June 28, 2017

LGBTQ, Jews, and Israel? It's complicated.

Many in the Jewish community seem dazed by the recent incident in Chicago, where marchers with a Magen David-emblazoned rainbow flag were ejected from this year's Dyke March. Though this exclusion seems unambiguously offensive and hypocritical, I believe there are many sides to what happened. Here are a few of my own thoughts:

1. The organizers seem to have taken their own decision, so this need not reflect a consensus within the Chicago LGBTQ community.

2. But in Chicago, of all places... REALLY??

3. We should not assume that everyone demanding acceptance is equally committed to accepting of others. Nor should we assume that everyone with an inherent LGBTQ identity is automatically "progressive", that "progressive" carries the same meaning for everyone, or that Israel and its advocates naturally deserve a place at the progressive table.

4. The Magen David (Star of David) was consciously adopted as the symbol of Israel, a sovereign state with policies and enemies. Attacking that symbol does not necessarily reflect anti-Semitic intent. Within the Jewish community, there is now a flare-up of tensions regarding access to the Western Wall and the underpinnings of the relationship between Jewishness and the State of Israel; with no hint of irony, Chicago's own Jewish Federation -- which has long condemned boycotts against Israel -- is now boycotting any Knesset Member who voted for new restrictions on conversions to Judaism.

5. Israel does engage in a bit of 'pinkwashing' hasbara, as though being the most LGBTQ-friendly Mideast nation outweighs anything it does vis-à-vis Palestinians. Seeing Jews march with a Magen David on their rainbow flag may have engendered some resentment in this regard.

6. Jared and Ivanka, and even President Trump, have been trading on their LGBTQ hip, while the Administration and the GOP shamelessly target that community's equal rights. Many in Israel and in the Orthodox community are disproportionately and publicly supportive of POTUS and his exclusionary, divisive agenda. We may start seeing more reactions targeting Jews and Jewish symbols in misguided retaliation for this perceived complicity. I doubt our organizations or leadership have dared to analyze or prepare much for such potential manifestations.

7. Chicago has a very active and visible Jewish community and a Mayor with well-known personal and family ties to Israel. Somehow, I am not overly worried, especially in light of the widespread coverage and condemnation of the incident.

June 25, 2017

Do US Jews value pluralism over justice?

I am outraged by Israel's long years of bait-and-switch with Judaism's non-Orthodox denominations, most of whom fervently support and advocate for the Jewish state, culminating in the latest decision to abandon even a compromise of their basic religious rights. This last straw in a long-running scam to exclude and demonize non-Orthodox Jews should rattle us all to our core.

Equally striking, however, is the general contrast between our community's instant and very public outrage over this spiritual and emotional offense, which targets mostly absentee co-religionists who otherwise enjoy freedom of travel and self-expression vs. the daily and hourly humiliation and subjugation of 2+ million Palestinians -- whose plight, regardless of who is at fault, is at least somewhat and significantly in the hands of the same Israeli government which has now again inconvenienced and insulted Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews. 

Unless as a throwaway line with which to blame "the Arabs" and excuse Israel, even mentioning the Palestinians' situation commonly engenders charges of anti-Semitism and perfidy hurled reflexively by Federation leaders, pulpit rabbis, radio hosts, and blog idols of the official pro-Israel line. Speakers are disinvited, academic tenures are threatened. 

The American Jewish Diaspora won't dare notice -- and actively distracts from the reality -- that Palestinians are routinely and daily denied basic human dignity, rights and services, except to blame and denigrate the Palestinians themselves. Yet, for over three decades, to have one integral but single right -- the right to non-Orthodox observance, including "Who is a Jew" -- denied them in the land of our forefathers is an existential crisis demanding urgent moral umbrage.

In most cases, the same American Jewish establishment which once again warns vocally and righteously of the specter of an alienated American Jewry still thinks little of the Palestinians who live within sight of the Western Wall. As a community, we staunchly defend the Israeli Government's actions with regard to the basic rights of Palestinians, then we turn around and expect that same government to show remorse for how it allows us to pray and validate conversions. 

If this is the Light Unto the Nations, then which nations do we mean? And if we cannot even bear to hear the prayers and grievances of those under our immediate or indirect control, then how can we expect God to hear our own entreaties at the site of his Holy Temple?