An Unfair Attack on the Jewish Professors
By Rabbi Rafi Rank
Dear Cyber Rav,
The divestment movement on the college campus, directed against Israel, is a very bad thing, and extremely threatening to the health of Israel. Unfortunately, it was a very effective tool against apartheid in South Africa. I suppose the organizers and many supporters remember it as well, and may have participated. Boycotts and divestments depend on whose ox is being gored. But your attack on the Jewish professors who support divestment was disconcerting.
It's very disappointing to learn that a spiritual leader would be willing-on very little information, apparently-to condemn an unnamed group of "Jewish professors" as "cowards," "conformists," "not alive Jewishly," full of "self-hatred," with "tepid and vacuous" cultural connections, not possessing "Jewish values," with "thin and sickly Jewish identities" and "spineless."
Do you know any of these men and women? From the lack of specific information in your article, I have to doubt it. Therefore, you have no idea about the strength, weakness or nature of their Jewish identities. There may be-probably are-among them a significant number who strongly identify themselves as Jews, whether you accept that or not. They may feel terribly torn about the position they feel they have to take. They may feel that they are trying to save Israel.
To stereotype and malign a group of people in this way, based primarily upon the fact they support an action you consider terribly wrong, is unseemly. Free Speech Comes First
Dear Free Speech,
Thanks for your letter and I appreciate your taking the time to write about your disappointment in the article. It was a passionate article and I am surprised that more people have not written. Maybe that's an indication of just how many people are reading what I write. Nevertheless, if I can't always reflect the views of my readers, I would hope they would understand that they are welcome to express a contrary viewpoint, directly to me, just as you have.
If the charge is that I don't know the exact names and religious or Jewish cultural proclivities of the professors involved, I stand guilty as charged. I know a few of them from various articles, but I certainly do not know all of them. Among all those pressing for divestment, is it possible to find Jews who are more than just nominal Jews? Probably. I'm not that naive or reckless as to paint all of them with a single brush stroke.
But I have generalized and I believe that the generalizations are substantive. I place great value on protecting Israel as a Jewish homeland. There is no question in my mind that the love of Israel and the protection of Israel as the Jewish homeland is an essential element in Jewish identity, particularly in the 21st century when the state is something more than just a pipe dream. As a person who believes in democracy, I assume that there is room for disagreement over various policies. Public expressions of disagreement, after all, is what authenticates any true democracy. But these professors are not merely expressing disagreement. They are acting to pressure Israel into submission and that I find unacceptable. Some professors may be motivated out of pain for what they see as an Israel failing miserably at achieving the kind of utopian state it was meant to be. But my suspicion is that given the liberal tendencies of the college campus, a tendency which consistently sides with the perceived underdog no matter how vicious or undemocratic its ways, Israel ends up being a huge embarrassment to these profs. Israel is understood to be the big, fat, militaristic, capitalistic, American puppet that is oppressing the downtrodden Palestinians. And to argue against the Palestinians or their leadership would put the professors at odds with the political milieu of the campus. It is easier, in their environment, to criticize Israel. And so they distance themselves from Israel to the point of undercutting its very existence.
Here's another way of looking at it. Historically, in order for ghetto Jews to fit into polite (Christian) society, we had to "divest" ourselves of all the stereotypes we were subject to. One of those stereotypes was that we could never be good citizens of any country because all we cared about was Israel. The German Reform community thus declared the return to Israel as an antiquated principle and saw Berlin as the new Jerusalem. Little did it help them. The suspicion that Jews care only about Israel, not their county of citizenship, remains until this day. All people want to fit in, and Jews can do it best by standing at odds with Israel, even if it means siding with the forces that would destroy Israel. I see the Jewish professors' position on divestment as just that. It is a way to buy themselves a ticket into the society in which they live. They are seen as good Jews" by publicly promoting their unJewishness.
Of course, you might argue that I have created a structure whereby every criticism of Israel is by definition, anti-semitic. No-I believe that you can criticize Israel. I believe that you can criticize Sharon's Israel, however misguided that criticism may be. But I never want to see a Jew attempt to dismantle Israel. South Africa was an embarrassment to any civilized human being. Israel, with all of its warts, has been a refuge for unwanted Jews and a beacon of democratic light in a sea of Mideastern authoritarianism. As I have said often, if the Israelis were Americans (and not Israelis), by this time, the Palestinians would have suffered the fate of the American Indian. As Americans, we are far more impatient, far more protective, and far more vicious than anything a Sharon government could ever even conceive.
I would say that as Jewish identity goes, I opt for a Jewish identity that is politically incorrect. I make no apologies for my love for Israel, nor should any Jew. A love for Israel does not undermine our love for America, and those who think it does are committed to an irrational argument. Jews need not satisfy anyone in this world but God and their own conscience. I stand by my statements that these professors have acted out of a fear and weakness that is about as old as our 2,000 year old exile. They are being "good Jews," for "good Jews do not argue assertively, aggressively, or parochially, for "good Jews" are powerless and thus threaten no one. "Bad Jews,""like me, think that Jews deserve more, demand it, and thus refuse to patronize Arabs by excusing their unethical ways and their political miscalculations. Arabs have brains and hearts like everyone else. We all pray to the same God. Their history of intellectual achievement and progress is testimony to the temporary nature of their present miserable status. It's time to turn to the Arab world and tell them that they have erred dramatically in the past 100 years, that they have no one to blame but themselves, and that they would do well to cut their losses, get their act together, and become as successful as anyone else earnest about personal success.
On another matter, being a rabbi, and being smitten with a need to serve every Jew with the love and respect they deserve, I feel a little badly that I have to disagree with you. But, as I said in the beginning, I think it is important to be able to disagree with people, sans anger, particularly when those people are members of your own family-as we both are. On the other hand, I think that the rabbinate can be cursed with mediocrity and boredom. I think that rabbis who avoid all controversy serve no one and lead no one. And that's not my idea of the rabbinate. My idea of an authentic rabbinate is one that is gutsy, vital, challenging, and perhaps even disturbing. but if someone like yourself ever wants to rear me in because they think I've stepped too far, I welcome it, I appreciate it, I will always listen to it, even if in the end I respectfully disagree with it. So I really very much thank you for writing and hope you will again (though maybe to tell me what a brilliant article I wrote, next time).
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