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The rudderless Jews

In the United States, where crimes of hate mostly strike Jewish targets, and with violent antisemitism making a disquieting comeback, no one stands guard on the wall.

Kippah or yarmulke on the background of the American Flag. Credit: Shabtay/Shutterstock.
Kippah or yarmulke on the background of the American Flag. Credit: Shabtay/Shutterstock.
Thane Rosenbaum. Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Thane Rosenbaum
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech ... From Itself.”

There is a stealth civil war taking place within the American Jewish community. Don’t worry—most American Jews don’t know about it and have no intention of taking sides or firing a shot. Hearts and minds aren’t involved either. It’s more like a cold war of complacency.

The reason for the hedging of hostilities comes down to leadership. How shall I put this? Okay, well, American Jews have none. All that spectacular success and no leaders to show for it, no discernible plan for the preservation of their people.

Who among them stands up, unabashedly, to defend Jews? Israel grows gutsy sabras in abundance. In the United States, where crimes of hate mostly strike Jewish targets, and with violent antisemitism making a disquieting comeback, no one stands guard on the wall.

Sure, there are Jewish elected officials with political clout—senators, congresspersons, governors and mayors. But they refuse to wield power on behalf of their own people. And they shirk any responsibility to speak for American Jewry in a declarative and unifying voice.

It’s not true of other American minorities. For instance, there is no Jewish equivalent of the Congressional Black Caucus. There’s not even a Jewish clique. Most elected Jewish officials would blanch at such a parochial endeavor. Good luck getting them to even sign a letter calling out violence against Hasidic Jews, or censuring a member of the Squad for gleefully launching an antisemitic trope.

In this political culture, it’s too fraught with risk. One false step, and accusations of racism or Islamophobia fly. Best to feign laryngitis or claim to be without a nearby pen.

The problem is not confined to politicians. The leadership of legacy organizations, who are avowedly in the Jewish advocacy business and are not beholden to outside constituencies, are even more feckless. Unelected with near lifetime tenure, generally unknown to the Jewish community they serve and too often fearful of offending their donor base, which increasingly seeks the approval of the Biden White House and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, these entities have been hijacked by the same woke priorities that have overtaken universities, mainstream media and corporate boardrooms.

Historically Jews voted the Democratic ticket, but they conducted themselves as if they had never actually chosen sides. That’s no longer true. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee, the regional Federations, the Jewish Community Relations Councils, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Union for Reform Judaism are all now wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party—a party that rolls with many fellow travelers.

Last week showcased a bitter demonstration of this truth. A relatively new organization, the Combat Antisemitism Movement, produced a video that seemingly linked “woke ideology” with increased antisemitic violence perpetrated by Muslims and African-Americans. These are important progressive constituencies at a time when legacy groups are looking to develop alliances with intersectional partners who share a history of persecution. Surely Jews can’t be seen charging such groups with antisemitism—even if true.

Two Jewish organizations that had initially joined the Combat Antisemitism Movement—the national umbrella group for the Federations, and the JCPA—both withdrew their support in protest. Feeling outside pressure, the Combat Antisemitism Movement removed the video from its website.

The message was made clear: As long as neo-Nazis and alt-right agitators can be blamed for the acts of Jew-hatred in Charlottesville (2017), Pittsburgh (2018) and Poway (2019), Jewish leaders will offer their full-throated condemnation. But if more widespread acts of violence are attributed to Islamists and persons of color, then the protocols of political correctness take over, and Jewish leadership will roll over.

But aren’t all forms of antisemitism equally objectionable and potentially lethal? Historically, Jew-hatred was color-blind. Today it has become two-tiered: the antisemitism of white supremacists is condemned; the same conduct from people of color, apparently, is excused.

Principled leadership and moral clarity would allow for no such license. And judging from the experience of European Jewry, there is more to fear from marauding Muslims than Nazi wannabees.

Playing favorites these days should come as no surprise. The Jewish community’s call to arms, “tikkun olam,” is a rallying cry for victimhood established by the progressive left—with Jewish concerns notably exempted. Social justice means Black Lives Matter, the Green New Deal, Free Palestine, the pardoning of pronouns, the paroling of immigrants, the liberation of women’s bodies and the male womb and, of course, saving the whales.

Saving Jews … not so much.

Judaism has become less an organized religion than an exercise in moral narcissism. Virtue signaling supersedes the Shema. Jews are too caught up in DEI dogma (“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”) and white privilege culpability to proclaim themselves the Chosen People anymore. Through the eyes of identity politics, they are just another splinter group within the oppressor class. And despite a history that suggests otherwise, they have no claims to minority status.

And making matters worse, Jews are pathetically obtuse to the real threats that endanger them. An oblivion born of the banality of Los Angeles’ Beverly Grove, New York’s Diamond District, and Miami’s Bal Harbour—until Jews living there were beaten in the spring of 2021, ostensibly blamed for Israel’s retaliation against the meteor shower of Hamas rockets.

Who stood up for American Jews then?

The lesson is never learned. Dots go unconnected. Patterns patronized. Threats ignored. Should Jews take the ayatollahs of Iran seriously? What about the toxic antisemitic “scholarship” dispensed in universities?  And, of course, the erosion of solidarity from African-Americans.

No wonder Jewish students on campus are ill-equipped to respond to pernicious libels against Israel, required to publicly denounce a nation most have never visited. Faced with such hostility, and yet without exemplary leadership to emulate. Wandering Jews still wandering, in place, rudderless. No one prepared to answer the call.

Ominous signs are everywhere. Iran spins centrifuges. Palestinians celebrate terror. The United States rejoins UNESCO. Louis Farrakhan still, shockingly, a welcomed guest. Commencements speakers, Middle East Studies departments and critical race theorists brainwash students—in a woke world, anti-racism allows for antisemitism, just like the Combat Antisemitism Movement’s video intimated.

Meanwhile, the Jewish house is divided, and everyone is fast asleep.

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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