ViewPoint:Neutering pro-Israel advocacy

Just as Jewish identity has been diluted by the legitimization of intermarriage,pro-Israel advocacy is in danger from J Street’s broad tent liberalism.

Survey showing intermarriage is ravaging the American Jews (photo credit: BRENDAN MACDERMID / REUTERS)
Survey showing intermarriage is ravaging the American Jews
Two seemingly unrelated events occurred this fall in rapid succession: J Street held its annual convention and the Pew polling organization released a survey showing how aggressively intermarriage is ravaging the American Jewish community. According to the Pew findings, of all marriages in the US involving a Jewish partner, 61 percent are intermarriages. And in these intermarriages, only 20 percent raise their children as Jewish by religion.
These disturbing findings were anticipated in a seminal article by Prof. Jack Wertheimer – “Intermarriage: Can Anything Be Done?”– in the September issue of the web-based Mosaic magazine.
Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, accuses the American Jewish leadership of encouraging the intermarriage pandemic by keeping mum about it and, worse, legitimizing it by conferring honors and organizational leadership on the Jewish and sometimes even the non-Jewish partner.
Those who justified this minimalist approach to Jewish identity and commitment by citing the need for broad tent inclusiveness now face the assimilationist wreckage left by their strategic blunder.
J Street is repeating the same mistake. Let us put aside the accusations that J Street was set up for the sole purpose of splitting the Jewish community and weakening pro-Israel advocacy, and give its founder Jeremy Ben-Ami and high-profile supporters like the author Peter Beinart the benefit of the doubt. They claim to be genuinely concerned by declining support for Israel in the American Jewish community.
By extending Israel tough love, such as Beinart’s proposed boycott of products from Jewish settlements across 1949 armistice lines, more widely known as “the 1967 borders,” they hope to convince critics that one can be both pro-Israel and pro peace. If this is their rationale, I fear that they are falling into the same trap of infatuation with the broad tent that has blighted the Jewish organizational response to intermarriage.
Indeed, the term “pro-Israel” is adulterated beyond recognition when attendees at the J Street confab vigorously applaud Palestinian Fatah official Husan Zumlot for advocating the right of return for the 1948 Palestinian refugees – a move that would mean Israel’s extinction.
Ben Ami issued an immediate condemnation after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his UN address to attack Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive. I may have missed J Street’s response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s reference to the right of return when he cited UN Resolution 194 in his General Assembly speech. But recognizing the Palestinian Nakba, the self-inflicted disaster of 1948 and the consequent claim of a right of return, is as antithetical to being pro-Israel as intermarriage is to Jewish continuity.
Wertheimer in summing up the polemic touched off by his article believes the issues are interrelated. “If we remove children of intermarriage from the equation, the American Jewish population as a whole appears to be strongly connected to Israel… some of the most virulently anti-Israel statements emanating from the North American Jewish community… have also come either from children of intermarriage or from Jews who are themselves intermarried.”
I am sure that there are cases of intermarried families that have raised children who fully identify with the Jewish people just as I am certain that some of J Street’s currently radical members will end up as committed Zionists, who back Israel when the chips are down. This however is like arguing that since the cigar-smoking, whisky-imbibing and overweight Winston Churchill lived to over 90, one can attain similar longevity by emulating his lifestyle.
Being pro-Israel is not an Israel right-or-wrong approach, but a point of departure that assumes that Israel is right until it has demonstrably been proven wrong. It cannot mean the “evenhanded” agnosticism advocated by J Street spokesperson Alan Elsner on these pages (“The Beinart View I,” October 7).
One last connection between the J Street phenomenon and intermarriage is the false claim the liberal left makes of free and open debate.
Wertheimer’s most serious charge is that the decision to condone intermarriage was not merely an honest mistake, but that it was influenced by a fair degree of intimidation. Critics of intermarriage were threatened with defunding or dismissal if they persisted. Moreover, while J Street is ready to expose its members to Palestinian propagandists like Husan Zumlot and far-left NGOs such as “Breaking the Silence,” Beinart blackballs critics of Netanyahu from the opposite end of the spectrum. He would boycott the settler nationalists intellectually as well as economically – belying the self-proclaimed openness and inclusiveness of his “Open Zion” blog.
This last complaint is comparatively minor. My major fear is that J Street with its broad tent liberalism will neuter pro-Israel advocacy the same way that the American Jewish leadership, by pandering to intermarriage, has diluted Jewish identity.
 Contributor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva