By Larry Gordon
The struggle to identify not just what it is to be a committed Jew but the definitional nature of Judaism itself is on the line. And between now and April 30, it is in our hands to communicate a strong message about what it means to be a Jew and the role a commitment to Torah plays in Jewish identity.
These high stakes are being played out in an all too quiet campaign by the World Zionist Organization. Diaspora Jews from across the broad spectrum of religious and political affiliations vote representatives onto the WZO board, a governing body that communicates to Israel and to the world the interests and priorities of Jewish communities residing outside Israel.
This message has now become urgent as it impacts on the American Jewish community’s stance on issues pertaining to the state of Israel. This is an issue that is playing itself out as the world intently observes the direction in which Jewish life is headed. Critics of Israel, from President Obama down, can point to the WZO vote–which in the past has been dominated by voters affiliated with the Conservative and Reform movements in American Jewry–and say that the results of the vote represent the true feelings and priorities of American Jewry.
“Everyone who is Orthodox has a personal stake in this,” explained Martin Oliner, chairman of the Religious Zionists of America. Oliner, who also serves as the mayor of the Village of Lawrence in the Five Towns, takes umbrage with the effort being made to deceive the public at large that Torah Judaism is something other than what it has been–a commitment to a halachic life–since time immemorial.
The approaches of the leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements in the U.S. try to marginalize Orthodoxy by propelling members of their communities to vote in this election while the Orthodox Jewish community is either distracted, uninterested, or simply apathetic.
“They are counting on the Orthodox community not being interested and not voting,” Oliner says. At stake, he adds, aside from creating a distorted impression of where Diaspora supporters of Israel stand, is how over $1Â billion will be allocated by the State of Israel to programs meant to encourage American Jewry’s support of Israel. Instead, the money is sometimes used to delegitimize the connection between Orthodox Jews and Israel by relegating Jewish law and the Jewish state to a secondary, nonessential, and unimportant level.
There is an added urgency to this election that usually comes and goes every few years and just about always manages to fly beneath the radar. The deceptive idea that the Orthodox are the minority party in Diaspora Jewry’s support of Israel plays into vital issues specifically signaling to President Obama and others that it is OK to take on Prime Minister Netanyahu, both officially and personally, because those who support Israel take issue and even object to Mr. Netanyahu’s right-leaning political views–just like the president.
And that would be fine and good if only it were accurate, but it is not. The Middle East is imploding and perhaps about to go nuclear in a most irresponsible fashion, but Mr. Obama and his likeminded cohorts might as well be wearing Nehru jackets and bell-bottom pants as they expend all their rhetorical energies stomping and yelling about ending Israel’s “occupation” and building of settlements.
The occupation and settlement mantra belongs to the last century, especially when one considers that there are 600,000 Jews residing today in Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem and that today Israel has over 100,000 missiles directed at her from an implacable and crazed enemy.
But these are the ideas that Barack Obama was brought up on. That the thought process is borderline anti-Semitic is another matter. That the narrative is outdated and may no longer apply in any practical sense is quite another issue for future discussion. As the reader knows, the idea that settlements in Judea and Samaria are illegal is subject to serious legal debate. There is a solid position that they are legal according to international law. You will notice that Secretary of State John Kerry rarely states that settlements are illegal but prefers rather to characterize them as illegitimate. That is a far cry from illegal.
It is a charade that those who hold sway in the World Jewish Congress share these positions with the Kerrys and Obamas of the world. The impression that American Jews, by and large, are unhappy with the state of the peace process or now with Prime Minister Netanyahu is largely promoted by the extreme left-leaning editorial board and writers at the New York Times. By abusing the credibility of the Times, the writers and editorialists are endorsing an agenda that places Israel’s short-term security and future safety in danger.
Where the non-Orthodox organizations in the U.S. come into the picture is in the effort to supplant the dominance of Orthodoxy and halachic ways in Israel when it comes to vital matters like marriages and conversions. An important part of that effort is to illustrate their intransigence by painting us as a small minority that supports positions contrary to current U.S. policy.
So there is a twin subterfuge and a double fraud being perpetrated by the current administration and the leadership of non-Orthodox movements in this country. And they are having success, to an extent, as they buttress the Obama administration’s argument that only a small minority, an extreme right-wing one, supports the current government in Israel.
The leaders of these movements, which are friendly to the efforts to boycott and damage Israel, are active and outspoken on these matters. The rank and file as well as dwindling memberships are far removed and largely disinterested from anything to do with Israel, Jerusalem, the settlements, or even whether or not Iran goes nuclear. Affiliation within Reform and Conservative shuls is shrinking but the leadership wants to create an image of growth and strength. These are functions of groups like JÂ Street, which claims it is pro-Israel and pro-peace while aiming to weaken Israel. It is also the mission of the New Israel Fund (NIF) seeking representation in the Salute to Israel Parade as they support and encourage splinter and subsidiary groups dedicated to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) effort.
“In seeking to invalidate, immobilize, and delegitimize Orthodoxy, other streams are seeking to present themselves to world leaders and the American and Israeli public as the primary, if not sole, spokesmen for world Jewry,” says Marty Oliner.
“The strategy employed during the current WZC election is an insidious attempt to hijack not only financial resources, but also the status of being the presumptive voice of the Jewish people on the world stage. “Clearly,” claims Oliner, “we, as Orthodox Zionists, cannot allow those masquerading as Zionists to succeed.”
Things are not the way they used to be anymore. This usually unsung and unpublicized vote usually comes and goes with little notice. But this time is different. This time it’s not only about the money or even about which stream of Judaism is the strongest, most solid, or influential. This time the vote extends into influencing vital U.S. policy toward Israel. And this is especially true today with a president determined to, if nothing else, administer a beating to Israel on the world stage. It’s in our hands to stop the bleeding. Voting takes place online and costs $10. For more information, visit www.MyVoteOurIsrael.com.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.