Let’s consider canceling Purim this year. The Talmud encourages drinking ad-d’lo-yada, “until one can no longer distinguish” between Mordechai the Blessed and Haman the Cursed. I don’t think we need any more moral confusion today.
In America, Israel and elsewhere, people are so drunk on partisanship, blinded by identity politics and handcuffed to their favorite leader, that they trample all moral distinctions, all principles: like Palestinian fanatics rushing to throw candy to celebrate the murder of a father of 12 or of a 19-year-old kid.
Looking rightward, in Israel, why aren’t voters abandoning the Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu in droves, denouncing their descent into bigotry and demagoguery? Whenever Netanyahu opens his mouth these days my respect for him drops. His dirty-dancing with Otzma Yehudit was bad enough: he helped mainstream a party of bigots so extreme the Supreme Court banned one of them from running. Why can’t Bibi distinguish between legitimate right-wing nationalism and bullying bigots? Why can’t his voters?
And what about his latest outrage, insulting 20% of Israel’s citizenry by saying “Israel is not the state of all of its citizens... Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and of it alone”? Is he so drunk with power that he can’t understand Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which the new Nation-State Law doesn’t eclipse?
The declaration contradicts Bibi’s bigotry repeatedly. First, it promises that the state “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.” Second, it ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Third, and most explicitly, it offers “the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel... full and equal citizenship.”
Paradoxically, hypocritically, Netanyahu’s reprehensible-righties are the most likely to see the Jew-hatred festering on America’s loony-left without seeing their own prejudices. The latest perversion occurred when self-proclaimed pro-Muslim activists – who are regressive, not “progressive” – harassed Chelsea Clinton at a vigil for the 50 Muslim worshiper murdered by a white nationalist maniac in New Zealand. Rather than welcoming their fellow liberal into a big tent of mourning, one Palestinian woman sporting a Bernie Sanders T-shirt attacked Clinton, saying, “This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words you have put out in the world. The 49 people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
Talk about ad-d’lo-yada! What was Clinton’s crime? Acting courageously, she repudiated Rep. Ilhan Omar’s twisted-tweet claiming that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby.” Clinton tweeted as an American: “We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in antisemitism.” That simple moral statement was caricatured by the many students, who “snapped” their approval of the attack on her, as a “public vilification against” Omar, for spreading a “false charge of antisemitism against our only Black, Muslim, Somali and refugee member of Congress.”
BEWARE THE manipulation here. These left-listing, demonizing demagogues and bullying bigots treat Omar’s identities as antidotes, suggesting she can never say anything prejudicial, and that criticizing her in any way insults her color, religion, national background and personal story. Having long ago racialized the conflict against Israel, now they’re also genderizing it, alleging that fighting hatred against Jews and Israel is “patriarchal.”
Clinton responded (too?) calmly, saying: “I’m so sorry you feel that way... I do believe words matter.”
Clinton is correct. Words matter. Ideas matter. Morality matters. No identity provides a free pass to bullying or bigotry. And reducing Israel and Jews to “patriarchal” causes is sexist, rendering millions of Jewish, Zionist and pro-Israel women invisible.
A great tragedy is unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic. Identity, solidarity and community are wondrous things. Accessing our traditions, championing our tribes and building particular communal networks, are keys to happiness, meaning and depth in life. The megillah culminates with Queen Esther appealing to King Ahasuerus by asserting her identity, saying: “How can I bear and see the harm that will find my people” – and do nothing?
Read the majestic Steinsaltz Megillat Esther, generously distributed to every Jerusalem Post subscriber by the Maimonidean “Zisman Tuviah” – in his own act of identity, solidarity, and community-building. The legendary Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz teaches that caring about your “people or family, even when it does not accord with the interests of the kingdom, would not be considered a betrayal, but rather a respectable, appropriate reaction.” Indeed, Ahasuerus validates Esther’s loyalty by saving her life.
When taken to the extremes, identity, solidarity and community produce the reductionism we saw among Clinton’s critics, the blindness we see among Bibi’s fans and, at its worst descending to even uglier levels, the evil hatred we witnessed with the New Zealand massacre.
As with so many good ideas, identity, solidarity and community require balancing, moderating and tempering. In the spirit of Star Wars, that source of many a Purim costume: Consider these ideological tools as light-sabers to wield for good or evil, toward the light or the darkness. By maintaining balance, a creative tension and a healthy duality, we can have identity and ideals, be loyal and moral, and support our community and others, too. We must choose, as Master Yoda frames it, to “Be a candle, or the night.”
Clouds of totalitarian fanaticism are swirling about in Israel and America. So let’s celebrate Purim as moral beacons, living candles – glowing with consistency, integrity and idealism, confronting the dark side.The writer is author of the The Zionist Ideas, an updated expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea (JPS); a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University; and author of 10 books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.
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