Is it time for US Jewry to stop caring if elected reps. are Jewish?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

A recent JTA article reported that six Jewish candidates were vying in late summer Massachusetts primaries that reverberated with “multiple consequential clashes with Jewish significance.”

But what does “Jewish significance” mean for an American election in the 21st century?

Does it mean support or condemnation of Israel, fighting antisemitism in all its forms, or is it primarily about universalistic values with their roots in prophetic Judaism?

In America today, a Jewish surname does not mean that the candidate identifies as Jewish, where more than 70% of Jews marry out of the faith, and only 4% of Jews consider Israel a primary voting concern, something that has been on the decline for decades. There was a time when support of Israel was a cohesive communal force, but for most American Jews today Israel is a distant concern, and for those that care about the Jewish state, the group in ascendancy are conflicted, embarrassed or downright hostile to the existence of a Jewish state as a consequence of their being taught that ethnic nationalism (Zionism) is akin to racism or a vestige of European colonialism. Others say they “support” Israel, but don’t like the current administration the Israel’s have chosen, so they are in favor of punishing Israel.

That’s what was playing out in those late summer primaries that are a harbinger of where a polarized American nation and American Jews are headed, unless something revolutionary happens. The JTA article highlighted a Jewish candidate, Alex Morse, who they said was symbolic of a younger generation of American Jews who are unafraid to criticize Israel. Morse told JTA, “Too often we conflate criticism of Israel… with being antisemitic or being anti-Jewish, and I think they’re two very different conversations. I think one can be critical of Israel and their actions without being antisemitic.”

Progressive far Left candidates are more hostile to Israel than the vast majority of non-progressive gentile politicians, in the name of supporting oppressed Palestinians. A growing number consider the values and ideas of progressive socialism, best exemplified by the justice Democrats of “the squad” as being what is genuinely Jewish. Morse, like other progressive candidates, singles out “the squad” (Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) for praise and has not a word of condemnation, even though they are the only members of Congress openly calling for a boycott of Israel. In Morse’s case, he said it would be an “honor to work alongside them.” Although he lost this primary, he is the canary in the coal mine for what young progressive Jews think and where they will lead US-Israel relations in the future as they continue to replace traditional liberal Zionists like Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel.

So will a progressive Jewish candidate be more likely to fight against Jew hatred than a gentile elected official? Most Jewish candidates only see antisemitism from the far right, minimizing and ignoring it from their own ranks. That is a necessity for self-preservation if you align yourself to a movement that says, if you are a supporter of Israel you are unwelcome within the progressive community. If you see candidates with Jewish surnames, remember that does not mean they care about Israel or will fight all forms of Jew hatred, not just the politically correct ones.

The internecine war is not only between right and left, but between pro-Israel liberals and anti-Israel progressives. This was best evidenced last month when the center-left ADL (Anti-Defamation League) was attacked by 150 progressive organizations, who demanded the ADL be “excluded from social justice coalitions” because of their support of Israel.

So if a Jewish candidate cares only about universal progressive causes or for that matter if a conservative Jewish candidate cares exclusively about domestic issues, why should the Jewish community care about their Jewish genealogy. It seems the only thing that still unites Jews is the shame and defensiveness we feel as a community when a Jewish elected official does something shameful. Then you hope it is a Jew of the party you don’t affiliate with.

The level of antagonism toward fellow Jews is reaching new lows. Those who don’t subscribe to our politics, progressive, liberal, or conservative, are not worthy of anything but scorn. A few years ago I had a conversation with a progressive Rabbi about the relationship between politics and Jewish values. He said his Jewish values were completely entwined with his progressive politics. So I asked him, if someone doesn’t follow your political beliefs, can he or she still be considered a good Jew from your perspective? The answer was no. And this was before US President Donald Trump was elected.

I was reminded of this story when I read an email this week from the president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami that said, “As we approached Rosh Hashanah last year, I found myself unable to extend the traditional wishes for a sweet new year” to people unless they “push the foreign policy conversation in a more progressive direction.” In other words, unless you are a progressive, I don’t respect your viewpoint or acknowledge your humanity, so why offer you a sincere Rosh Hashanah greeting. That may be the very essence of illiberalism and intolerance.

So that leaves us asking what Jewish issues are significant in our upcoming election season. No matter where you stand you need to acknowledge the timeless moral values Jews have given to humanity that are the basis of our Declaration of Independence, and we need to heed the warning of what destroyed the Second Temple, baseless hatred of the other, something in abundance in today’s American Jewish community. For perspective we should remember that when the Nazis came for the Jews, they didn’t care if they were intermarried, converted, Reform, Orthodox, liberal or conservative.

So let’s resolve for the New Year to see your fellow Jews in a more generous light, and not let hate and contempt be our path for those who do not see politics in the same way. It’s time for our clergies to be healers and to stop preaching politics from the bimah this holiday season, to teach universal Jewish values that can be appreciated, no matter where your political orientation lies.

Shanah Tovah.

The writer is director of the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and can be read in The Hill, RealClearWorld, JNS, i24TV, JTA, Defense News, and The Forward.

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