Monday, February 04, 2019



A dustup within the organized Jewish community here in Boston helps clarify who genuinely represents “The Big Tent” when it comes to coalition politics.
In many major US cities, Jewish Community Relations Councils (or JCRCs) bring together Jewish communal organizations (some religious, some cultural or political) in coalition. Boston’s JCRC has historically been one of the largest and best-organized institution of this type in the country which means their decisions (which can take a long time to make, given the opinions that need to be balanced) tends to establish precedent followed by other communities.
The Boston JCRC’s “Big Tent” policy has caused controversy in the past, notably when J Street was given membership without formal organization-wide approval after they had “acquired” an existing member organization called Brit Tzedek V’Shalom.
During debates over that earlier controversy, J Street and its allies made the case that – regardless of what you thought of their politics – the organization has positioned itself as an opponent of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel. In a coalition with remarkably few red lines, support for BDS was and still is one of the few things that can get you left outside the “Big Tent.”
Although some organizations have danced close to that red line, none had ever crossed it. At the same time, organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, which exists primarily to support BDS, understand their positions place them outside looking in.
The wisdom of such exclusion was made clear when JVP finally said out loud what anyone paying attention to the group has known for years: that they are an anti-Zionist organization dedicated not to improving the Jewish state or finding peaceful compromises between Israel and her enemies, but to denying to the Jews a right to their own nation.
As JVP’s mission expanded to include the spreading of anti-Semitic canards channeling the nation’s racial tensions towards hostility towards Israel, the wisdom of keeping distance between them and an organization (JCRC) that represents the vast majority of Jewish opinion on the Middle East seems wise indeed. But one group, the Workman’s Circle (a founding JCRC members) decided to take a step over the red line right when JVP’s anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish animus hit high gear by officially signing onto a petition, created by JVP, that condemned the equation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
I’ll leave it to readers to decide if denying Jews rights given without question to hundreds of other peoples, or telling African Americans that the Jewish state is responsible for cops killing their children constitutes “legitimate criticism of Israel.” But JCRC, in a vote of 62-13, decided that the support lent to an anti-Zionist, BDS-supporting organization like JVP was enough to get Workman’s Circle removed from the Council.
In typical Jewish-organization fashion, a vote was only taken after endless discussion and deliberation, including months of direct talks with Workman’s Circle members. But, in the end, the rest of JCRC decided overwhelmingly that anti-Zionism and BDS were positions that others were free to take – but not in the name of the rest of the community.
It is worth comparing the extended discussions, debates, editorials, offers of compromise and, ultimately, democratic voting that led to the anguished choice to ask a member to leave with the behavior of those who criticize JCRC’s decision as an attack on inclusivity.
As I’ve noted before, Jewish Voice for Peace has been very careful to insist that anyone joining its ranks, and certainly anyone who speaks in their name, tow the organization’s political line, especially with regard to support for BDS.
Pulling the lens wider, political coalitions that have formed in the last few years under the banner of “intersectionality” (based on the premise that all oppressed groups have an affinity to one another and should thus work together as a united front) have rapidly developed their own sharp red lines separating oppressed from oppressors, as well as rigid internal hierarchies to determine whose oppression counts most.
Progressive Jews find themselves in a double-bind within such intersectional boundaries and hierarchies, excluded if they show any type of support for Israel (whose role as an oppressor must remain unquestioned), and stuck on the bottom of the oppression hierarchy (as “white Jews”) even if they abandon enough Jewish identity to satisfy intersectional gate keepers.
Do choices of who is in and who is out of an intersectionality club, and who is up and down within them, bear any resemblance to the extended deliberation, search for understanding and compromise, and democratic decision-making you just read about in the story of Boston JCRC’s decision to say goodbye to a member that made the conscious decision to embrace positions rejected by the rest of the community?
Hardly. For these intersec-coalitions are driven by ruthlessness, not be conversation or democratic values. Hostility to the Jewish state has become the hallmark, if not the defining element of “the movement” not because people have agreed to it, but because those who have clawed their way to the top are ready to see the organizations they lead destroyed, rather than allow any opinion that contradicts their world view to be heard, much less gain purchase. The recent implosion of the Woman’s March is just the latest example of this toxic dynamic in action.
So, in one of the many great ironies punctuating history (especially Jewish history), it is the parochial organization trying to carefully and thoughtfully police its boundaries that represents genuine universal values, such as the virtues of negotiation, compromise and democracy, while those who insist they (and they alone) represent progress that behave the most narrowly and tyrannically.





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