Our World: Who speaks for America’s Jews?

The sight of Beinart and his comrades locking hands and singing Debbie Friedman songs in Hebron was so absurd it was funny.

SHMULEY BOTEACH poses for a photograph with Peter Beinart (photo credit: ARSEN OSTROVSKY)
SHMULEY BOTEACH poses for a photograph with Peter Beinart
(photo credit: ARSEN OSTROVSKY)
Last Friday, Peter Beinart and a few dozen Jewish anti-Zionists had a marvelous time in Hebron.
They wore funny blue T-shirts and sang about “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) in two languages.
They pretended they were civil rights activists.
They videotaped themselves being brave. They got shown to the door by security forces after wrecking a Palestinian farmer’s grazing land while supposedly defending him.
Five dual Israeli-American citizens got arrested.
And the rest ate a late lunch.
All in all, it was a great experience.
The sight of Beinart and his comrades locking hands and singing Debbie Friedman songs in Hebron was so absurd it was funny. But there was a menacing aspect to their solipsistic showmanship.
Beinart told the JTA reporter who joined them for the protest party, “I feel like I’m seeing the emergence of a new leadership.... People will try to write these guys off as lefties that don’t have any connection to the Jewish community. But... these kids actually come from the bosom of the Jewish community.
A lot of them are affiliated.”
No doubt they are. But to what? According to JTA, “Many belong to left-wing Israel advocacy groups such as J Street and the New Israel Fund, and others to groups that more deeply divide the pro-Israel community, including Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, and IfNotNow, which holds its own sit-ins at US Jewish groups.”
In other words, they come from the marginal fringe of the American Jewish community. They represent no statistically significant demographic.
But they believe that their fringe voices should balance out the vast majority of affiliated Jews who disagree with them, simply because they like tikkun olam.
Beinart’s show is nothing new. In recent years, we have seen example after example of fringe elements in the Jewish community with the chutzpah to argue that their anti-Zionism gives them the right to kneecap the entire community.
In April for instance, after the head of the anti-Jewish hate group Students for Justice in Palestine at Harvard Law School asked visiting Israeli politician Tzipi Livni an anti-Semitic question, the entire organized Jewish community at the school condemned him.
They demanded that Husam El-Qoulaq apologize and be punished for calling Livni “smelly.”
But then, eight Jewish students, who were unaffiliated with the community, issued a statement of support for Qoulaq. Although they spoke for no one in the community, because they were born Jewish, the eight students believed they had the right to disenfranchise the entire community by claiming that since they disagreed with the consensus view of affiliated Jews, it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Beinart and his comrades wish for us to believe that they aren’t just a group of “lefties” because they want the national Jewish leadership to cater to their needs as if they are serious voices in the community.
But according to survey data, like the radical Jews at Harvard, they effectively represent no one.
According to the 2013 Pew Center study of the American Jewish community, among Jews affiliated with the community more than three quarters feel attached to Israel and believe that Israel is an important part of their Jewish identity.
Fifty percent of affiliated American Jews either support or are neutral about Israel’s settlement activities in Judea and Samaria. 44% oppose those activities.
American Jews believe, by a greater than three to one margin, that Israel is more sincere in its pursuit of peace than the Palestinians.
A mere 8% of Jews that identify as Jews do not think that Israel is an essential part of their Jewish identity.
True, attachment to Israel is weaker among younger Jews. But as the Pew survey noted, it is unclear whether this is a function of age or changing values.
Historically, younger people become more pro-Israel as they become older.
Either way though, it makes no sense to legitimize those whose activism is opposed by the vast majority of American Jews.
Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge that Beinart and his colleagues do not represent a significant constituency and ignore his provocations, the national Jewish leadership in the US is steadily legitimizing him and his anti-Zionist camp. In so doing US Jewish leaders are turning their greatest fear – that anti-Israel voices will seize control of the community – into a real, rather than theoretical threat to the future of the American Jewish community.
Take AIPAC for instance. Last week, AIPAC invited the EU-funded and -directed, Israeli-staffed, anti-Israel group Breaking the Silence to speak to a mission of American rabbis. Breaking the Silence receives the bulk of its funding from European governments.
It disseminates reports to its donors rife with false allegations of war crimes against IDF forces. Breaking the Silence employees were caught on film by Ad Kan members gathering intelligence on IDF combat systems, tactics and operational plans from reservists and active duty soldiers.
In other words, Breaking the Silence is an anti-Israel group that advances the anti-Israel policies of foreign governments. It has no constituency in Israel. It speaks for no one and what it says is untrue.
Yet AIPAC decided that this group should address its mission. True, Breaking the Silence members were invited to debate a legitimate group. But that is neither here nor there.
By inviting Breaking the Silence to address its members, AIPAC mainstreamed it, much as Columbia University mainstreamed the cause of annihilating Israel when in 2007, it invited then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address its students.
AIPAC’s decision to mainstream Breaking the Silence goes hand in hand with its successful bid in 2012 to convince the Republicans to water down their support for Israel in their party platform. As AIPAC saw things, had the Republicans adopted pro-Israel language that reflected the positions of members of the party, they would have shown up Democrats, whose support for Israel is far weaker.
AIPAC thought it was preferable to weaken Republican support for Israel to align them with the Democrats than to lobby the Democrats to strengthen their support for Israel and so align themselves with the Republicans.
The mad notion that you build support for Israel by making people feel comfortable supporting Israel less is all too familiar.
In 1990, Pew published a report indicating that intermarriage rates among American Jews who married in the previous five years had surpassed 50%. As Jonathan Tobin noted in 2013 in Commentary, the major American Jewish organizations responded to the news by adopting the concept of “outreach.”
The idea was that by making intermarried couples feel comfortable in the community, they would choose to remain Jewish.
The data from 2013 showed that this idea was a complete failure.
Massive resources were expended for nearly 30 years to make non-Jewish spouses feel at home. And yet according to the data, most intermarried couples remain outside the community and do not raise their children as Jews. In order words, their intermarriage was a sign that they had already left the community.
A far better investment would have been to devote communal resources to Jews who actually want to stay Jews. They should be properly educated. They should feel supported and challenged.
Peter Beinart and his gang are not staging ridiculous publicity stunts in Hebron because they care about being Jewish. They are doing these sorts of things because they care about being lefties. They believe that the Left is becoming anti-Semitic and they want to ensure they will be allowed to remain in the camp after this has happened.
It is the job of the committed Jews of America to end the leadership’s embrace of anti-Zionist voices.
The overwhelming majority of engaged American Jews who are Zionists should not allow their voices to be muffled, let alone drowned out by a small mob of extremists who have already bet against the community.