TIP CEO: Judaism Must not Sacrifice Itself in the Pursuit of Universalism

Given their numbers, if Jews “were of the animal kingdom, the Jewish people would be an endangered species,” Josh Block,  president and CEO of The Israel Project wrote in an essay published on Tuesday in Tablet magazine. And yet, he continued, “it seems the world will do more to preserve the spotted owl in its natural habitat than the last remaining Jews in theirs.”

Block described how the concept of social justice has changed “beyond the point where its old-school liberals still recognize the term.” Whereas the 1960s conception of social justice was about “equal rights and opportunity,” the current conception of social justice demands “equality of outcomes” by rejecting the foundations of Western civilization. Among the effects of this new “social justice” is the delegitimization of “the foundations upon which Zionism and the rights of the Jewish people rest.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the cause of Soviet Jewry was a social justice issue that resonated with Judaism, as it showed that Jews were not alone. As an American issue, it emphasized the freedom Americans enjoy, and it made fighting totalitarianism a way of highlighting Jewish values.

But with the 1990 fall of the Soviet Union, Jews who pursued social justice needed a new outlet. “Many clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations put an increased emphasis on universal causes in pursuit of a better world, and in parallel on the betterment of Israel itself in its own pursuit of social justice,” Block wrote.

While both efforts were “laudable,” when combined it meant that “the universal vision and the desire to criticize or ‘improve’ the particularist Jewish state created a framework in which young Jews will inevitably be judged—and judge themselves—unfavorably for their commitment to Israel and to Jewish peoplehood more generally.”

On campuses, universalism took a “much harsher form,” including “relentless pressure to choose sides and conform to the will of the group.” Jewish students who were once motivated by “remember you were strangers in Egypt,” a biblical call to stand up for the oppressed, learned that now it was Jews, who were privileged oppressors who weren’t entitled to “safe spaces.”

In this context, “the net result is to make Judaism and Jewish history a source of shame instead of pride—to the point where students interpret the anti-Semitic demand for dismantling the Jewish state as a positive demonstration of opposition to racism.”

Block noted that these changes are going on when children become Bar or Bat Mitzvah and are encouraged to adopt a cause, “far too often we are encouraging them” not to adopt one that reinforces their identities as Jews but “to skip all that and go directly to causes that are essentially universal.”

At a recent Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony, Block noted that the two young people dedicated themselves to “beautiful” acts of kindness but that “there was nothing to emphasize the responsibility to ourselves or to show in a significant way how those mitzvot are part—though not all—of an authentic liberal Judaism.”

“When universalism trumps particularism, it’s only natural that Jewish groups, lacking any sense of history or collective bond, will come together and attract young people dedicated mainly to criticizing other Jews for their perceived particularistic failings, all in the name of ‘improving’ Israel or ‘holding it to a higher standard,'” Block observed. But groups like these, which get a lot more attention outside of Israel than inside, rarely have any effect on Israel but “they do have the potential to cause enormous harm to the Jewish collective by adding fuel to global efforts to demonize not just Israel but Jews as a whole.”

Despite efforts by some to downplay the dangers of anti-Semitism, according to the latest FBI report, Jews, who make up just 2.2 percent of the U.S. population, are targets of over half the religion-based hate crimes. Muslims are the second most frequently targeted religion, with two out of every ten incidents affecting them. “And while many Jews are intensely and justifiably alarmed by violence threatening African-Americans, women, Muslims, Hispanics, the LGBTQ community, and others,” Block noted, “the only group that always seems glaringly left out from the list of victims of bigotry that define the debates on campus and beyond is Jews.”

“By turning a blind eye to the relentless and often violent assault on our own people, we are failing to teach our children about the reality that Jews face, failing to imbue the pride required to recognize, let alone confront, the diminishment of Jewish value,” Block wrote in his conclusion.

[Photo: The Israel Project / YouTube]