Calling out an alliance that falls short
Only a Jew could come up with Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet Jews regularly do this without regard to reality or a sense of pragmatism.
Although some might say they are synonyms, there is a nuanced difference between realism and pragmatism. Realism is the practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly. Pragmatism relates to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters: practical as opposed to idealistic. You need to be realistic before you can be pragmatic.
Jews sometimes ignore realism and, hence, cannot be pragmatic. Thus, they find themselves in the world of Einsteinian insanity.
Because of our unique history, we want to be liked by everyone and try to empathize with everyone. This is often at our own peril, as Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned in his essay Instead of Excessive Apology: “Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more.… We do not have to apologize for anything.”
But yet we do apologize, in different ways, much of it motivated by the socialist teachings passed on by our European ancestors coupled with the guilt of our being successful in a capitalist society.
Tzedaka is an honored tradition, nay commandment, in Judaism. At its heart it is an individual undertaking. I consider the Eight Levels of Charity formulated by Maimonides capitalistic in nature. The highest degree is to make a person self-sustaining through a loan, gift, employment offer, or business partnership. The level below is giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds are included in this level.
Thus, capitalism trumps socialism. Nowhere in the Rambam’s calculus is there a role for government.
Where did the call for social and economic justice come from? Can anyone objectively define these terms to tell us when social and distributive justice is attained?
The concept of social and economic justice implies that the “system” is socially and economically unjust to some groups. It is to these groups that Jews and Jewish organizations feel obliged to reach out and form alliances. A pragmatist would ask, other than feeling good, what am I getting out of this alliance? Will I get support on the issues that matter to me?
This is where some Jewish alliances and outreach programs fall short, especially when it comes to support for Israel.
I have previously written about intersectionality, where opponents of various forms of oppression, a subjective measure, are mutually united against a “transcendent white, male, heterosexual power structure” that “keeps down marginalized groups.” This is an area where the Jewish community is being outmaneuvered. For example, the BDS movement has successfully injected the anti-Israel cause into the intersectionality construct.
One of the leading groups in the intersectionality universe is Black Lives Matters, one of 50 groups in the Movement for Black Lives collective.
For decades, the Jewish community has been trying to build an enduring alliance with the black community. In a lengthy article in The Atlantic, “Why Do Black Activists Care About Palestine?” Emma Green writes, “Jews and blacks in America have long danced around one another, at times feeling solidarity and at others, opposition.” Discussing the controversial MBL political platform position on Israel, Green says, “It’s also a sign of how thoroughly elements of these groups have become alienated from one another.”
The platform declares that “Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people,” and says the United States “justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”
The platform calls for boycott, sanctions, and divestment efforts aimed at Israel and urges an end to American military aid to Israel.
Jewish groups are upset about the use of the words “genocide” and “apartheid.”
In a statement, the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ said, “We categorically reject the use of the word ‘genocide’ in describing the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and will explain the pain this has caused us. At the same time we reaffirm our historic and ongoing commitment to racial and social justice and to working together with the black community on one of the most important initiatives of our day: criminal justice reform.”
But I have to ask: Can you find common ground with groups that hit you in one of your most important issues? Which group will you work with? Will you require that any group that you work with disavow the language you find painful? Will working with a group that does not disavow the MBL language imply tacit approval of the offensive language?
Writing in the Boston Globe, Alan Dershowitz declared that “singling Israel out and falsely accusing it of ‘genocide’ can be explained in no other way than blatant hatred of Jews and their state.”
“Until and unless Black Lives Matter removes this blood libel from its platform and renounces it, no decent person — black, white, or of any other racial or ethnic background — should have anything to do with it,” continued Dershowitz. “We should continue to fight against police abuses by supporting other organizations or forming new ones. But we must not become complicit in the promotion of anti-Semitism just because we agree with the rest of the Black Lives Matter program.”
To support an organization or movement that promotes anti-Semitism because it also supports good causes is the beginning of the road to accepting racism.
I agree with Dershowitz’s pragmatism. At some point, you have to make a stand on your principles instead of saying, “You hurt my feelings.” We have been down similar roads before.
Paging Dr. Einstein.