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Monday, August 24, 2015

When liberalism replaces Judaism

Jonathan Tobin takes the Union of Reform Judaism to task for refusing to take a position on President Obama's sellout to a nuclear-armed Iran.
From the point of view of those opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, the decision of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) to sit out the battle is not the worst possible outcome. To expect a religious denomination whose very identity is inextricably tied with liberal politics to take a stand against President Obama — a man that the majority of their adherents likes and admires — was a stretch. That was especially true since the president is treating this debate as a litmus test of loyalty to the Democratic Party. Equally unlikely was the possibility that the Reform movement would align itself with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a man that most of their members dislike and distrust — on any issue. Indeed, the unwillingness of the URJ to join the ad hoc group of liberal rabbis that have endorsed the pact with Iran reflects the unease among even liberal Jews who care about Israel over what President Obama has done. Yet the eagerness of Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs to pat himself on the back for staying out of the fray merits criticism. Contrary to Jacobs’s formulation, the real problem with the debate about Iran is not the nature of the rhetoric being used by both sides but the way in which the administration is downgrading the U.S.-Israel alliance. As difficult as it may be for Reform Jews to admit it, Obama is forcing his Jewish admirers to choose between him and Israel and that is not a choice any American, let alone a Jewish supporter of the Jewish state, should be asked to make.
That's true. But count this non-admirer of Obama's as someone who could have predicted that the one thing the official arm of Reform Judaism could not do would be to oppose what President Obama has in effect turned into a 'no confidence' vote on his Iran policy. For most Reform Jews, loyalty to the Democratic party - and particularly to its Left wing - trumps any identification with Judaism or Israel.
When President George H.W. Bush spoke of fighting a lobby when he opposed loan guarantees to Israel in 1991, a united Jewish community slammed him for using language that was redolent of anti-Semitic slurs. When conservative commentator Pat Buchanan also spoke of Jews not fighting in a war they wanted America to fight for Israel, he was labeled an anti-Semite. Yet liberals aren’t being as tough on Obama with many of them looking for ways to rationalize or excuse his rhetoric.
Yes, yours truly slammed Bush Senior for his behavior toward Israel. For that matter, if you look back in this blog, I slammed Bush Junior many times too, even though he might have been the most pro-Israel President the US ever had this side of Lyndon Johnson. I am more loyal to the Jewish people and to Israel than to any American political party (I moved to Israel in 1991). But you won't find a whole lot of liberals slamming Obama on Iran (Tobin mentions Leon Wieseltier; I could have added Alan Dershowitz).
In examining the choices that the URJ and other liberal Jewish groups face, it is fair to ask how they would react if a Republican president had embraced détente with Iran and feuded with Israel. The answer is pretty obvious. In spite of the growing alienation of many of their members from Israel, even the Reform movement would have acted as American Jews did a generation earlier when the elder Bush aligned himself against a Jewish state that had yet to take the sort of risks for peace that were made in the following two decades.
Polls have showed that the majority of Americans oppose the deal with Iran. But if the deal is going to survive, it will be because partisanship is a far more potent factor in our political life than many of us are prepared to admit. If Reform Jews are incapable of choosing a side in a battle where the interests of the Jewish people and the U.S. is at stake, it is because they reflect the demographic reality of an American Jewry that sees liberal politics as being equal to if not more important than their support for Zionism. Throw in their affection for Obama and antipathy for Netanyahu and the Reform decision not to back the president must be seen as a victory of sorts for the deal’s opponents.
Read it all.

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At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are wrong to castigate all Reform Jews. They don't get a vote in who is elected head of the branch. That is left to some self-appointed poobahs. They chose Jstreet Jacobs, not the rank and file. We left the branch because of the election of this man and remain unaffiliated to this day. Simply because someone is a Reform Jew doesn't mean they don't love the Jewish people and aren't well versed in Jewish history, religion, politics or survival.

You don't like when people make assumptions about your perspectives because you are Orthodox, don't make assumptions about all the Reform.


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