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Dear American Jews: Time to boycott the Conference of Presidents

The Conference of Presidents, a U.S. group comprised of 51 national Jewish organizations, voted earlier this week against admitting the dovish J Street into its ranks. Now, says Dahlia Scheindlin, is the time for American Jews to walk away.

There is something that troubles me while observing current events, forming my political opinions and appropriate responses: it is so easy to judge history and see how things went wrong, but so easy to not to see what is going deeply, terribly wrong in the present. It is so hard to be clear minded and step outside what we take for granted, what seems obvious and normal but is deeply flawed and unjust.

I am easily outraged, but fundamentally anti-alarmist. I often find myself instinctively confident in the big-picture balance of good and evil among human societies.

So when leftists cry “fascism” in Israel sometimes, I never join them. I don’t wait for Holocaust Memorial Day to decry the cheapening of words that have profound and appalling historic facts behind them, which are truly not related to current reality, as horrible as the political situation here is.

But occasionally, that nagging thought returns. Am I too complacent? Would I recognize an authority that has gotten drunk on its power and violent when it feels that power crumbling – for that’s when authorities are most dangerous.  They lack confidence, but have much to preserve, so they lash out against their enemies with blunt instruments.

Thinking about the Conference of Presidents’ vote to reject J Street from its members, I was somewhat gratified to realize that the signs seem screamingly obvious, even on our teacup-sized scale, and I’m not about to miss them.

Naomi Chazan speaking at Jstreet conference (Jstreet/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

New Israel Fund President Naomi Chazan speaking at the J Street conference. (Jstreet/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

The Jewish community life of America as we know it is coming to an end. There are no common causes to rally around. Power has corrupted absolutely and the fat cat leaders of the establishment are enraged that all their money can’t buy ideological loyalty to their perverted ideas of what makes Israel healthy – in the name of which they raise millions that could be going to starving children, or for that matter, Palestinian villages where Israel has 100 percent control, but refuses to provide with water or electricity, let alone citizenship.

Money hasn’t bought loyalty of late, so they try to impose it by force. Not the force of fascism. Not physical force. But through mean spirited strong-arm tactics. Jewish community leaders who state the wrong perspectives have had their jobs threatened. Whole organizations have been blacklisted.

The statement the Conference of Presidents is trying to make isn’t that J Street is bad. That’s just the pshat, the surface meaning. The drash – the deeper meaning that is more effective by being natural, invisible (or what McLuhan might have called the media which is the message) is that they – the Establishment leaders – are the gatekeepers. They hold the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven whose gates are made of gold. To get there, you have to say and do the right things about Israel, then God will love you, and they are the measure and arbiters of right and wrong. I think of the Sadducees at the Second Temple, more corrupt politicians dealing pseudo-spirituality than god-fearing or human-loving. I have often identified with the character of Jesus, the rebel, who cared more about the poor than the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sorry to wax grandiose. If this sounds like overdoing it, the Conference of Presidents has far, far overstepped its bounds too. Through presumptuousness and arrogance it has spit in the face of its own people and is a giant leap closer to irrelevance.

Jews don’t need to be rejected from their own clubs. And – baruch hashem – we are amazingly talented at forming our own.

The response to the Conference of Presidents should be obvious: any Jewish organization that agrees or disagrees with J Street should take a stand against smug bullies telling them what to think as Jews, as Americans, as people who care about Israel or any other topic. Back out. Boycott the Conference of Presidents but without making any demands – just walk away.

It’s hard to imagine any one thing the Presidents could do that would bring them back from oblivion.

Update: The Union of Reform Judaism is reportedly considering leaving the Conference.

Read more:
J Street past, present and future: Let’s get on with it
Dear liberal American Jews: Please don’t betray Israel

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