Today’s New York Times has a big and important piece on the divide inside the Jewish community over Gaza and Israel. The article is actually a puzzle: the real news about what’s happening inside the Jewish community is strewn in among anecdotes. You have to piece it together for yourself.
Under the headline “Talk in Synagogue of Israel and Gaza Goes From Debate to Wrath to Rage,” reporter Laurie Goodstein begins by saying that leftwing and rightwing rabbis are hesitant to bring Gaza up lest they divide their congregations. The rightwing rabbi says, “It used to be that Israel was always the uniting factor in the Jewish world.”
Goodstein makes it sound like a one-hand, on-the-other hand story. Here’s her nut graph:
Israel’s occupation of Arab lands won in battle and its standoff with the Palestinians have become so divisive that many rabbis say it is impossible to have a civil conversation about Israel in their synagogues. Debate among Jews about Israel is nothing new, but some say the friction is now fire. Rabbis said in interviews that it may be too hot to touch, and many are anguishing over what to say about Israel in their sermons during the High Holy Days, which begin Wednesday evening.
But get to the fourth paragraph or so and the real meaning of the story emerges. Young Jews are alienated from Israel. They don’t want to hear a word of support! And who is holding the line? Large donors.
Particularly in the large cohort of rabbis who consider themselves liberals and believers in a “two-state solution,” some said they are now hesitant to speak much about Israel at all. If they defend Israel, they risk alienating younger Jews who, rabbis say they have observed, are more detached from the Jewish state and organized Judaism. If they say anything critical of Israel, they risk angering the older, more conservative members who often are the larger donors and active volunteers.
And guess what: it’s not even-steven inside the Jewish community. The liberals are more afraid than the rightwingers to speak out.
one-third of 552 rabbis who responded to a questionnaire put out last year by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs said they were reluctant to express their true views on Israel. (Most who responded were not Orthodox.) The “doves” were far more likely to say they were fearful of speaking their minds than the “hawks.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinical Call for Human Rights, a liberal group with 1,800 member rabbis, said: “Rabbis are just really scared because they get slammed by their right-wing congregants, who are often the ones with the purse strings. They are not necessarily the numerical majority, but they are the loudest.”
THAT is the story. Congrats to Rabbi Jill Jacobs. She shows real courage. Why isn’t Goodstein giving us that story from the start? She should have written:
Rabbis who are critical of Israel’s action in Gaza are afraid to say so in their shuls because they are afraid of angering donors– even though younger members of their flock agree with them.
Late in the Times article, we learn that some of these rabbis even support BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions. That’s a story. And by the way, all that happened to the rightwing rabbi at the start of the article was he got a letter from a member who was quitting. That’s a bit different from a donor’s call. Just ask Rev. Bruce Shipman. A member quitting and a donor withholding funds — that’s false equivalence.
There is today a revolution taking place inside American Jewish life. Gaza has destroyed many young Jews’ belief in the Jewish state and undermined liberal Zionists’ belief that they can reconcile the two strands of their ideology. The New York Times continues to put its head in the sand.
P.S. JCPA, which reports that doves are afraid to speak out, is a Zionist organization (link). It’s probably undercounting the shift.