American Jewish liberals have lost the plot

December 7, 2016 by Isi Leibler
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Throughout the two thousand years of Jews living in the Diaspora, there has been no precedent comparable to the behaviour of major liberal mainstream sectors of the American Jewish community…writes Isi Leibler.

Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler

They are undermining themselves and provoking massive waves of resentment from Americans, many of whom were favourably disposed towards them.

The United States has been the home of the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora over the past half century and was regarded by many Jews as the “goldene medina”. Traditional anti-Semitism is at an all-time low with the exception of the current anti-Israeli agitation initiated at campuses by Muslims and far left radicals. Many Jews have become affluent, powerful and are highly respected by most Americans.

Until recently, all mainstream Jewish organisations sought to maintain Democrat and Republican bipartisanship with regard to Israel and major issues of Jewish concern. This, despite the fact that for complex historical reasons the vast majority of American Jews were inclined towards liberalism and voted Democrat.

Even after eight years of President Obama’s efforts to create daylight between Israel and the United States in order to appease the Iranians and other Arab countries and despite the extraordinary support for Israel expressed by all sections of the Republican Party, Jews still tended to vote Democrat. This contrasted sharply with Anglo-Jewry whose members defected in droves from the British Labor Party when it became anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Regrettably a number of mainstream U.S. liberal Jewish organisations broke with all tradition and displayed unprecedented and extreme partisanship in the recent US election and its aftermath. This may have disastrous long-term repercussions on the standing and influence of the American Jewish community.

The Anti-Defamation League, a hitherto respected body whose principal mandate is to combat anti-Semitism, began crossing red lines as soon as its new CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama aide, assumed leadership after the retirement of Abe Foxman. Even before the elections, Greenblatt assumed a J Street profile and introduced left wing policy initiatives including pontificating and criticising Israeli policies which were totally beyond his jurisdiction.

At the same time he opposed legislation to prohibit BDS, suggesting that many of its supporters were misled idealists seeking to promote the peace process. He also minimised concern for the rabid anti-Semitic platform of the Black Lives Matter movement, excusing it on the grounds that it was engineered by a small minority.

More significantly he downplayed the escalating anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on the campuses initiated by Muslim and far left groups – highly ironic for the head of the organisation whose raison d’être is to combat anti-Semitism. But it was in the course of America’s most bitter and brutal electoral race that a number of liberal Jewish groups, headed by the ADL, initiated a partisan campaign against Trump and his supporters.

Like most Americans, many Jews were distressed and polarised by the shameful and vulgar behaviour of candidates. As individuals, American Jews have every right to express their political feelings. But officially, as Jewish mainstream organisations – as distinct from politically left Jewish groups – they had no right to speak on behalf of the Jewish community on issues unconnected to Jewish rights or interests.

It is also understandable that many long term Jewish Democratic supporters were  bitterly disappointed with the unexpected outcome of the elections. But to hysterically proclaim the demise of democracy and the rise of fascism, or to compare the Trump ascendancy to the 9/11 attacks and imply that Trump supporters – half of the electorate – are extremist, is sheer lunacy. Indeed the despair and frenzy reached such levels after the elections that a number of Conservative and Reform synagogues conducted formal mourning ceremonies. This is truly collective madness.

Yet ADL officials together with Reform and Conservative leaders also publicly exploited anti-Semitism as a vehicle to slander the Trump campaign, hurling accusations of anti-Semitism and fascism. In so doing these groups may have caused irreparable harm to the Jewish community from amongst Trump supporters who comprise half of the American people, many of whom were hitherto positively inclined towards Jews.

The false allegations and innuendoes of anti-Semitism were accompanied by counter-productive hysteria, warning of the threat emanating from marginal right-wing anti-Semitic groups, implying that these few hundred extremists were a critical component of Trump’s support and thus the entire party was compromised.

The campaign against the extremist fringes and the national media exposure to these relatively unknown marginal neo-Nazis and degenerates, like David Duke and Richard Spencer and the email hate peddlers, achieved the undesirable result of catapulting them into national personalities, which they could never have dreamt of achieving.

Stoking the fires of hysteria after the elections, Greenblatt proclaimed at an ADL Conference that anti-Semitism in the United States has never been as bad as it is today since the 1930s. He was not relating to the real threat of burgeoning anti-Semitism at the campuses but referring to the few hundred Ku Klux Klan lunatics, White Supremacists and neo-Nazis allegedly empowered by Trump. The fact is that whatever his failings may be, Trump is certainly no anti-Semite.  He has a daughter converted to Judaism who is religiously observant and is surrounded by Jews.

The real threat to the Jewish community to which the ADL should be focusing, is at the college campuses where anti-Israelism initiated by Muslim and far Left groups has now morphed into open anti-Semitism with increasing manifestations of violence. Freedom of expression is being denied to pro-Israeli spokesmen who are frequently howled down by these “progressives”. Having regard to the fact that graduates from these institutions will become the leaders of the future, it is truly worrisome that they are being nurtured in such a hostile environment and that it requires courage in many campuses to support Israel.

Displaying double standards, incredibly the ADL provided an imprimatur to Keith Ellison to become the new head of the Democratic National Council. Ellison is a Muslim who was a former follower of Louis Farrakhan and has a long record of anti-Israeli hostility. Yet Greenblatt went so far as to describe Ellison as “a man of good character… an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism”. Instead of combating anti-Semitism, the ADL was whitewashing an opponent of Israel with an anti-Semitic background in order to promote its leftist agenda. However, the public outcry was so overwhelming that  that a week later Greenblatt was forced to state that after  seeing “disturbing”  remarks expressed by Ellison, the ADL now had “serious doubts about his ability to faithfully represent the party’s traditional support for Israel”.

Alas, the extent to which the Democratic Party has veered from its traditional pro-Israel stance was exemplified by the fact that the Charles Schumer, the incoming Jewish Senate Minority Leader, shamefully reiterated that “I stand by Rep. Ellison for the DNC chair…”while I disagree with him on some of his past positions”.

Fortunately, the new administration is unlikely to be anti-Semitic. Aside from other factors, Trump is surrounded by orthodox Jewish officials who are also passionately pro-Israel. But nevertheless, these partisan mainstream Jewish interventions and refusal to accept the outcome of a democratic election create major tensions and have the potential of severely undermining the standing of the Jewish community.

The only major organisation explicitly condemning this behaviour is the Zionist Organisation of America headed by Mort Klein.

To their credit, following the elections,  Malcolm Hoenlein on behalf of the President’s Conference of Major Jewish Organisations and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee called on Jews to help reunite the nation and encourage the incoming administration to calm the passions and judge them on their actions.

This enlightened approach is highly commendable. But it is unlikely to suppress the hysteria amongst those sections of the community which define their Judaism as comprising liberal universalism and place the welfare of Israel very low in their priorities. Moreover the links with Israel, which until now were the primary source of Jewish identity for non-Orthodox Jews, will tragically continue to erode.

In addition to the polarised division between Orthodox Jews and the rest of the community, the assimilatory tendencies will further increase which will lead to the ongoing contraction and quality of the Jewish community.

Far left Liberals are as free as anyone else to engage in political campaigns, but those heading mainstream Jewish organisations must be compelled to cease exploiting their position and using anti-Semitism as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda.

They should also ask themselves one question. Who represents a greater threat to democracy and American Jews? A handful of marginal neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who nobody had ever heard of or a Muslim with a long record of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel who heads the Democratic National Council?

American Jewry is the most successful, powerful and respected Diaspora in Jewish history. If organisations like the ADL refuse to hearken to the wise counsel expressed by leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein, Mort Klein or David Harris but maintain their current politically partisan policies, American Jews will be marginalised and be perceived as the extension of a Democratic Party which is drifting increasingly further away from its traditional pro-Israel policy.

 Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.


13 Responses to “American Jewish liberals have lost the plot”
  1. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    It’s to be remembered that Jews voting for governments in the Diaspora vote with the country and society in which they live in mind. Of course, it matters what that country’s attitude is to Israel. And, in the case of the USA, it matters greatly. However, US society and problems within it need to be the focus – it’s a US election, not an Israeli election.
    If there are American Jews who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump and speak out against him, that’s certainly understandable to me. And why should any of you upbraid them for it! There are many in the Republican Party who can’t support Trump, too. It will be good to be rid of Obama, Hilary would have been more of the same … it seems in that huge nation they are bereft of people who are more than ordinary.

    Maxine Finberg, I have met some boorish American Jews in my time and couldn’t wait to remove myself from their presence, but your kind of judgement on the New York Jews’ eating habits during the cruises as ‘abominations’, smacks of self-righteous intolerance. There is more to a Jew than his eating habits. You can be Jewish and not religious; you can be Jewish and ignorant; and, you can be Jewish and intolerant and smug within your perceived identity.

    Isi, why make such a glamorous ‘historical’ portrayal of the American Jewish Diaspora? They’re bigger in number, that’s all.

    Frankly, this article and the posts it’s attracted leave a lot to be desired. I expect the likes of Gil Solomon to go on full attack. That’s fine, but try to keep it civil, and allow, even just for a moment, another perspective to seep in.

  2. Maurice May says:

    If you you are one eyed its easer to be blind and you are very selective

  3. Gil Solomon says:

    American Jews have lost the plot alright. The majority can be defined as leftist first and foremost before any other criteria and will vote Democrat till the day they die, no matter how far to the loony left this party goes and no matter how anti –Israeli it becomes. The reality is that Donald Trump is the right man at the right time. He has effectively saved the USA from going “over the cliff” so to speak, which is exactly what was in store should Hillary Clinton have won the Presidential election.

    However we have to face reality.
    US Jews by and large have become a leftist whingeing, whining rabble who simply cannot accept the reality of a Trump presidency and if they cannot get to the man they will try to find fault with any cabinet appointment he makes. It is fortunate that Trump and Pence are friends of Israel because quite frankly, Trump would have every right to categorically state that he owes nothing to American Jews when sometime in the next 8 years they come cap in hand knocking on the White House door asking for a favour.

    The bottom line is that the elections are over.
    Those US Jews who did not like the result should simply now shut up. No one wants to know or in fact cares what these people think as what comes out of their mouths these days is quite frankly disgraceful.

  4. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    So sad that so frequently we Jews are our own worst enemies! I already saw the writing on the wall when Rabbi Lookstein was bullied and virtually forced into withdrawing from delivering the invocation at the start of the Republican conference by a noisy group of his misguided ex-students. Activist Reform and Conservative elements in the US are not only undermining US Jewry but are also attnepting to drive a wedge among Israelis with their provocative behaviour at the Wall as well as their harrassing of the IDF. If they are not reined in very soon they will be a danger to us all!

  5. Eleonora Mostert says:

    Dear Isi,
    It seems we are fighting several wars just to survive, and to have to fight our own kind is insanity. When will we as a nation stand together and fight the true enemy? Together we stand divided we fall.

  6. Hugh Dalton says:

    Would Mr Leibler care to comment on the support of Jewish liberals support of section 18C

  7. Henry Herzog says:

    Furthermore Isi, sorry for spelling your name incorrectly, how do you think the neo-Nazi anti-Semites, to whom Trump made promises, will react if Trump doesn’t keep his promises.
    Sorry Isi, but love and goodwill is in very much short supply.
    Please try to write about the positives. It’s not so hard if you look for them.

  8. Henry Herzog says:

    Hi Issy, It seems that you are down playing the influence of the neo-Nazi white supremacists on Trump’s election result. He spelled out his policies loud and clear and the far right neo-Nazis racist got right behind him. History repeating itself.
    All you’re doing Issy is trying to appease the far-right racists. We don’t belong there.

  9. Maxine Finberg says:

    I absolutely agree with Isi Leibler’s comments. My late husband, Morrie,z’l and I came into contact with these Americans on cruises e.g. sitting at table with New York Jews who were eating ” abominations” with gay abandon, after lighting the Shabbat candles and Morrie saying Kiddush, a woman asked him ” are you a rabbi? ” but the most memorable was the year before Obama was elected and a Jewish law student in her early 20’s proudly told us she was an intern for Obama. Having read about his infamous background, I asked her “what is his foreign policy, especially towards Israel?”, to which she replied “I don’t know “.
    I emailed her after he had been on his first overseas trip, bowing low to the King of Saudi Arabia and giving his disgusting speech in Cairo which led to the so-called Arab Spring. She replied, ignoring his foreign policy, and wrote “but his domestic policies are great”.
    As Isi quoted “they define their Judaism as liberal universalism and place the welfare of Israel very low in their priorities.”
    Such a tragedy.

  10. Milton David Fisher says:

    One reason that many American Jews have done so well in the United States is the separation of religion and state. It is in Jewish self interest as well as in the self interest of many non-Jews to preserve that separation. Many evangelical supporters of Trump would eliminate that separation. Along with that separation goes an integrated public school system where students are not segregated by ethnicity, race or religion. Many supporters of Trump would destroy that educational system Trump’s appointee as head of the Department of Education, DeVos, is an opponent of the public schools. I don’t believe Israel can be a democracy as long as it is a Jewish state with a segregated educational system. The religion of its citizens should be no business of a democratic government. As an American Jew I cannot in good conscience support a Jewish state.

  11. Eion Isaac says:

    J streets support for Ellinson who voted against funding the Iron Dome antimissile system is indeed betraying the Jews of Israel and many Jews in the USA .
    To support the Palestinian demand for a State with Belligerant Capacity against the Jews and demanding Right of Return to Israel is extremely unjust because the Arabs blocked the right of survival for Jews who wished to escape to the empty spaces of mandatory Palestine between 1933-1945 .
    As bad the Islamic States such as Turkey close to Eastern Europe in particular Rumania Hungary the Greek mainland and the Greek islands refused entry to the Jews .
    They refused to take even the Jews from the island of Rhodes so close to Turkey .
    The vile leader El Hussayni and his supporters collaborated with the Nazis with enthusiasm and encouraged the Nazi Genocide .
    No Palestinian leader from Hanan Ahwari to Abbas has condemned this very large NeoNazi Palestinian Clan

  12. john nemesh says:

    This article should be front page in The Jewish News.

    Lets get a grip……and see the forest from the trees as Leibler is suggesting.

  13. Ron Burdo says:

    Hi Isi,

    As someone who lives in Israel, where the Hebrew-speaking elite
    has similar views plus hostility to anything Jewish, why should this be a surprise for you?

    These people claim to represent Jews but put them at the bottom
    of their list, under thick layers of cosmopolitan and progressive agendas.

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