Taking the ‘unity’ out of community

Taking the ‘unity’ out of community

Nothing sums up the current state of Jewish politics like a recent headline in the Forward newspaper: “Unity Pledge on Israel Spurs More Argument.”

The unity pledge in question was proposed by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. It urges signers to “rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing the Jewish State from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season.” The pledge was welcomed by the National Jewish Democratic Council, but immediately rejected by the Republican Jewish Coalition, which called it an “effort to stifle debate on U.S. policy toward Israel. Accordingly,” it added, “the RJC will not be silenced on this or any issue.”

The pledge harkened back to a perhaps more innocent time, when advocates for Israel agreed that politicizing Israel ran the risk of alienating one party or another and insulting good friends on the other side. After all, you never know which party will be in control come November. “One thing candidates for high office, and people of all political stripes, can agree on is the importance of the long tradition of bipartisan support” for Israel, said AJC executive director David Harris.

The fact that this agreement has broken down is a question of categories: The goal of Jewish organizations like AJC and ADL is to shore up as much support for Israel as possible; the goal of the NJDC, the RJC, and new groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel is to elect candidates from their parties. The partisan groups are right when they invoke free speech and robust debate in this regard.

Yet there is free speech and robust debate, and there are smear campaigns and character assassinations. The latter have been signatures of partisan pro-Israel ads in recent campaigns, by major groups and e-mail-happy individuals alike. They have brought dishonor on Jews and Israel. Perhaps Jewish groups can’t agree on bipartisanship, but it would be nice if they could agree on mentschlicheit.

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