(August 27, 2019 / JNS) Jewish security in the American Diaspora is better served by a more right-of-center political outlook than one left-of-center, for certain in the current context of U.S. politics.
A today can always be understood by a yesterday.
Faced with the prospect of the Russian czar being overthrown and French General (to be emperor) Napoleon Bonaparte ruling over the area of White Russia in 1812, the Chassidic tzadikim were split. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi—the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—wrote in September that year as, en route to Moscow, Napoleon and his army were marching through the Chassidic areas of Polotsk, Vitebsk, Orsha and Smolensk, that he preferred the czar to continue to rule:
Should Napoleon be victorious, wealth among the Jews will be abundant and the glory of the children of Israel will be exalted. But the hearts of Israel will be separated and distanced from their father in heaven. But if our master Alexander will triumph, though poverty will be abundant and the glory of Israel will be humbled, the heart of Israel will be bound and joined with its father in heaven.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov wanted to make of Napoleon a harbinger of the Gog and Magog battle he foresaw, and he prayed that it would be he who should be victorious to facilitate redemption, even if Jewish blood be shed as the two armies fought in the heart of Jewish territory. The Koznetz Rebbe and the Seer of Lublin disagreed.
Indeed, faced with this party or that, in power or out, Jews throughout their years of dispersion valiantly attempted to keep themselves out of local politics while assuring that those same politics, as well as the politicians who practiced statecraft, would both leave Jews out but keep them close. It was an intolerable situation to be between the rock and the hard place.
And so it is today.
American Jewry is embattled with itself. Establishment vs. non-establishment, young vs. old, progressive vs. non-militant. I am old enough to remember, even vividly, that this has always been the case. I participated in a sit-in at the headquarters of the New York Jewish Federation on April 9, 1970, protesting the inequity in the distribution of funds and seeking a prioritization of activist projects, including Soviet Jewry and Jewish education. Challenges to Jewish solidarity by liberalism (as it was called then) were not unknown, as were threats to Zionism and Israel. However, the willingness of today’s “disenchanted” Jewish millennials to actively subvert the communal structure and to seek actual damage to Israel is astounding.
There is a historical backdrop to this. Did not we witness in the 20th century the activities of the Yevsektzia? Worse, we suffered apostates collaborating with church officials in their persecution of Jews and in 19th-century Poland. But the phenomenon goes deeper. As J.J. Gross, who blogs for The Times of Israel, has written:
secular progressive Jews are also universalists, but of a different sort. They are against only their own particularism—Judaism/Zionism—while championing the particularism of everyone else … [and] they often employ Jewish tropes to justify their activities even as they militate noisily for the destruction of the Jewish People and the very America that gives them the freedom to pursue their culturally and ethnically suicidal dreams. Yes, they are consummately disloyal.
Liel Leibovitz, a senior writer for Tablet magazine, has a similar view:
Let us, then, observe these changes candidly and without succumbing to the pressures of screaming ideologues on either side. The party our parents voted for, the party we thought would be ours for eternity, appears to be well on its way to becoming something entirely hostile to Jews.
I would even put forward the probability that Jewish security in the American Diaspora is better served by a more right-of-center political outlook than one left-of-center, for sure in the current context of American politics. With charges supported by the Jewish radicals that Jews possess “white privilege;” that universities are places of actual physical and, for sure, psychological damage for Jewish students (which, of course, causes them to become less Jewish); and that actual anti-Semitism is forthcoming from growing elements in the Democratic Party, the prospect of aligning with a Republican Party is strongly buttressed with the underpinnings of pro-Zionist Christians.
Is that viewpoint a perfect one? Is it for the long-term?
No, perhaps not. But it can work at present. And with a bit more Jewish wisdom than is currently being displayed by American Jewry, it can facilitate Jewish survival better than the far-left agenda of a journalist like Peter Beinart, those associated with of the anti-Israel group IfNotNow and others on the fringes. Do Jews have to reject normative liberal causes? Not at all. Do they need to compare the political reality to Nazis and the Holocaust? For sure not.
But in the choice between an emperor and a czar, Jews cannot dilute their identity and find a substitute. Jews must choose to be Jews.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israel journalist and political commentator.
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