On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review June 19, 2001 / 29 Sivan 5761

Sam Schulman

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Consumer Reports

The Forward steps up to defend American Reform's insult to Israel in crisis

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
RECENTLY, the leaders of America's Reform movement voted to cancel their summer teen tours of Israel, because of the danger presented by the Intifada. This decision outraged an astonishingly broad cross section of Israeli opinion, from left to right, from hawk to dove.

The editors of The Forward are saddened and puzzled by Israel's reaction. They characterized it, sadly, as "a rare moment of national unity that was as heartfelt as it was nonsensical."

The Forwardistas seek an explanation by considering the extremes of Zionist ideology. That all Israel is now expressing their belief that Zionism has 'negated the Diaspora,' that none can understand the refusal of American Jewry to uproot itself and make Aliyah en masse. What has happened in Israel, the Forward believes, reflects a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Jewish community in America. In their view, few Israelis "have taken the trouble to understand what American Judaism means or to seek the common threads between the new Judaisms of America and Israel. The reality of American Jewish life is not taught in Israel's schools, not portrayed on its television screens, rarely reported in its media."

How utterly absurd. Does anyone in Israel believe that Diaspora Jewry should reflect a Zionism that the Israeli media and its intellectual establishment has labored hard to eradicate, and its legitimacy to undermine and mock?

What the Forward can't understand is not some sort of exotic and slightly infra dig Zionist reaction. It's the universal human reaction to those who have helped cause a terrible accident - and then walk away as if it were none of their business.

As Rabbi Eric Yoffie has recently admitted, the American Reform movement was utterly wrong about Arafat --- and therefore (though he hasn't the decency to admit it) about the entire Oslo degringolade.

Now, thanks in large part to the strong backing mainstream American Jewry gave to Clinton's catastrophic peace efforts, Israel is paying the price. In the eyes of Israel, the very Americans who had so strongly urged this course on Israel - who condemned as war-mongers anyone in Israel or the United States who questioned its wisdom - are casually declining to observe the consequences of their error. "Oh dear," we must seem to be saying to Israel, "what a mess. We'll stay away until you folks clean it up. And hey - not too much force, while you're at it - ok? And do write when you think it's safe again, will you?"

Of course, no one wants to see one's children placed at risk. But where the responsibility lays so heavy on the parents, as it does in this case, American Reform should have assessed the actual risk more carefully, and expressed its decision with greater tact. And if the risk is perceived and not actual - then Reform should have -- carefully and cautiously -- proudly have shown America's children the bravery of Israel under a kind of attack that they themselves will, one prays, never have to endure. And an attack which, like many wars, was entirely avoidable.

But in the Reform reaction, there was no tact, no careful assessment, and no humility. The Reform movement has adopted the manners and ethics of Rabbi Yoffie's idol Bill Clinton in this - as in so many things. In country after country - Israel, Sierra Leone, and now Macedonia - ordinary people bleed while Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and those responsible not only evade blame, but positively glow with self-satisfaction.

And of course, to those who foresaw the grim consequences of Oslo -- and its price, which is paid entirely by the Israelis and Palestinianswho are being killed -- The Forward paid the compliment of near blood-libel in an atrocious editorial (March 23, 2001) on the AIPAC meeting in Washington: "nothing frightens the [anti-Oslo] lobby so much as a world at peace, in which Israel is no longer threatened . . .That view of the lobby is probably too harsh by half. This week, though, it was hard not to think in those terms, as hundreds of the organization's top activists gathered in high spirits to welcome the triumph of Ariel Sharon, the collapse of the peace process and the rebirth of fortress Israel. Israelis may be despondent over the escalating violence and the seeming impossibility of rekindling the peace process that they overwhelmingly favored. Not so Israel's friends in Washington."

This is hateful stuff, hateful in how it demonizes its political opponents, and hateful in its refusal to grant any but the dirtiest intentions to those with whom it disagrees.

No, one must say to the lads at The Forward --- it's not the way Israel "treats the American Jewish experience in its schools and its mass media" that has caused its disgust with Reform's manners. It's simply the natural repulsion anyone, anywhere, in any culture, feels towards smug and irresponsible hypocrisy, smugly and irresponsibly expressed.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2001 by Sam Schulman