October 22, 2019

The Vengeful Gods of Purity

The Vengeful Gods of Purity
By David A. Lehrer
It’s all too predictable, a religious/ethnic/political leader dares to deviate from the orthodoxy of the day and the vengeful ideological gods seek to exact a price.
Over the past few weeks, the Jewish right has become animated over the appointment of Professor David Myers of UCLA—a distinguished scholar of modern Jewish History—to head the Center for National Jewish History in New York. His credentials are impeccable—not only does he hold an endowed chair at UCLA, he headed its history department and has been actively involved in Los Angeles’ Jewish community as a leader and public intellectual.
His critics attack him for “radical viewpoints” and even worse, having a “moderate façade” that masks a “radical core.”
Myers’ views on Israel and the Middle East are more complex than Hadassah’s or the Jewish National Fund’s, but that does not make him treif. Virtually all the insidious allegations are either inaccurate or McCarthyite attacks imputing to Myers positions that have been taken by organizations that he wrote for or spoke before. The allegations and the rebuttals to them can be read here.
500 Jewish Studies professors have decried the attacks as “scurrilous” and the “worst kind of MCarthyism….calls for his ouster based on ad hominem charges on purely political grounds must be rejected.”
Despite the pushback the onslaught has continued to this day, he is “an enemy of Israel.”
His credentials for his new position and his political bona fides are really not the issue—-the Center for Jewish History is “standing by their man.” The real question is how self-appointed guardians of Jewish ideological purity have the chutzpah to seek to impose their political viewpoint as a litmus test for leadership of a national Jewish academic institution. They see their views as the only proper path for leaders.
They attack and condemn and threaten with impunity knowing that there are sectors of the community they can animate by simply asserting that Myers “is a fierce critic of Israel” and others who will be intimidated into silence for fear of also being targeted and impugned. That’s how McCarthyites work.
The transcendent question is whether the institutions involved with the Center will have the spine to continue to resist the pressure to acquiesce to threats and intimidation. So far, so good.
Having served for twenty seven years with the Anti-Defamation League, I have some familiarity with those who threaten the Jewish community—David Myers is not among them. Failing to distinguish between dissenting viewpoints and real threats is failing to understand nuance and complexity and the bounty of free speech in a democracy.
It always amazed me in my years at ADL to watch those within the Jewish community who spent their energy railing against fellow Jews for not toeing a particular ideological line—they were in pursuit of an elusive “unity” of thought which they seemed to believe would insulate Israel and Jews from the political realities of the world. Such unanimity never existed and would offer no shield against pernicious external forces if it did.
They create illusory threats to puff up and demonstrate their own bona fides.as the guardians of rectitude. Whom they harm, malign, or sacrifice, is irrelevant to them—they are in pursuit of a more noble “good.”
In 1852 Nathaniel Hawthorne warned in The Blithdale Romance of true believers who “have an idol, to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious…”
They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly strait path.
The Jewish community does not need Grand Inquisitors to impose ideological homogeneity on our institutions, those “guardians” simply seek mirrors of themselves, not a “greater good.”