of Islamic adherence with oppression. This strikes me as flatly wrong, and irrationally so: donning a headscarf voluntarily is not the same thing as being prohibited by law from driving, to take just one example.

Additionally, conservatives should stand athwart Western culture’s assault on modesty whenever they can. And they should also understand that such modesty, and religious adherence in general, can be as freeing as it appears constricting. It might not be that way for everyone, but eliminating certain superficialities from everyday interactions can be its own form of liberation. Linda Sarsour tried to make a similar point on MSNBC yesterday:

As you can see, I wear hijab. It is a choice for me to wear and cover my hair for religious observation; and I consider myself to be a feminist and someone who supports the upholding of all rights, specifically of women. So this conversation we’re having needs to be more about not obsessing over Michelle Obama wearing a headscarf or not wearing a headscarf — which she is not mandated to do or required in a place like Saudi Arabia, specifically in Jeddah. Also, she is wearing modest clothing, but she was not at a mosque, so she wasn’t required to wear it. But this conversation about, oh, she was standing up for women for not wearing hijab, what about women who do wear hijab, and who choose to wear hijab? I’m very proud of my religion, and my faith, and I’m very proud of the hijab that I wear.

Ostracizing modest dress and voluntary respectful gestures strikes me as a bizarre cause for conservatives (or anybody, really) to take up. And I would hate to see women who cover their hair depicted as anti-freedom by a Western society that claims religious liberty as a paramount value.

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American Jewry, the Holocaust, and the End of History

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and with it will come the usual raft of stories that fall into two categories. There are the stories marking the day’s solemnity, and the stories in which grouchy academics tell Jews, not in quite so many words, to get over it. Today also marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a stark reminder of the aging of the generation of survivors. And this year it’s Shaul Magid who has stepped into the fray to tell American Jews that they are not Europeans and they are not Israelis, and so they should stop frowning so much.

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and with it will come the usual raft of stories that fall into two categories. There are the stories marking the day’s solemnity, and the stories in which grouchy academics tell Jews, not in quite so many words, to get over it. Today also marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a stark reminder of the aging of the generation of survivors. And this year it’s Shaul Magid who has stepped into the fray to tell American Jews that they are not Europeans and they are not Israelis, and so they should stop frowning so much.

In an essay at Tablet, Magid, author of American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society, takes up the cause of Jacob Neusner and what he believes is Neusner’s “central thesis on American Judaism: The reception and in some cases mythicization of the Holocaust in American Jewry prevents American Jews from actualizing the distinct potential that exists for them to move beyond an identity founded on oppression and persecution, or ‘negative Judaism,’ and toward a new identity that trusts the world enough to view itself as an integral part of an open society.”

It’s a long essay, so I hesitate to try to summarize it here. It’s also meandering, unsteady, and not quite able to stand on its own two feet, so I don’t want to attribute to it a clarity it doesn’t possess. But here is a coherent enough excerpt to get the point:

What is perhaps more distinctive to American Jewry is the second condition: the way the disappearance of anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism as an imminent threat has obviated the need for a parochial social structure (I do not speak of the diminution of anti-Semitism worldwide, but only in America). When the need for social cohesion is removed, the perpetuation of collective identity must be generated from within. … Neusner argues that contemporary America, a society not plagued by anti-Semitism, is a new landscape that Jews must navigate in order to find resources other than pure ethnicity (ethnos) or negativity (the Holocaust) so as to construct a lasting sense of Jewish identity.

Given these two conditions, Jews in America have not abandoned the need, or desire, for a Jewish identity or “survival”; in fact, ironically, the notion of survival has arguably become an American Jewish obsession, as we can see by the collective Jewish hand-wringing that followed the 2013 Pew Poll. That is to say, survival becomes the primary concern, and even a dogma, of a collective void of any positive raison d’etre.

We’ll come back to the false, though mostly irrelevant, claim that survival is not a “positive raison d’etre.” The key here is that this argument is based on the conclusive idea that America is different. On its face, this is inarguable. But Magid, perhaps unintentionally, reveals what is so dangerous about this. He writes of the “Holocaust-Israel nexus” supposedly holding American Jews back: “it creates a Judaism whose foundations lie elsewhere (prewar Europe or Israel) making American Judaism ‘a spectator sport … spectators at someone else’s drama’.”

Well yes, American Judaism’s foundations lie elsewhere: Judaism is more than a few centuries old. American Judaism isn’t a separate religion—though many left-wing Jews in America do follow a politicized “Torah of Liberalism,” as Norman Podhoretz so accurately termed it. Judaism is not just its own history; Judaism is, in many ways, history itself. “Writing a history of the Jews is almost like writing a history of the world, but from a highly peculiar angle of vision,” wrote Paul Johnson in the introduction to his History of the Jews. “It is world history seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim.” What’s more, Johnson adds that writing a history of the Jews enabled him to reconsider the very question, “what are we on earth for?”

He was able to do this, he writes, because he was examining a history spanning 4,000 years. Pace Magid and Neusner, a Judaism that looks back on its history is not a “negative Judaism.” It is a Judaism of self-knowledge and inspirational, miraculous persistence. And a Judaism that looks ahead (to Israel, for example) is not a Judaism unhappy in its present moment but rather one that embraces the future and its own capacity for turning darkness into light.

In the Mishnaic book Ethics of the Fathers, the Jews are taught: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” This is precisely what an American Judaism that self-consciously differentiates itself from the Jews of Europe and the Jews of Israel would do. Magid, Neusner, and others may see in Jewish history a depressing series of calamities. But that’s an incomplete interpretation that stems from giving up the “obsession” with survival. The full Jewish story is one of repeated triumph, courage, and piety against all odds.

That story is not a version of “negative Judaism,” and neither is a focus on survival. Too much intellectual and emotional distance from the Holocaust would not only erode Jews’ ability to see danger coming, if indeed it does. It would also downplay the real theme of Jewish history: our people’s ability to come out the other side.

Non-Jews tend to see this better than we do ourselves—historians like Johnson, but also politicians like Britain’s Daniel Hannan, who yesterday wrote that “Israel has its problems, but it will still be around when the EU is one with Nineveh and Tyre.” That is the lesson of both Europe and Israel, dismal as the landscape might appear at times. Today we commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz. Critics of American Jewry’s Holocaust commemoration habits would be well served by remembering not only Auschwitz, but its liberation.

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The Midterms, the Jewish Vote, and Liberalism’s Price of Admission

In the wake of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms, the left aimed some of its most spiteful rhetoric at the women and minorities elevated into office in the GOP wave. Perhaps the most cringe-inducing display of delegitimization belonged to the author Darron T. Smith, who wrote in the Huffington Post that Utah Republican Mia Love “might look black, but her politics are red.” Yet strangely enough, the best way to understand liberal anger at Republican African-Americans and women is through this Atlantic piece analyzing the Jewish vote in the midterm elections.

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In the wake of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms, the left aimed some of its most spiteful rhetoric at the women and minorities elevated into office in the GOP wave. Perhaps the most cringe-inducing display of delegitimization belonged to the author Darron T. Smith, who wrote in the Huffington Post that Utah Republican Mia Love “might look black, but her politics are red.” Yet strangely enough, the best way to understand liberal anger at Republican African-Americans and women is through this Atlantic piece analyzing the Jewish vote in the midterm elections.

In “Are Democrats Losing the Jews?” Emma Green attempts to understand why Democrats’ share of the Jewish vote decreased and what that means both for American Jews and the Democratic Party going forward. The unfortunate aspect to Green’s story is that she has the facts in front of her, so her conclusion is the result of ignoring, not utilizing, the information at her disposal. Though at various points in the article she seems to begin to understand the issue, in the end she concludes with a statement that sets a new standard for being wrong about the Jewish vote.

Green notes that although Democrats usually enjoy an overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, at times truly terrible presidents cost their party a notable swath of those votes. Jimmy Carter, for example, only received 45 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980. Seen in that light, it’s not terribly surprising that although President Obama’s name wasn’t on the ballot in the midterms, his relentless attacks on Israel’s government and his downgrading of the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war were bound to cost Democrats some of the Jewish vote.

Green then digs into last year’s Pew report on Jewish identity and assimilation. She attempts to draw some conclusions:

But these statistics do provide some context for what’s happening among Jewish voters. In 2006, 87 percent of Jews voted for Democratic candidates for the House, as did 50 percent of white Catholics and 37 percent of white Protestants—a 37- and 50-percentage point difference, respectively. In 2014, those gaps narrowed: There was only a 12-point difference between Jews and white Catholics, and a 40-point difference between Jews and white Protestants. Those are still big differences, obviously, but the conclusion is there: Jews are voting more like white people.

Put aside the “Jews are voting more like white people” remark: it’s clumsy and obviously silly, but we know what Green was trying to say. She then says that Republicans aren’t necessarily going to start winning the Jewish vote. “But,” she concludes, “it may be that, as a people as much as a voting bloc, Jews are becoming less influenced by their Jewishness.”

And here we have the liberal mindset perfectly distilled. Just like Darron Smith thinks blacks who don’t vote for Democrats are in some way voting against their “blackness,” and Ann Friedman can write that Republican women aren’t “truly pro-woman,” the idea undergirding Green’s conclusion is that liberalism is political Judaism. Of course that’s insulting to those who take their Jewish faith seriously, and it’s certainly a creepy parallel to the “price of admission” ideology of leftism going back to the French Revolution. But it’s also, crucially, wrong.

There has been no major swing of the Jewish vote away from Democrats, and there likely won’t be. But incremental gains by the GOP are not evidence of Jews being less Jewish; they’re exactly the opposite. Although the Orthodox are far from being anywhere close to a majority of American Jews–and will remain far from it for quite some time, even if current trends hold–they are still increasing their share of American Jews. As the numbers have increased, so has their political activism. And they are much more likely to care not only about Israel but about issues like school choice and economic liberty, to say nothing of religious liberty. (Pew found that “57% of Orthodox Jews describe themselves as Republicans or say they lean toward the Republican Party.”)

The Orthodox Union took some heat from other corners of the Jewish world for supporting the Catholic-driven attempts to allow religious exemptions from the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. The OU’s Nathan Diament explained that the organization did so not because it opposes birth control but because “we, particularly as a religious minority in the United States, must stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in demanding the broadest protections for rights of conscience in the face of government (and socio-cultural) coercion to the contrary.”

It’s no surprise that as the share of observant Jews increases, those Jews will be less likely to support a Democratic Party that is increasingly hostile to religious freedom and faith more generally, and instead support a Republican Party that seeks to protect religious practice from the authoritarian instincts of statist liberalism. Green could not be more wrong, in other words, about Jewish identity and voting trends. But her analysis was just one more example that modern liberalism requires its adherents to sacrifice all other aspects of their identity for The Cause. If minorities must choose between their community and leftist doctrine, it’s encouraging that many of them choose the former.

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A Disgraceful Smear: Blaming Judaism for Israel’s Fallen

I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

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I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

The piece centers on Max Steinberg, a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces who was killed by terrorists in Gaza this week. Steinberg is from Los Angeles, and after attending a Birthright Israel trip, felt connected enough to make aliyah. He joined the IDF. Benedikt strings these basic facts together and comes up with a creative, and thoroughly repugnant, theory: Birthright shares the blame in Steinberg’s death.

Here’s the crux of Benedikt’s case. You’ll notice two problems:

Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it.

The first is that she leaps to quite a conclusion while admitting she has no data to back it up, as the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur notes:

Let me help. The answer is “exceedingly few.” Fewer than 3,000 Americans make aliyah each year across all age groups — from a community of six million Jews. Only a few hundred are young adults, and only a fraction of these (excluding religious women, health problems, anyone over 26, among others) join the IDF.

Then there are those who join the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens via a program known as Mahal, a program that predates Birthright by decades. Hundreds of Mahal soldiers fought in Israel’s Independence War in 1948. Max was a Mahal soldier, one of an estimated 400 young people from English-speaking countries who join the IDF each year through Mahal to serve a shorter service of 1.5 years instead of 3. While Mahal fighters number in the hundreds, only a fraction could have been Birthright participants. At least one-third are classified by the army (based on their own self-identification) as “religious,” meaning that they had been raised in religious educational frameworks, and thus are unlikely to have gone on Birthright. Most Jewish religious schools take their students to Israel during high school, making them ineligible for free college-age Birthright trips.

But the focus on the data misses the other problem with Benedikt’s essay. Benedikt doesn’t have the data on Birthright alumni joining the IDF because she doesn’t need or want it. She’s making a more philosophical argument. She’s saying Birthright connects Jews to Israel, and the “ultimate expression” of this connection must be, in Benedikt’s mind, to pick up a gun and put on a uniform.

The real clue to why Benedikt’s piece is so repulsive is her closing. She writes:

You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not about Birthright per se. It’s about connecting Jews to their ancient homeland–their historical identity, in other words. And that connection, if successful, leads–not always, but logically, in Benedikt’s mind–to Steinberg’s tragic end. “This is what you get,” she says. War, death–this is what happens when you help Jews connect to a crucial part of Jewish life, history, practice, and identity.

It’s not Birthright that killed Max Steinberg, in Benedikt’s telling. It’s Judaism. Compartmentalize your Judaism by separating yourself from the global Jewish community and from Eretz Yisrael–keep your people’s history hidden–and you should be OK. “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it,” Benedikt offers, trying to explain Steinberg’s Zionism by ascribing it to mental weakness, to emotional instability, or to a moral naïveté that his fellow Jews took advantage of.

To teach a Jew about his people and his history, according to Benedikt, is to play a dangerous game. And this, she says, pointing to the death of a 24-year-old soldier, is what happens; “This is what you get.”

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Don’t Abet Academia’s Crackdown on Religious Liberty

By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

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By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.

“It’s absurd,” said Alec Hill, the president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, including the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. “The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, have opted to exempt religious groups from nondiscrimination policies, according to the Christian Legal Society. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others, and their advocates are worried that Cal State could be a tipping point.

The Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, mainline Protestant, and other non-evangelical groups that have signed this modern-day Civil Constitution of the Clergy probably think they are simply avoiding a fight that doesn’t pertain to them. That’s plain madness, and shameful to boot.

But it’s also counterproductive. When the left-liberal establishment seeks to infringe their own rights, they will have already acceded to this conformist fanaticism and surrendered any right to expect other religious groups to come to their aid. This is particularly careless for the Jewish community, which is such a demographic minority that in such cases they have no strength but in numbers–a lesson they bewilderingly seem intent on unlearning.

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Why the Left Resents Israeli Democracy

Israel’s tradition of marking Yom Hazikaron before Yom Haatzmaut–Memorial Day followed by Independence Day–has always served as a crystal clear demonstration that no matter the success and the progress of the Jewish state, Israelis never forget the price the Jews have had to pay for their own security. So it takes a special kind of chutzpah to not only accuse Israelis of ignoring the costs, the sacrifices, the trade-offs, and the responsibilities of statehood, but to do so on the weekend of Yom Hazikaron.

Yet that is precisely the sucker punch the American Jewish left hit their Israeli brethren with over the past few days. To be sure, American Jews don’t (necessarily) intend it to be the pernicious cheap shot it unquestionably is. The emotionally and politically and religiously complex question of how much Israeli state policy reflects a general consensus in the Jewish world has often led the American left into the same thought-cocoon to which they retreat when Republicans win national elections. Their fellow voters, they reason, must have been fooled.

Both the Forward newspaper editorialists and Harvard’s Yochai Benkler are out with recycled versions of this–a kind of What’s the Matter with Kansas for the Jews of Israel. The Forward’s weekend editorial is based on the demonstrably untrue claim that Israelis have crafted a situation in which they are blissfully unaware of the statelessness of the Palestinians next door:

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Israel’s tradition of marking Yom Hazikaron before Yom Haatzmaut–Memorial Day followed by Independence Day–has always served as a crystal clear demonstration that no matter the success and the progress of the Jewish state, Israelis never forget the price the Jews have had to pay for their own security. So it takes a special kind of chutzpah to not only accuse Israelis of ignoring the costs, the sacrifices, the trade-offs, and the responsibilities of statehood, but to do so on the weekend of Yom Hazikaron.

Yet that is precisely the sucker punch the American Jewish left hit their Israeli brethren with over the past few days. To be sure, American Jews don’t (necessarily) intend it to be the pernicious cheap shot it unquestionably is. The emotionally and politically and religiously complex question of how much Israeli state policy reflects a general consensus in the Jewish world has often led the American left into the same thought-cocoon to which they retreat when Republicans win national elections. Their fellow voters, they reason, must have been fooled.

Both the Forward newspaper editorialists and Harvard’s Yochai Benkler are out with recycled versions of this–a kind of What’s the Matter with Kansas for the Jews of Israel. The Forward’s weekend editorial is based on the demonstrably untrue claim that Israelis have crafted a situation in which they are blissfully unaware of the statelessness of the Palestinians next door:

We recognize that, thanks to the separation barrier, a thriving economy and security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (though who knows how long that will last), most Israelis outside the military don’t have to deal with Palestinians. Even those Jews living among them in the West Bank can travel on separate roads to gated communities. The occupation is largely invisible. It can be easily denied.

One cringes at the sight of this kind of nonsense, because it defies the most basic knowledge of Israel as well as plain old common sense. In fact, the Forward editorial is self-refuting, for those paying attention. Note the important phrase “most Israelis outside the military.” It is a country with a national military draft. The military is one of the unifying elements of a diverse Israeli society, and even those who aren’t currently in the military probably have relatives and friends serving.

The idea that Israelis “outside the military” are so disconnected from what the military sees and knows is absurd, not to mention insulting. And the idea that Israelis need American leftists to remind them of the military experience on or near Yom Hazikaron is devoid of any merit or seriousness. Yet it is presented as brave truth telling.

But the left’s self-deluding is also understandable on some level. The Israeli electorate does not share their penchant for self-flagellation nor their belief that Israelis should take unreasonable risks to salve the sense of guilt that pervades the offices of their Manhattanite critics. Israelis shouldn’t take specific offense; this is how the American left engages in political debate these days. If you don’t agree with them, you must be ignoring the truth.

An even more bizarre argument comes from Benkler in the New Republic. Benkler writes that the rejection of J Street’s membership by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is reflective of the broader trend that will doom American Jewry the way observant Jews are “dooming” Israel. (The idea that Judaism will be doomed by those who practice Judaism is, to put it kindly, not the sharpest piece of analysis.)

One obvious mistake Benkler makes is to equate J Street’s rejection from the Conference with J Street’s rejection from the American Jewish community. All that happened was J Street established itself with a particularly vicious personal campaign against the American Jewish establishment and those groups, many of which stayed quiet while Jeremy Ben-Ami pointed fingers at them, simply declined to do J Street any favors. You burn bridges, don’t expect others to rebuild them at your command.

After musing about how much he likes people-watching from Tel Aviv beach cafes, Benkler gets to the heart of his concern. The demographic time bomb is not the Palestinians, apparently; it is the Jews:

The Israel I grew up in was a secular democratic state whose self-image was captured by Paul Newman’s image in Exodus, with a strong ethnic national identity, a respected Zionist orthodox minority, a smaller and more controversial anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox community, and about 20 percent of the population Arab, both Muslim and Christian. In Israel’s most recent education statistics, about half the Jewish kids enrolled in elementary school are enrolled in ultra-orthodox and nationalist-orthodox schools. Only half the Jewish student population is enrolled in the general, secular public education system. This trend is ongoing and rapid.

Now if you’re an Israeli reading American leftist publications, you’ve learned that liberals think Israel is doomed because of the pace of reproduction of the Palestinians and of the Jews. What Benkler wants is for everyone to stop reproducing except a fictional character played by the late Paul Newman.

What unites those like Benkler and those like the Forward editorial board is that they view Israeli democracy as a kind of Frankenstein and the current political consensus as its monster. They like the idea of Israeli democracy, but are aghast at what it has produced. They have yet to come to grips with the fact that Israelis are making informed choices about their lives–and that means the entire country does not look like a beachside café in Tel Aviv.

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Anti-Semitism and False Moral Equivalence

Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

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Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

To be sure, Halevi and Antepli disingenuously acknowledge, in passing, that the Muslim assault on Jews is “hardly comparable” to what they call the “public campaign in America by some Jews to discredit Islam.” That could and should have been the point of any intellectually and factually responsible piece on the subject. Instead, the entire point of Halevi and Antepli’s piece, beginning with its title, is precisely to compare the two. 

Moreover, calling Ms. Ali a Muslim “renegade” on a par with Jewish “renegades” is an equally false moral equivalence. Halevi and Antepli surely know Ms. Ali’s history. She was genitally mutilated at age 5; she would have been forced into a marriage had she not escaped eventually to Europe; her film-making colleague was stabbed to death in the Netherlands; she is continually threatened with her own murder–all in the name of Islam–and she has heroically devoted her life to trying to stop these kinds of outrages. That’s why she deserves to be honored, and that’s why it was cowardly for Brandeis to withdraw her honor. Are there Jewish renegades with anywhere close to a comparable history? Of course not. To omit these facts is disingenuous at best. 

In any event, for Halevi and Antepli to focus on what they claim is Muslim sensitivity to Ms. Ali’s statements supposedly “demonizing Islam”–statements that, as Ms. Ali says, her detractors take out of context–instead of the outrages that, as anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows she is trying to stop, is disgraceful. Given who she is and what she has gone through and what in totality she says, would Brandeis’s honoring her really have sent a message of “contempt” to Muslims, as Halevi and Antepli claim, or would it instead have sent a message of support to those millions oppressed in and by Muslim countries? And as long as we’re comparing, it is impossible to imagine that Halevi and Antepli believe that, as she is accused of advocating, Ms. Ali or anyone else will succeed in destroying Islam–the religion, as they say, of over a billion believers (who, according to them, are exquisitely sensitive to what one woman says); on the other hand, it’s unfortunately not too hard to imagine that, heaven forbid, Israel and thus Judaism itself could be destroyed.

To be worth anything, “civil dialogue” and “profound discussion,” as Halevi and Antepli say they want, must be based on the truth, and truth is absent from their piece.

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Richard John Neuhaus, U.S. Jews, and the American Babylon

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Richard John Neuhaus, the influential Christian theologian who once edited the journal First Things. What most people remember about his writing–at least the intellectual/political side–is his classic The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. But what has always stuck with me is his last book, American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile.

My preference among Neuhaus’s works for American Babylon is because it grapples with the subject of living in religious exile and what it means to be a good citizen to a secular state in such exile. This is a question that obviously means much to the American Jewish community as well, and so it’s valuable to see how a non-Jew, especially one as erudite as Neuhaus, approaches the question. Additionally, I think American Babylon’s relevance has unfortunately only increased since he wrote it–since that means the state’s encroachment on private religious practice has continued unabated.

But there’s also another reason I think the book is so beneficial to Jewish readers. Because of the troubled history between Christians and Jews, and because Christian politics have become so identified with the American right while Jews have been identified with the American left, there is still too much mutual suspicion. The clearest current example of this, of course, is the Jewish left’s rejection of pro-Israel Christian groups out of mistrust toward their intentions. American Babylon is in part a meditation on the Jewish-Christian relationship in exile–which is key. Neuhaus devotes a chapter to this called “Salvation Is from the Jews” (a reference the Christian scripture), in which he offers a good example. He writes:

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Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Richard John Neuhaus, the influential Christian theologian who once edited the journal First Things. What most people remember about his writing–at least the intellectual/political side–is his classic The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. But what has always stuck with me is his last book, American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile.

My preference among Neuhaus’s works for American Babylon is because it grapples with the subject of living in religious exile and what it means to be a good citizen to a secular state in such exile. This is a question that obviously means much to the American Jewish community as well, and so it’s valuable to see how a non-Jew, especially one as erudite as Neuhaus, approaches the question. Additionally, I think American Babylon’s relevance has unfortunately only increased since he wrote it–since that means the state’s encroachment on private religious practice has continued unabated.

But there’s also another reason I think the book is so beneficial to Jewish readers. Because of the troubled history between Christians and Jews, and because Christian politics have become so identified with the American right while Jews have been identified with the American left, there is still too much mutual suspicion. The clearest current example of this, of course, is the Jewish left’s rejection of pro-Israel Christian groups out of mistrust toward their intentions. American Babylon is in part a meditation on the Jewish-Christian relationship in exile–which is key. Neuhaus devotes a chapter to this called “Salvation Is from the Jews” (a reference the Christian scripture), in which he offers a good example. He writes:

It is significant that, after the Second Vatican Council, when the Catholic Church was formalizing its conversations with non-Christians, the Jewish interlocutors insisted that Jewish relations not be grouped under the Vatican office that deals with other religions, but instead included under the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. That arrangement has much deeper implications than were perhaps realized at the time.

Now, this seems to me a pristine example of the kind of Christian theological activity that can be seen one of two ways. Promoting Christian unity with Jews quite obviously does not mean the Vatican has decided that all Catholics should convert to Judaism. So the conversion issue primarily cuts the other way. And it’s a sore subject for very good reasons. But it is also worth pointing out that this is a clear rejection of supersessionism. If the Jews are mere historical relics, after all, Christianity can be whole without them. Neuhaus was vehemently opposed to such a view.

Moreover, Neuhaus makes a very smart observation about this in the context of interfaith relations. He writes:

Christianity does indeed seek to engage culture, provide a guide for living, and propose the way to human flourishing, but, reduced to any of these undoubtedly good ends, it is not Christianity.

Liberal Protestant theology, taking its cue from the Enlightenment, was much preoccupied with the question of “the essence of Christianity,” and, not incidentally, was contemptuous of Jews and Judaism.

That is, liberal Christians, who center their lives more on the secular culture around them, can more easily discard the Jewish contribution to their own heritage precisely because their history is not what defines them. Instead, their own identity can be established by drawing on the here and now. It matters that Jesus was Jewish, ethically and theologically. But not to politicized liberal denominations of Christianity, who have no need for Jewish recognition.

That’s why, Neuhaus writes, “When we Christians do not walk together with Jews, we are in danger of regressing to the paganism from which we emerged.” But before we lock arms and sing Kumbaya, we need to take a closer look at what exactly it means for Christians to “walk together with Jews.” Got an itinerary, Fr. Neuhaus? He does:

With respect to Judaism, Christians today are exhorted to reject every form of supersessionism, and so we should. To supersede means to nullify, to void, to make obsolete, to displace.

But:

The end of supersessionism, however, cannot and must not mean the end of the argument between Christians and Jews. We cannot settle into the comfortable interreligious politeness of mutual respect for contradictory positions deemed to be equally true. Christ and his Church do not supersede Judaism, but they do continue and fulfill the story of which we are both part. Or so Christians must contend.

However intertwined, the two belief systems are not one. So Neuhaus is up front: his distaste for political correctness extends to his opposition to the idea that Christians must be quietly apologetic for their belief that Jews should believe as they, Christians, believe. But he says something important about how that argument is less vocal and literal than an appreciation for living these different lives and pursuing these truths. He writes:

We can and must say that the ultimate duty of each person is to form his conscience in truth and act upon that discernment; we can and must say, too, that there are great goods to be sought in dialogue apart from conversion, and that we reject proselytizing, which is best defined as evangelizing by demeaning the other. Friendship between Jew and Christian can be secured in our shared love for the God of Israel; the historical forms we call Judaism and Christianity will be transcended, but not superseded, by the fulfillment of eschatological promise. But along the way to that final fulfillment, there is no avoiding the fact that we are locked in argument. It is an argument by which–for both Jew and Christian–conscience is formed, witness is honed, and friendship deepened. This is our destiny, and this is our duty, as members of the one people of God–a people of God for which there is no plural.

What he’s saying is, essentially: we can share the same bench at the bus stop even while we disagree over whose bus will arrive. Yes, it’s cheesy on some level–let’s wait together! But a Judaism confident that our bus is the one that will show up shouldn’t mind the company.

A final thought: this was arguably more important coming from a Catholic theologian like Neuhaus than from our no-less-appreciated neighbors in the Protestant-inflected evangelical Christian Zionist community, both because of the fraught history of Jewish-Catholic relations and because it is not tethered to a cause–Israel–that is essential but also relatively modern, and therefore comparably new.

Neuhaus, correctly, notes the crucial role that America plays in all this:

The percentage of Christians involved in any form of Jewish-Christian dialogue is minuscule. Minuscule, too, is the percentage of Jews involved. Moreover, serious dialogue is, for the most part, a North American phenomenon. It is one of the many things to which the familiar phrase applies, “Only in America.” In Europe, for tragically obvious reasons, there are not enough Jews; in Israel, for reasons of growing tragedy in the decline of ancient communities, there are not enough Christians. Only in America are there enough Jews and Christians in a relationship of mutual security and respect to make possible a dialogue that is unprecedented in our 2,000 years of history together.

Neuhaus’s work was a strong rejoinder to the temptation to assume ulterior motives on the part of Christians seeking conversation with Jews. Neuhaus was right, as well, that America has given us the security to have that conversation.

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Preserving Burma’s Last Synagogue

Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

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Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

Religious intolerance is spreading across the Middle East and many places in Asia as populist and radicalized clergy urge their followers to make life intolerable for Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist minorities. Traveling over the years in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Iran, I have heard older generations describe the cosmopolitan atmosphere of their youth, playing with friends of different religions. One former associate remembers how he was taught the Lord’s Prayer in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a Muslim babysitter because she figured since he was Catholic and it was bedtime, he should learn to pray as Catholics do. That she would know Catholic prayer was simply the result of growing up in a multicultural, multi-ethnic environment that is now a faded memory.

The story out of Rangoon seems a good idea not only for Burma but for other countries as well. To allow the tolerance and diversity of past generations to be forgotten simply confirms the victory of radicals, populists, and forces of intolerance. Three cheers for Thant Myint-U and the Yangon Heritage Trust, which provide a model that should be replicated.

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Norway Moves Against Circumcision

Almost one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully leaned on the German parliament to pass legislation guaranteeing the rights of parents to have their infant boys circumcised, the practice is now under threat in another European country. This week, Norway’s health minister, Bent Hoie, announced that new legislation is in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.”

Hoie took his cue from Anne Lindboe, Norway’s children’s ombudsman, who believes that “non-medical circumcision”–in other words, circumcision of boys in accordance with the laws of both Judaism and Islam–is a violation of children’s rights. JTA quoted Lindboe as having told the leading Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten: “This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky.”

Lindboe is certainly not a lone voice in this debate. A large number of parliamentarians from the opposition Labor Party have expressed support for a ban, while the Center Party, which controls 10 of the seats in Norway’s 169-member legislature, is officially in favor. Small wonder, then, that Ervin Kohn, the head of Norway’s tiny Jewish community of 700 souls, has described the issue as an “existential matter.” Clearly, the push factors that led nearly 50 percent of Jews in Belgium, Hungary, and France to confess, in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, that they are considering emigration have manifested in Norway also.

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Almost one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully leaned on the German parliament to pass legislation guaranteeing the rights of parents to have their infant boys circumcised, the practice is now under threat in another European country. This week, Norway’s health minister, Bent Hoie, announced that new legislation is in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.”

Hoie took his cue from Anne Lindboe, Norway’s children’s ombudsman, who believes that “non-medical circumcision”–in other words, circumcision of boys in accordance with the laws of both Judaism and Islam–is a violation of children’s rights. JTA quoted Lindboe as having told the leading Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten: “This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky.”

Lindboe is certainly not a lone voice in this debate. A large number of parliamentarians from the opposition Labor Party have expressed support for a ban, while the Center Party, which controls 10 of the seats in Norway’s 169-member legislature, is officially in favor. Small wonder, then, that Ervin Kohn, the head of Norway’s tiny Jewish community of 700 souls, has described the issue as an “existential matter.” Clearly, the push factors that led nearly 50 percent of Jews in Belgium, Hungary, and France to confess, in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, that they are considering emigration have manifested in Norway also.

The Norwegian developments follow the October vote by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a 47-member body that is not institutionally linked to the EU, recommending restrictions on ritual circumcision. The ensuing outcry among European Jewish leaders and Israeli politicians led a nervous Thorbjorn Jaglund, the council’s secretary-general, to assure the Conference of European Rabbis “that in no way does the Council of Europe want to ban the circumcision of boys.” But given that the Council of Europe has no control over national legislatures, that statement is essentially toothless.

The abiding question here is why hostility to ritual circumcision has become such a hot topic in European states. When it comes to circumcision, the kinds of survivors groups that push for tougher legislation on, say, child sexual abuse or violence against women simply don’t exist. Hence, if the vast majority of men who have undergone ritual circumcision aren’t clamoring for a ban, why the insistence on portraying them as victims?

According to Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, the anti-circumcision campaign is an integral component of a continent-wide “offensive” against Muslim communities, in which Jews represent “collateral damage.” There is some merit to this view, yet it ignores the fact that legal measures against Jewish ritual have a long and dishonorable pedigree in Europe. It’s widely known that the Nazis banned shechita, or Jewish ritual slaughter, three months after coming to power in 1933, but they were beaten to the punch by Switzerland in 1893 and Norway in 1930–and you don’t need to be an expert on European history to know that there were no Muslim communities of any meaningful size in these countries when these legislative bills were passed. 

Moreover, it can be argued that by grouping male circumcision with the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, which in Europe mainly afflicts women from Muslim countries, the Council of Europe was going out of its way not to target Muslim communities specifically. In a classic example of the cultural relativism that plagues European institutions, its resolution on the “physical integrity of children” listed as matters of concern, “…female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersex children, and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.”

As this week’s edition of the Economist argues, this categorization is nonsensical:

Our intuition tells us that the circumcision of baby boys is probably okay, at worst harmless and culturally very important to some religions, while the excision practised on baby girls in some cultures certainly is not okay.

The same piece observes that, in any case, the determination of European leaders to prevent a ban on circumcision will likely foil any parliamentary legislation to that end. A similar point was made in a recent Haaretz piece by Anshel Pfeffer, who derided fears among Israeli legislators of a ban on circumcision as just so much hyperbole.

However, what’s missing here is the understanding that a practice doesn’t have to be proscribed for it to be frowned upon. Large numbers of Europeans already regard circumcision as a backward ritual, and the current Norwegian debate is likely to persuade many more that circumcision should be opposed in the name of human rights. Over the last decade, European Jews have watched helplessly as their identification with Israel has been stigmatized: with a similar pattern now emerging over Jewish ritual, an adversarial political climate that falls short of actual legislation may yet be enough to persuade them that their future on the continent remains bleak.

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To Fight Assimilation, Stop Dumbing Down Judaism

A major topic of this year’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America is how to combat assimilation. At the conference, which is being held in Jerusalem this week, JFNA leaders have unveiled various ambitious ideas, including free universal Jewish preschool. I’d like to offer a much simpler proposal: Just stop dumbing down Judaism. American Jews overwhelmingly receive excellent secular educations; they are exposed to the most challenging, rigorous, thought-provoking material available in science, philosophy, history, and literature. Yet they rarely encounter Judaism at a level more intellectually challenging than a kindergarten class. And as long as that’s true, Judaism will never be able to compete with the secular world for their attention.

Ironically, the Orthodox were way ahead of the non-Orthodox in grasping this, and it’s one reason why Orthodox retention rates are currently much higher than non-Orthodox ones. As far back as 1917, one of Poland’s leading Orthodox rabbis, the Chofetz Chaim, approved the opening of Bais Yaakov, the first school to teach Torah to girls. His reasoning was simple: It had become normal for girls to attend secular schools, and if they didn’t obtain a comparable Jewish education, they wouldn’t stay Jewish. The same understanding fueled the opening of numerous high-level women’s yeshivas in recent decades: Today, girls routinely attend not just secondary school, but college and graduate school; hence their Jewish learning must also be on a higher level. 

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A major topic of this year’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America is how to combat assimilation. At the conference, which is being held in Jerusalem this week, JFNA leaders have unveiled various ambitious ideas, including free universal Jewish preschool. I’d like to offer a much simpler proposal: Just stop dumbing down Judaism. American Jews overwhelmingly receive excellent secular educations; they are exposed to the most challenging, rigorous, thought-provoking material available in science, philosophy, history, and literature. Yet they rarely encounter Judaism at a level more intellectually challenging than a kindergarten class. And as long as that’s true, Judaism will never be able to compete with the secular world for their attention.

Ironically, the Orthodox were way ahead of the non-Orthodox in grasping this, and it’s one reason why Orthodox retention rates are currently much higher than non-Orthodox ones. As far back as 1917, one of Poland’s leading Orthodox rabbis, the Chofetz Chaim, approved the opening of Bais Yaakov, the first school to teach Torah to girls. His reasoning was simple: It had become normal for girls to attend secular schools, and if they didn’t obtain a comparable Jewish education, they wouldn’t stay Jewish. The same understanding fueled the opening of numerous high-level women’s yeshivas in recent decades: Today, girls routinely attend not just secondary school, but college and graduate school; hence their Jewish learning must also be on a higher level. 

But in the non-Orthodox community, Jewish education never comes close to the intellectual rigor of secular studies. Almost every American Jew who has attended a non-Orthodox Hebrew school can attest to this; just last week, the Forward ran a piece by an associate professor, Michah Gottlieb, deploring the lack of opportunities for serious Torah study at his childhood synagogue. My own experience is equally typical: During 12 years of Hebrew school, the numbing boredom was punctured by only two classes that offered comparable intellectual stimulation to my secular public schools–and both were taught by Orthodox rabbis. The difference was that they took classic Jewish texts seriously, insisting that we read, analyze, and debate them with the same rigor I encountered in secular history or literature classes.

The good news is that, given a chance, Judaism can easily compete with the best secular thought has to offer. There’s a reason why Jewish sources have inspired some of the greatest non-Jewish writers and thinkers throughout the ages–including many of the 17th-century political theorists who laid the foundations of modern democracy. As Herzl Institute President Yoram Hazony noted in a 2005 essay, “Hobbes was learned in Hebrew, and his magnum opus Leviathan devotes over three hundred pages to the political teachings of Scripture. Locke knew Hebrew as well, and the first of his Two Treatises on Government is devoted to biblical interpretation … [John Selden’s] 1635 treatise on the law of the sea, Mare Clausum—one of the founding texts of international law—argued for the concept of national sovereignty on both land and sea on the basis of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.”

In Israel, serious study of classic Jewish sources has exploded in recent years–not because secular Jews are becoming Orthodox, but because they’ve understood that these texts are their heritage, too. American Jews need to offer their children similar opportunities. For without being exposed to Judaism’s intellectual riches, they will never consider it worth a lifetime’s commitment.

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Representing Those Who Care

Kudos to the ADL’s Abe Foxman for having the guts to say the obvious. After a Pew Research poll released earlier this week found that only 38 percent of American Jews think Israel “is making a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians,” the Jewish Daily Forward concluded that American Jewish organizations have a problem: Since “American Jews are far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment,” shouldn’t the establishment change its positions to better reflect those of its constituency?

Most Jewish leaders the Forward interviewed rejected that position. But Foxman demolished it in two short sentences. “You know who the Jewish establishment represents?” he said. “Those who care.”

Foxman, of course, is exactly right. The 38 percent who believe in Israel’s peacemaking bona fides is statistically indistinguishable (since the poll’s margin of error is 3 percent in either direction) from the 43 percent who deem “caring about Israel” an “essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” and actually exceeds the mere 28 percent who consider “being part of a Jewish community” essential to their Jewish identity.  Belonging to a Jewish community, incidentally, was outranked in American Jews’ list of Jewish essentials not only by “remembering Holocaust” (the chart-topper at 73 percent), “leading ethical/moral life” (69 percent) or “working for justice/equality” (56 percent), but even by “having good sense of humor” (42 percent) and “being intellectually curious” (49 percent). Only “observing Jewish law” and “eating traditional Jewish foods” came in lower.

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Kudos to the ADL’s Abe Foxman for having the guts to say the obvious. After a Pew Research poll released earlier this week found that only 38 percent of American Jews think Israel “is making a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians,” the Jewish Daily Forward concluded that American Jewish organizations have a problem: Since “American Jews are far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment,” shouldn’t the establishment change its positions to better reflect those of its constituency?

Most Jewish leaders the Forward interviewed rejected that position. But Foxman demolished it in two short sentences. “You know who the Jewish establishment represents?” he said. “Those who care.”

Foxman, of course, is exactly right. The 38 percent who believe in Israel’s peacemaking bona fides is statistically indistinguishable (since the poll’s margin of error is 3 percent in either direction) from the 43 percent who deem “caring about Israel” an “essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” and actually exceeds the mere 28 percent who consider “being part of a Jewish community” essential to their Jewish identity.  Belonging to a Jewish community, incidentally, was outranked in American Jews’ list of Jewish essentials not only by “remembering Holocaust” (the chart-topper at 73 percent), “leading ethical/moral life” (69 percent) or “working for justice/equality” (56 percent), but even by “having good sense of humor” (42 percent) and “being intellectually curious” (49 percent). Only “observing Jewish law” and “eating traditional Jewish foods” came in lower.

But organized Jewry can’t plausibly represent people with good senses of humor or intellectual curiosity, or who “work for justice/equality,” since the vast majority of Americans in these categories aren’t Jews. Indeed, no organization can claim to represent anyone who has no interest in belonging to an organized community. Hence the only people Jewish organizations can reasonably claim to represent are that alarmingly small minority who care about “being part of a Jewish community.” They are the people who provide these organizations with the cash and volunteer hours needed to run them, and they are the people whose views these organizations exist to represent.

But they are also the people most likely to care about Israel, and as the American Jewish Committee’s Steve Bayme noted, they “are also [the] most knowledgeable” about it. Thus they are less likely to believe simplistic narratives of the conflict such as that settlements are the main obstacle to peace. Indeed, even the Forward’s reporter admitted that the 22 percent of self-identified Jews who said they had “no religion”–who are far less Jewishly committed than other Jews by every criterion Pew measured, including such basics as raising Jewish children–are also “far less likely to believe that the Israelis are sincere in their peace efforts than those who said that their religion is Judaism.”

Left-wing critics of Israel like Peter Beinart have recently been pushing the narrative that Israel’s behavior, and the Jewish establishment’s failure to criticize it sufficiently, are driving young Jews away from Jewish life. That was the implicit point of the Forward article as well. But what the Pew poll shows is that the opposite is true: The problem isn’t that Israel is driving Jews away from Jewish life; it’s that Jews for whom “being Jewish” means nothing but the Holocaust and a sense of humor are inevitably less pro-Israel. In contrast, those who care about Jewish communal life are far more supportive. And as Foxman said, Jewish organizations represent the latter group–“those who care.”

Thus contrary to Beinart, J Street, and their ilk, the problem committed American Jews ought to be losing sleep over isn’t how to increase pressure on Israel. Rather, it’s how to produce more Jews who actually care about being part of the Jewish community.

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Poland Bans Kosher Slaughter

Back in April, when the imposing Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened its doors in Warsaw, there was much talk of how the relationship between Jews and Poles had been transformed for the better in recent years. The sentiments expressed by Jan Kulczyk, a wealthy Polish businessman who helped finance the museum, seemed to encapsulate a new era: “When the Jewish nation and the Polish nation, when we are together, when we look in the same direction, it is great for us, great for Poland and great for the world.”

The news that the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has rejected a government-sponsored bill to protect ritual slaughter, in both its Jewish and Muslim variants, suggests that, sadly, Jews and Poles are facing opposite directions when it comes to religious freedom. As a result of the vote, which comes on the heels of last year’s supreme court ruling that ritual slaughter, or shechita, is no longer exempted from requirements to stun animals prior to killing them, the production of kosher meat has effectively been banned in Poland. All the excitement about the revival of Jewish life there now seems rather misplaced, given that, as Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich bemoaned on his Facebook page, Poland has become a country “in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed.”

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Back in April, when the imposing Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened its doors in Warsaw, there was much talk of how the relationship between Jews and Poles had been transformed for the better in recent years. The sentiments expressed by Jan Kulczyk, a wealthy Polish businessman who helped finance the museum, seemed to encapsulate a new era: “When the Jewish nation and the Polish nation, when we are together, when we look in the same direction, it is great for us, great for Poland and great for the world.”

The news that the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has rejected a government-sponsored bill to protect ritual slaughter, in both its Jewish and Muslim variants, suggests that, sadly, Jews and Poles are facing opposite directions when it comes to religious freedom. As a result of the vote, which comes on the heels of last year’s supreme court ruling that ritual slaughter, or shechita, is no longer exempted from requirements to stun animals prior to killing them, the production of kosher meat has effectively been banned in Poland. All the excitement about the revival of Jewish life there now seems rather misplaced, given that, as Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich bemoaned on his Facebook page, Poland has become a country “in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed.”

In any country, such a decision would be strongly protested; in Poland, the weight of history gives objections to the ban an added urgency. During last year’s debate over the supreme court ruling, Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, opined that “[T]he outrageous atmosphere in the Polish media surrounding shechitah reminds me precisely of the similar situation in Poland and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.” This time around, the historical analogies are no less visible.

Kadlick again voiced his warning about the patterns of the last century repeating themselves, adding that “populism, superstition and political interests won out.” Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid an official visit to Poland just last month, was equally sharp in its condemnation. Decrying the “rude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry asserted that the Sejm‘s decision “seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland.”

Reacting to the Israeli statement, Poland’s centrist prime minister, Donald Tusk, sounded almost wounded. “Especially the historical context is, to put it mildly, off target and is not applicable to the situation,” he said. Isn’t it? One of the reasons why Jews are especially sensitive to legal measures against ritual slaughter, as Tusk surely knows, is that the Nazis banned it in Germany only three months after they came to power in 1933. And like many of today’s animal rights activists, the Nazis depicted the methods of shechita as a gruesome, needless celebration of animal suffering.

Even so, the historical parallels don’t overlap completely. The two main Polish political parties that opposed the government bill are not, as might reasonably be expected, populated by snarling right-wing skinheads. One of them, the Democratic Left Party, or SLD, was co-founded by Alexander Kwasniewski, who served as Poland’s president from 1995-2005. Throughout his time in office, Kwasniewski was feted by Jewish groups, particularly in the United States, for his strong stand against anti-Semitism; after leaving office, he was one of the backers of the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, an organization that is unlikely to share the SLD’s revulsion for shechita.

The other party, the Palikot Movement (named for its founder, Janusz Palikot), is variously described as liberal, even libertarian. The party’s support for gay civil unions and the legalization of soft drugs are noteworthy in a country that remains socially conservative and devoutly Catholic. Yet one of Palikot’s leaders, Andrzej Rozenek, sounded like a traditional anti-Semite when he declared that “there is no permission for animal cruelty in the name of money”–the implication being that what really worries Jewish defenders of shechita is the loss of a $400 million dollar regional market for kosher goods produced in Poland.

Poland is not the first country to ban shechita–European states from Norway to Switzerland have also prohibited its practice–but its historic position as the cradle of the Holocaust means that extra scrutiny of any legal measures against Jewish rituals is inevitable. Preventing shechita in a country where, as Rabbi Shudrich noted, hunting remains legal, renders the concerns about cruelty to animals laughable. It also opens Poland up to an accusation last leveled against Germany, where an effort to ban circumcision was recently defeated: namely, that for all of its Jewish museums and memorials to the Holocaust, the country finds the task of being nice to dead Jews far more appealing than guaranteeing the rights of living ones.

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