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Rabbi's Week In Review - 5/31/2021

05/31/2021 04:27:20 PM


If I had to land on an overarching theme and/or feeling for the past week, it would be tension.  In an elongated period of persistent tension in the world and in our individual lives, last week seemed to stand out. Generally, I see some tension as a good thing — machloket l’shem shamayim, argument for the sake of heaven — but only if it is a catalyst for changing a negative dynamic. Last week was not about change; rather, it was digging in to long-held and intractable positions.  

The tension for me arose from the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it came from all sides. From one side, I received criticism for my unwillingness to give unwavering support to Israeli policy toward Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. That side’s perspective also conflated with the notion that I am soft on anti-Semitism. 

From another side within progressive circles, there is a strain of thought that connects the struggle of African-Americans with the Palestinian movement and conflates Israeli policy with a full-on critique of Jews. More specifically, in those progressive circles I am made responsible for answering on behalf of the Jewish people for present Israeli policy.

From within the Jewish community, there were two specific encounters. Critical of my comments in a recent Kansas City Star article, in which I expressed my belief that Josh Hawley was disingenuous in expressing concern for the recent spate of anti-Semitic violence (and was a danger to, rather than a friend of, the Jewish people), one called me specifically to suggest that I did not show sufficient concern for anti-Semitism. While he and I disagreed, I will say the conversation was respectful, and I appreciated that he was willing to talk to me to express his concerns.

The other critique from within the local Jewish community was far less respectful. The implicit suggestion was that by my willingness to sit at the table with progressive groups critical of Israel, I was somehow complicit in anti-Semitism.  

I do not know whether my unwillingness to sever my involvement with groups fighting racism and connecting with Palestinians will render a more positive attitude toward Jews. I do know that by severing ties with these organizations, minds will never be changed.  

This critique — that by criticizing Israeli policy, I am complicit in anti-Semitic dialogue — speaks to a broader challenge within the Jewish community: trying to define what is or what is not anti-Semitism. The predominant definition by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is one I have concerns about. I think it is too vague, and it conflates criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. Under that definition, many Jewish groups and Jewish leaders would arguably be anti-Semitic.

The other definition of anti-Semitism — constructed and supported by a large number of academics, including Israeli academics, professors of Holocaust studies and Jewish history — is known as the Jerusalem Declaration. Without getting too far into the weeds, I would simply urge you to read both definitions and decide for yourselves.

Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782