A question of tactics
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 12, 1997
The turning point in the McCarthy era in the US came when Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the US Army confronted the Wisconsin senator in public hearings with the question, 'Sir, have you no sense of decency left?'
The same question could be addressed today to the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements over their campaign against passage of the conversion bill. Their no- holds-barred tactics have bitterly divided world Jewry, alienated American Jews from Israel, and seriously undermined the position of Israel with the Clinton administration. And for what?
Because a few dozen Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel feel dissed that they cannot officiate at weddings and their conversions are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. (In every other respect, they function no differently than in America.)
Amiel Hirsch, head of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, told Kol Yisrael this past summer how he and his colleagues have asked members of Congress, with whom they have ties, to inform Israel how upset they are with the religious status quo. Since Hirsch suffers from no lack of access to Israeli leaders and MKs, his statement must be read: We have asked US congressmen to threaten and pressure Israel.
The results of that lobbying have been all too evident. Last May, Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Coffey, in testimony before the Senate, lumped Israel together with Iraq, Algeria, and Iran as countries that deny freedom of religion. He was doing nothing more than echoing the 'big lie' of the Reform and Conservative ad campaign that Israel is, or soon will be, an Iran-style theocracy.
The damage done to Israel by such testimony is inestimable. It undercuts the major basis of Israel's support with the American public and Congress: its claim to be the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. Nor is the damage limited to Congress.
If President Bill Clinton had not read three front- page stories in The New York Times two weeks ago describing the mounting disaffection of American Jewry over the conversion bill, would he have been so quick to attribute America's ongoing humiliation by Saddam Hussein not to his own lack of resolve, but to Israel's alleged recalcitrance in the peace process? Even for a president so experienced at brazening himself out of embarrassing situations that was a little much.
Unfortunately, however, as the perception grows in Washington that Israel can count on little support in the American Jewish community - a perception fueled by open lobbying by Jewish groups against Israel - it is a likely harbinger of things to come.
JUST two months ago, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright placed the onus for the stalled peace talks on the failure of the PLO to deal with terrorism. Today, the Clinton administration is so confident that American Jews will not rally to Israel's defense, that the president feels free to snub Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and to place the blame on Israel for the failure of the peace process.
Israel is far too important to be left to Israelis, says Eric Yoffie, leader of the American Reform movement, by way of explaining why American Jews have undertaken to save Israelis from the religious status quo that has been in place since the creation of the state. Israelis are too stupid, in his view, to realize how oppressed they are.
The truth is, however, that neither Yoffie nor the minions for whom he claims to speak care greatly about either Israel or Israelis. If the Reform movement cared, it would not be undermining Israel's standing by its lobbying efforts at a time when the physical security of Israel's inhabitants is increasingly threatened by enemies arming themselves with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
According to a 1995 study by the American Jewish Congress, only 17 percent of Reform Jews identify strongly with Israel (as opposed to 72% of the Orthodox), and over 40% say that they would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy. Only 10% of non-Orthodox American Jews have even visited Israel.
These grim numbers will only worsen as the toll of intermarriage rises. The Reform intermarriage rate is already well above 50%, and only 18% of the children of intermarriage are raised as Jews. It is these statistics, and the loss of any meaningful Jewish identity they reveal, which make a Jewish campaign against Israel psychologically thinkable in the first place.
Yet as tepid as is the support for Israel by most non- Orthodox Jews, Israel nevertheless remains one of the few points of Jewish identity. By continually drumming home to their congregants, in sermon after sermon, that Israel rejects Reform Jews, Reform leaders are playing with fire for very short-term gain.
The Orthodox-bashing that dominated Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur sermons across the US is a measure of the spiritual failure of the Reform and Conservative movements over the past hundred years in America. The only thing they can offer to arouse their members is hatred of the Orthodox.
But when all the fusillades against the Orthodox have cleared, American Jews will be no closer to their tradition. Just the opposite. Having been taught to despise the most identifiable representatives of that tradition and that the Jewish state is not theirs, they will be more spiritually bereft than ever.
Related Topics: Pluralism
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