That the organized Jewish community has come to such a state of incoherence brings to mind the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s article from 1993 about “defining deviancy down,” which analyzed how communities react to increases in deviant criminal behavior.
Moynihan argued that as the amount of deviant behavior increases, the community becomes incapable of recognizing all of it, and adjusts to the new reality by lowering its standards. So, behavior once thought deviant (but not the most deviant of all criminal behavior), is no longer considered so.
Could a better description be offered for Raffel’s recent comment? The evidence abounds: Hillel chapters, in large part funded by Jewish Federations, are wrestling with whether to accept bad boycotters, who oppose the Jewish state of Israel (e.g. Jewish Voices for Peace). Jewish Federations in New York and Washington, D.C. are being challenged for funding theatres or other groups whose purpose seems to be to undermine the Jewish State.
J-Street, an organization which repeatedly and falsely proclaims that it is pro-Israel, pro-peace, has become part of the Jewish mainstream, with its conferences addressed by Israeli leaders, members of Congress, and Obama administration officials. Its leader is a frequent visitor to the White House and an invited guest to the president’s briefings to Jewish leaders. The organized Jewish community sees the enemy, and by and large, seems to be ready to surrender and call the enemy a friend – all in an ill-advised effort to expand or maintain the semblance of a broad communal tent.
The problem for the organized Jewish community world is, unfortunately, far bigger than figuring out how to deal with boycotts. The sharp rise in intermarriage and the triumph of secular humanism among recent generations of increasingly prosperous and comfortable suburban Jewish Americans, have weakened ties between Jews and Israel, between Jews and synagogues, and between Jews and the organized Jewish community. Unlike prior generations, the new generation of Jews have not experienced the Holocaust, and do not understand the fear for Israel’s survival felt among older Jews.
The Jewish community is comfortably at home on the left. Young Jews remain politically active, but for many, Israel is no longer a core concern. Saving the planet, protecting abortion rights, saving Darfur, all draw a stronger response than supporting Israel. Until 1967, many of those on the left supported Israel as the weaker party, facing a vast Arab world bent on Israel’s destruction. The 1967 war changed the moral valence for the left — Israel became the occupier, the colonialist power. The Palestinians replaced the broader Arab world as the second party to the conflict, and were seen as the weaker party, deserving of the left’s sympathy and concern. The common causes shared between the far- and soft left on every other issue have made it easier for the former to join with those who oppose Israel. Furthermore, the large Jewish presence in the anti-Israel cause provides cover for the hard left, allowing it to appear, not anti-Semitic, but just anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.
The Jewish communal world seems to have chosen a fake consensus on Israel in lieu of unity among those who actually care about the country’s fate. Making nuanced arguments for good boycotters as opposed to bad ones is an absurdly weak posture for a pro-Israel community facing passionate opposition. It will inevitably serve to weaken the battle against the BDS movement, rather than expand the ranks of those fighting it. This is nothing less than defining anti-Israel deviancy down.
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