Stop the Commodification of Israel, Judaism & the Jewish People
It’s no secret that some Jewish organizations pay their staff very generous salaries that enable them to live a more than comfortable life in America, along with benefits such as trips to Israel, dinners and parties at prestigious restaurants and venues, and the opportunity to hobnob with celebrities and public officials who love Israel and the Jews.
Jewish professionals today are able to create good lives for themselves in the US, sending their children to the best schools and colleges, buying a two-story home with a nice garage—all the while feeling great about the good they are doing in the world. And who can blame them?
These organizations sell wonderful products which ignite Jewish passions and Zionist sentiments of Jews all over the world: love for the Jewish people, Jewish tradition and, of course, the state of Israel. They entice donors and constituencies with promises to engage in good deeds that befit Jewish tradition, whether they are helping the needy, sending much-needed money and supplies to Israel, writing letters to politicians in support of Israel, or organizing social gatherings where Jews can network and, God-willing, find a mate, so that one day they can raise upstanding members of the Jewish community in America, and so on, forever.
However, from my observations, it seems that maintaining Jewish comfort and stature in America has become to many Jewish leaders a goal even more worthy than the causes they promote: meaningful and true safety of the Jewish people wherever they are and particularly in Israel.
What happens if Jews are asked to put their comfortable Jewish lifestyles on the line? What if standing up for the Jewish people involves taking a controversial position with regards to Israel’s defense that could offend a potential financier or “network” opportunity? What would be the higher value: Jewish principle and long-term Jewish safety, or present-day comfort and prestige?
For a recent example, I turn to the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense by President Obama. His voting record as Nebraska Senator has been hostile to Israel, and yet most Jewish organizations are conspicuously silent, lest they create any discord between the American Jewish community and the current administration. The friendly relationship between Israel and America, they argue, is more important than the content of that relationship. Of what use is all their political capital and resources if they abandon Israel when the Jewish people need American Jews most to defend her interests?
Here's another example. During the recent Operation Pillars of Defense, Jewish organizations solicited funds to help the South and also to speak loudly of their support for Israel. But what has caused this war? Would they ever take positions that would have actually prevented southern Israel’s security nightmare from the outset? Would they promote a policy that would actually end Arab violence, i.e. a crushing military defeat of Islamic terrorist groups? It should be obvious that the war was triggered by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, but the majority of Jewish organizations remained silent on the Expulsion (which it was) because supporting the Jews of Gaza was unpopular or too “partisan.” Meanwhile, the Jews of Gush Katif embodied sincere Jewish values: a massive love for Israel, a deep tie to Jewish tradition, and a commitment to defending Israel through both army service and settlement in the land of Israel, even at great risk. They were left homeless, with nary a Jewish organization seeking to help these Jewish “needy.”
Alas, the Jews of Gush Katif were not marketable “products.” World leaders and intellectuals cast them as “defective,” unworthy of the rights granted to all Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs: the right to their home and property. Today, the Jewish people are paying the consequences of this form of discrimination. Pluralism and tolerance, it seems, don’t apply to “settlers,” who are actually Israel's best hope for peace since they are the Israelis who have learned to co-exist with Palestinian Arabs.
I'm not sure what will be the red line for current Jewish leaders to risk their prestige, popularity, and pocketbooks to stand up for Israel and all Jews without apology. My main fear is: by then, it will be too late.
Orit Arfa is founder of Creative Zionist Coalition: firstname.lastname@example.org.