SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — A newly restructured and slimmed down Union for Reform Judaism will focus on interfaith relations and the rights of Israeli Arabs at its biennial convention Nov. 4-8 in Toronto…
“The union has long held that Israel should live up to its Jewish values and its democratic values for all citizens,” said Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, director of Advancing Reform Judaism, a position created this summer to coordinate Union for Reform Judaism activities worldwide.
With all due respect, this is not an appropriate path for an American Jewish denomination to take.
There’s no doubt that there’s inequality in the treatment of the Arab minority in Israel. The average American, on hearing this, will think: it’s just like our own civil rights struggles. Israeli Arabs are like African-Americans, and the solution is just to force Israel, like Mississippi, to give them their rights.
It is nothing like that. Not at all.
For one thing, some of the perceived differences between Jewish and Arab towns may not be due to discrimination. If a road in an Arab town isn’t paved, is it because the money hasn’t been allocated or because the mayor of the Arab town has different priorities, like projects benefiting members of his own clan?
For another, Canada and Mexico are not populated by hostile cousins of our African-Americans. The US has not recently fought several major and numerous minor wars with them. Mexican and Canadian blacks are not firing rockets into our cites, kidnapping our soldiers or infiltrating our borders to blow us up.
Israeli Arabs are not descended from slaves (unless some of them were slaves of other Muslims), and they had the ability to vote from 1948, before many American blacks did. There was no Reconstruction and counter-Reconstruction, no Jim Crow laws, no segregated buses or lunch counters. There is no tradition of lynching Arabs who look at Jewish women — the lynching that sticks in my mind happened to Jewish reservists. And there is no long history of terrorism by African-Americans.
African-Americans are not demanding that the US change its flag or its national anthem, or that a ‘black caucus’ have a veto power over all acts of Congress. They are not demanding a change in our national identity.
There have been riots by African-Americans in our cities — after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., after the Rodney King beating, etc. It’s clear where the frustration that led to these riots came from, even if there was a criminal element that may have exploited the chaos.
There have been Arab riots, too. There was a ‘riot’ in 1834 in Tzfat, in which an entire Jewish community was destroyed. Arabs have rioted periodically in response to incitement about the al-Aqsa Mosque. This happened in 1929, when hundreds of Jews were murdered, long before there was an Israel to ‘discriminate’ against them; it happened in 2000 after Yasser Arafat threw Israel’s offer of a sovereign state back in its face; and it happened a couple of weeks ago. The politically correct view is that this happens because Arabs are ‘frustrated’ about being ‘second class citizens’, but what they are actually frustrated about is not being in possession of all of Jerusalem (and Israel).
There is plenty of tension between Jews and Arabs in Israel, but it is only to a small extent a question of civil rights. A whole lot of it has to do with a trend for Arab citizens of Israel to more and more identify as ‘Palestinians’, not just alienated from but actively hostile to the Jewish state. Unsurprisingly, the solution does not lie in — why does this seem so familiar? — forcing Israel to accept Arab demands.
It’s incredibly arrogant and insulting when Rabbi Kleinman (above) calls for Israel to “live up to its Jewish values and its democratic values for all citizens,” implying that Israel does not live up to said values.
But what word characterizes liberal American Jews better than ‘arrogant’? The J Street approach, that a bunch of ‘progressive’ American Jews can and should tell the democratically elected government of Israel how it ought to act — during a time that is probably no less perilous than any since 1948 – is an example.
Another is the New Israel Fund, which collects money from well-meaning American Jews and uses it to support groups that are actually working to destroy the Jewish state, also in the name of ‘civil rights’.
Americans — including Jews — don’t understand Israel very well, and insist on applying American paradigms where they don’t fit. How can you discuss the relationship between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel without considering the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, or indeed, the 100-year Arab war against Israel?
Lest they make fools of themselves and hurt Israel at the same time, I suggest to the URJ that their people concentrate their efforts on helping poor people and solving social problems here in the USA. That’s enough to keep them busy for years.