Building Blocks of Blame Israel First Bigotry

 “The world is wrong side up,” the great American preacher Billy Sunday once said: “It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up.” Sunday died in 1935, but he described today’s world too.

Consider: “When Women Become Men at Wellesley”: The New York Times reports that Timothy, a “masculine-of-center genderqueer,” who applied to Wellesley, a great women’s college, as female, but now identifies as male. He campaigned to be Wellesley’s multicultural affairs coordinator, only to be opposed by an anonymous campaign because -- get this – a white man shouldn’t lead diversity efforts at a women’s school. “The patriarchy is alive and well,” he sympathized. “I don’t want to perpetuate it” – as if he is a conventional, patriarchal white male – or that is a valid reason for rejecting someone’s contributions.

In Washington DC, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf told his congregation, Adas Israel, that he is gay and is divorcing his wife of twenty years.  The synagogue president commended the Rabbi “for his courage in sharing his news with our community in such an honest way” and offered him “full support.”

I can only imagine how difficult this decision was for Rabbi Steinlauf. Modern marriages are complicated enough. Marriages played out on a congregational stage are that much more challenging. Struggling with sexual confusion as a husband, father, and rabbi must have been excruciating.

Still, rabbis are not plumbers – or professors. With them, the personal affects the professional, intimately and intensely. This man officiated at hundreds of weddings, counseled hundreds of couples. He chose to marry, father children, be a rabbi, be a congregational rabbi in a Conservative synagogue. In choosing, we commit.

Matrimony’s “For better and worse,” and the Jewish vow, “by the laws of Moses and Israel” don’t have a “coming out of the closet” exemption.  Four decades of studies offer sober warnings proving the harm making family relationships disposable does to children – and society.

In his email, Rabbi Steinlauf should have apologized to those who trusted in him with certain assumptions that he now apparently rejects. While saluting his courage, someone should have carved out a safe space for congregants who believe that among the impulses, ambitions, commitments, and identities he juggles – like the rest of us – he might have chosen to continue with the adult choices he embraced and consecrated, repeatedly.

I write this with full respect for gay rights and dignity.  In fact, if American Jews were as evolved on this issue as they pretend to be, there would be room for more controversy rather than a PC party line that reveals discomfort by stifling debate.

Finally, as the disgusting story of the voyeur rabbi who violated Kesher Israel’s mikvah by peeping enters week two, the discussion is getting zanier. This is a story of a deviant who behaved despicably – and of a witness and congregational leaders who behaved courageously by turning him into the police rather than covering up his crimes.

Now, the silly season begins. The Forward claims the “Scandal is our fault, too,” that because another rabbi five years ago sexually exploited some converts, the whole conversion process is flawed and “the Orthodox establishment did not learn its lesson five years ago.” Of course, it helps to be vigilant and fix flawed systems. But don’t hijack a criminal’s sins to advance political agendas.

These three disparate items show a world of political correctness gone mad, of identity hierarchies and absurdities, of a permanently ingrained revolution that institutionalizes anti-institutional bias. The Wellesley example verges on the comical because different identities deemed privileged today clashed – although the bigotry toward the plain old white male remains central. The Steinlauf dilemma begs for more complexity, more nuance. But, in certain circles, the conversation about gay rights has become so constrained, so politicized, that only by privileging that identity – of all competing identities – can one, in Rabbi Steinlauf ‘s words, “live with integrity.”  And the creepy cleric backlash illustrates how anything will be used to attack what is defined as the establishment.

Together, these distorting lenses help produce the PC prism that magnifies Israel’s flaws and minimizes Palestinian sins. A prism of privileged and unprivileged groups and causes explains how Fordham University Professor Doron Ben-Atar could oppose the anti-Israel academic boycott openly only to be brought up on “secret charges” alleging he “discriminated against another person at the University.” This darkening prism helps the New York Times run a headline celebrating an “Exodus from Israel to Germany” to prove Israel’s failure, while burying the true lede in the ninth paragraph that only five to fifteen thousand Israelis live in Berlin and (twelfth paragraph) that emigration from Israel is at historic lows.  And through this prism making Israel the world’s biggest problem America’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, can view the Israel-Palestine conflict as a cause … of the street anger and agitation” recruiting young Muslims to ISIS.

In reality, the lines drawn here between gender issues and Israel are ridiculous. But a topsy-turvy, politically totalitarian worldview has been constructed casting Israel as the world’s white, ultra-privileged, heterosexual male, the Politically Correct punching bag, the institution the anti-institutionals and the wonderful people love to hate. That is why this radical Left view had to invent the concept of “pinkwashing,” that Israel respects gay rights to cover Palestinian oppression. The notion that Israel could be correct about anything, let alone something as central to this ideology as gay rights, threatens the whole, simplistic, monolithic, black versus white – okay perpetually-tainted-blue-and-white versus rainbow – worldview.

Blame Israel First, Last, and Always bigotry harms the peace agenda by isolating Israel while excusing Palestinian extremism.  More profoundly, we all lose when we prejudge – for better or worse -- based on group identity rather than assessing words and actions intelligently, judiciously, acknowledging complexity.
Gil Troy is a Professor of History, McGill University and will be teaching at the IDC Herzliya this fall. The author of eight books on US history, his latest is Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism, published by Oxford University Press.