Jewschool is co-sponsoring Love, Hate and the Jewish State: A Conversation on Social Justice and Israel, with Makom, the New Israel Fund, and 16 other minyanim, arts & culture, and social justice orgs (see below).
This is the internal conflict that is already defining our generation of Jews. Two worldviews that are deeply Jewishly informed and yet at odds with each other: social justice vs. Israel.
Social justice is a worldview of “all helping all” and more specifically the stronger helping the disadvantaged, the weak helping the weak, the weak helping each other. It’s about fighting against entrenched power which resists giving up unfair advantage. The most concise definition of “social justice” was told to me by a Catholic youth minister: “a state of right relationships.” Rightness in conduct and healthy relations between employer/employee, government/citizen, Jew/gentile, and state-to-state.
The Israel worldview, regardless of whether you are right or left, is one defined by “Jews helping Jews,” each ethnicity looking out for themselves, and the weak nation becoming strong (and maintaining deterance). It’s about apportioning power by nationality, ethnicity or religion — and a heirachy of their comparative greivances. Israel becomes important as the national liberation project of the Jewish people. It defines success as the safety of one group among others (even if other groups happen to benefit, theirs can be secondary).
The conflict becomes:
Many people who support peace in the Middle East will not engender to spend time on Israel — and why should they? There are worse conflicts in the world, like genocide in Darfur. Even if you are left wing, paying special attention to one’s own ethnicity is still a parochial, inward-focused conversation. These people might feel more comfortable helping all people, regardless of ethnicity in ways that cut across socioeconomic status: health care for all, ending racism against all, collective bargaining rights for all, housing rights for all, international rights for all, et al.
Many people who see a relevance for Israel’s existance (of one version or another) are uncomfortable christening underdogs and painting all holders of power with the same brush. A worldview that doesn’t validate the historical travails of the Jewish people or seeks to pave away nationalisms or ethnic prides entirely is also uncomfortable. Anti-Semitism is subsumed into just another racism, where many might feel it has special, and specially personal, perils.
This conflict cuts many other directions: Some who do both social justice activism and Israel activism must compartmentalize their value systems, keeping them separated, balanced. A rare few manage to integrate them fully. And plenty — tragically a great many — do neither.
It has serious effects on our Jewish communities:
While it aims to benefit all peoples through its work, the Anti-Defamation League created permanent schisms by opposing Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide — leading to staff quitting in protest, the loss of Armenian partners in anti-racism projects, and accusations of hypocrisy.
Social justice organizations like Jewish FundS for Justice and American Jewish World Service must keep their distance from Israel matters to avoid the pitfalls of how their differing supporters proportion “justice” between Israel and Palestine. They are lambasted unfairly for not having a stance on an issue thousands of miles away, tangental to their core missions. Their distance can prevent their involvement in many worthwhile projects in which Israel, however briefly, is addressed.
The New Israel Fund is one of the few organizations that manage to integrate Israel and social justice via social justice for all members (not just citizens) of Israeli society. The Progressive Jewish Alliance takes local, global and Israel justice stances. Both lose the valuable support of constituents who have an Israel (pro or con) litmus test.
Our minyanim and shuls have “Israel committees” and “social action committees” — but who ever has seen an “Israel and social justice committee”? Or who has seen an Israel committee take up the issue of gay rights in Israel? Or a social justice committee tackle anti-Semitism on the left?
Can we integrate the two? Are they neccesarily exclusive? Are those of us who feel this way really so many? Can we envision Jewish communities that manage to blend them without rancor?
Next Thursday’s event proposes no answers, but offers a chance to explore this topic in a safe space, guided by experienced facilitators, and designed by activists who seek also a healthier conversation. Please join Jewscool for Love, Hate and the Jewish State: A Conversation on Social Justice and Israel on Thursday, June 18th at 7 pm – 10 pm, at the JCC in Manhattan. And hey, Yisrael Campbell emcees and afterwards there’s alcohol and JDub DJ Joro Boro too.
This event is brought to you by Makom and New Israel Fund, in partnership with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, Encounter, Foundation for Jewish Culture, The JCC in Manhattan,, The Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning, The Union of Progressive Zionists, and the following co-sponsors: Bnai Jeshurun’s Tze’irim, Brooklyn Jews, JDub Records,, Just Vision, Kehillat Hadar, Kol Zimrah, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Romemu, and Zeek.