Forging a Unity Through Diversity

For a new installment of our "Office Hours" video series, Prof. Erica Foldy of NYU Wagner suggests that there need not be any tension between unity and diversity. For more in this video series, see: http://www.bjpa.org/blog/index.cfm/Office-Hours

Browse BJPA for Diversity: http://bit.ly/xZJsNT

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Prophets and Protectors

Posted at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

The discourse about Israel – that conducted by those who see themselves as Israel’s friends -- seems to come in either of two varieties.

One variety of Israel-related discourse focuses on Israel’s shortcomings, usually entailing mistreatment of one or another group – women, immigrant workers, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, and, most prominently, Palestinians, both those who live within the Green Line (once known as, “Israeli Arabs”) and those who live in Gaza or the West Bank (the “real” Palestinians).

The other variety of discourses focuses on Israel’s moral virtues in the context of its struggle for peace and security. This variety emphasizes Israel’s claims to democracy, progressive social values, industriousness, ingenuity, sensitivity and respect for human rights in the midst of a protracted, existential struggle. Often, in this discourse, Israel is compared with other Western democracies, the Palestinians, and the Arab or Muslim worlds.

Why do these two types of discourse -- both conducted by Israelis, Zionists, pro-Israel Jews and their non-Jewish friends and allies – seem so dissonant, so disconcerting, and so mutually distasteful?

I’m reminded that I am not the first to take note of the disparate discourse on Israel. Almost 30 years ago, in September of 1982, during a temporary lull in the (first) War in Lebanon, and just before the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, Leonard (“Leibel”) Fein wrote these words in Moment:

There are two kinds of Jews in the world.

There is the kind of Jew who detests war and violence, who believes that fighting is not ‘the Jewish way;’ who willingly accepts that Jews have their own and higher standards of behavior.  And not just that we have them, but that those standards are our lifeblood, and what we are about.

And there is the kind of Jew who thinks we have been passive long enough, who is convinced that it is time for us to strike back at our enemies, to reject once and for all the role of victim, who willingly accepts that Jews cannot afford to depend on favors, that we must be tough and strong.

And the trouble is, most of us are both kinds of Jew.

Although Leibel later partially re-thought or re-canted (having developed doubts that most of us had both sorts of Jews within us), the distinctions are still resonant.

Thirty years later, these two kinds of Jews are alive and living, and they have been with us for some years, if not centuries. And the destiny of the Jewish nation has been at the heart of the contention between the two camps. One camp speaks with Judaism’s prophetic voice; the other primarily acts out of protective concerns. Both draw upon a wellspring of Jewish moral values and both see themselves defending the interests of Israel and the Jewish People.

The historic (if fanciful) images of Yochanan ben Zakkai and Simon bar Kokhba come to mind. Faced with the Roman oppressor, the former counseled surrender in 68 CE; 70 years later, the latter led a rebellion that was crushed. (Truth be told, history has judged some Jewish Protectors far more kindly than bar Kokhba.)

Nearly two millennia later, Jewish Prophets and Israel’s Protectors emerge once again, loosely associated respectively with Labor Zionists and Revisionist Zionists. In the last generation, we saw them denoted as, “doves” and “hawks” or, more broadly as the “Peace camp” and the “National camp.”

And today? The pro-Israel world is still divided between a more Prophetic and more Protective camp. Among the former, loosely speaking, we have: the New Israel Fund, J Street, Ha’aretz, Jewish Democrats, and Israel educators who call for “hugging and wrestling” with Israel’s complexities. Among the latter: ZOA, AIPAC, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Republicans, and the Israel advocacy industry who see advancing Israel’s cause in the public arena as a moral imperative.   

The lines may be blurry, but the impulses are still present. The two camps feel thoroughly justified and deeply worried. And the more they raise their voices, the more the other side feels vulnerable, if not defeated. Protectors see Prophets as doing grave harm to Israel’s image and security: Who needs Israel’s friends – let alone its enemies – reading stories alleging sexism, religious intolerance, human rights abuses, fascist tendencies and racist motives?

For their part, Prophets see Protectors undermining Israel’s security as well. They ask, how are Israelis ever to confront the hard and fateful decisions to make risky concessions for peace (or at least more security), if they are told that 1) all is right with them and their leaders,  2) that the world is uncaring to unsympathetic, and that 3) the other side is inherently hostile, untrustworthy and fanatical? And, in the interim, how does the Protectors’ discourse reeking with self-righteousness motivate  Israelis to avoid committing the most egregious abuses in several spheres – and in particular in conducting the Occupation – abuses, that are wrong morally, and harmful politically?

Reconciling Prophets with Protectors is not in the cards. But perhaps each can begin to see the value of the other – or even draw upon the sensitivities and world views that each bring to the pro-Israel discourse.

David Elcott on Engaging Baby Boomers

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his research into Baby Boomers and their place in the communal life of minority communities.

David Elcott on Faith in Academia

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses the place of religion in an academic setting.

David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

David Elcott on Interfaith and Interethnic Coalition-Building

For the latest installment in our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his experiences working with leaders across boundaries of religion and ethnicity to build meaningful interfaith and interethnic coalitions.

 

Rogan Kersh on AIPAC and J Street

Lobbying expert Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner examines AIPAC, J Street, and Israel lobbying, in this installment of our Office Hours video series.

Rogan Kersh: Israel Remarkably Relevant in American Politics

In the second installment of our Office Hours series, Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner discusses the place of Israel in American politics.

 

New Video Series: Office Hours

In our new video series, Office Hours, academic experts will discuss topics of interest to the Jewish communal world, including politics, education, nonprofits, religion, leadership, and more.

Our first featured interviewee is Rogan Kersh, Associate Dean and Professor of Public Policy at NYU Wagner. Prof. Kersh is an expert on, among other things, lobbyists in the American national political system. Today we'll hear him explain the place of lobbyists in current national politics. Tomorrow, he'll discuss Israel as a political issue, and Friday he'll evaluate AIPAC and J Street as players in the lobbying scene.

As the fall semester begins here at NYU, we'll be bringing you more interviews with more fascinating academic experts. Stay tuned.

JTA Launches Digital Archive

Last night JTA celebrated the launch of its new digital archive, which now offers access to over 200,000 articles from its 90 years of reporting. Fittingly, the event was held at the Center for Jewish History and featured the usual set of hors d’oeuvres  and Jewish cocktails (i.e. kosher wine), as well as remarks from JTA Editor-in-Chief Ami Eden, Prof. Jonathan Sarna, and two writers describing how they have used the archive to unlock riches from the past. Sarna demonstrated how the archive can be used to access in-the-moment reporting on all of 20th century Jewish history, from the most significant events (such as its coverage of Israel’s declaration of independence) to the more banal (for example, the untold story of Jews and dolphins). In particular, Sarna emphasized JTA’s coverage of the unfolding of the Holocaust – often the only source to cover this atrocity as it was happening (at least in English – the Yiddish papers were much more attuned to it).

The connections between BJPA and JTA are strong. In addition to sharing a key funder (thank you as always, Charles H. Revson Foundation!), BJPA staff also served on the JTA Archive Experts Committee. But most importantly, BJPA and JTA share key founding principles. Both archives see themselves not simply as a static storehouse of historical material; both are also public educational tools that seek to use the past to create a more substantial and informed discourse on the Jewish community’s present and future. As BJPA director Prof. Steven Cohen said in a video produced for the event (see below), “for anyone who wants to see how Jewish history has meaning and implications for us today, we need the JTA historical archive.”

Like the BJPA, the JTA archive provides free and open access, and is very attentive to the user experience, offering multiple ways to engage with the site’s rich material – including different ways to browse, search, and save the archive’s material for future reference.

BJPA is pleased to welcome the JTA into the community of Jewish digital archives. 

Interview: Rabbi Yitz Greenberg

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, President of the Jewish Life Network / Steinhardt Foundation, sat down with BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen and discussed his vision of an American Jewish community in which it is expected that Jewish young adults will give one or two years of service, either to the Jewish community or to a population in need.

Watch on YouTube, or below:

Jewish Camping: Cohen's Comments

In the latest installment of Cohen's Comments, BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen says two new studies prove the benefits of Jewish camping, both for overnight camps and for day camps. Watch below, or on YouTube.

Jewish Jews Need Jewish Friends - Cohen's Comments

BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen says you just can't "do Jewish" without a Jewish social network. Any opportunity for young Jews to make Jewish friends is ipso facto a critical component of Jewish education.

Watch the video below, or on YouTube.

Next month, BJPA will be partnering with New CAJE in presenting a webinar on this topic:

More Jewish Friends: the Key to a Jewish Future
Wed., March 16, 2011 - 6:30 pm EST

More information will follow as the date of the webinar approaches.

Cohen's Comments: The Gender Salary Gap

In this installment of our video series, BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen examines and evaluates potential explanations for the salary gap between women and men in the Jewish communal field.

He gives special mention to the work being done by Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community.