Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Burning Witches and Heretics

I find myself deeply disturbed by the fact that Kay Wilson. an Israeli Jewish victim of Arab terrorism, is under attack for somehow not being Jewish enough. Worse, she is accused of being a traitor to the Jewish people and a secret Messianic Jew or Christian, something she has repeatedly denied in her writing. Her words are clear, unequivocal and should have put this matter to rest. She has written at length about her faith which is unquestionably Jewish but not Orthodox. Somehow, though, those self-appointed pillars of the purity of Judaism keep attacking and harassing her. I have come to know Kay Wilson as on online friend and I have no doubts about her integrity. I am beyond disgusted.

Penina Taylor wrote an excellent piece for The Times of Israel about what Kay is currently enduring appropriately titled "The Witch Hunt". Taylor described the terror attack:
"It was December 2010 and two women had been out hiking in a forest near Beit Shemesh when they were attacked by two Arab terrorists. The two women were Kay Wilson and her friend, Kristine Luken. Luken was an American Christian missionary visiting Israel and Kay was a Jewish immigrant from England who was a tour guide. Kristine was brutally murdered – stabbed multiple times, and Kay almost so. Kay attributes her survival to pretending to be dead already and not moving as the attacker continued to thrust his knife into her."
How can anyone think that someone who is attacked and nearly killed by Palestinian terrorists simply because she is Jewish is somehow not Jewish enough? Kristine Luken died because her killer thought she was Jewish as well.

As much as I find the attacks on Kay Wilson disturbing I do not find them surprising based on my own much milder experiences. Perhaps a week ago I posted a news story on Facebook about a "Christian" pastor who wants all LGBT people killed. My comment, exactly one line long, quoted Christian scripture. I asked "What ever happened to 'Judge lest not ye be judged'?" One Orthodox Jew who had friended me on Facebook immediately asked if I was "Messianic", pointing to the fact that my name is not typically Jewish. (I could post using my Hebrew name or my original family name, but I don't.)

Anyway, to summarize a long discussion, he felt that quoting one relevant line of Christian scripture in response to a Christian pastor was giving power and legitimacy to Christianity and hurting Judaism. When I pointed out the book "Kosher Jesus" by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach I was told that the rabbi is a dangerous heretic. When he advised me to seak out Chabad to have this explained to me I responded that I am Conservative (Masorti). I did attend modern Orthodox congregations at times in my life and, sorry, my beliefs fit better into the Conservative stream of Judaism. Anyway, his conclusion was to unfriend me on Facebook. I am terribly misguided, also a heretic, and clearly not Jewish enough.

I've also been attacked because I support LGBT rights and have been accused of placing liberalism ahead of Judaism. I have also been attacked for standing up for human rights for all human beings, including Arab Muslims. Liberalism, I have been told, is my religion, even though I'm quite conservative on many issues. If I don't share the bigotry and outright hatred of some on the far right I am, once again, insufficiently Jewish according to our very own Jewish inquisitors.

So... no, I'm not surprised by the attacks on Kay Wilson. I am deeply saddened by them and I find them disturbing. We Jews are often our own worst enemies. People within our community often do more harm than all the antisemites put together because their own Judaism, however narrow, gives them legitimacy with some people.

[Note: Part of this article started out life as comments to Penina Taylor's article on the Times of Israel. Those comments have also appeared on Facebook.]

Monday, December 29, 2014

American Jews Are Not A Liability To Israel

On December 27th an unusual pro-Israel activist, Fred Maroun, published a piece in The Times of Israel titled Have American Jews Become a Liability to Israel?. I greatly respect Fred. He brings a unique perspective as a staunchly pro-Israel Arab living in Canada but originally from Lebanon. He often sees things very clearly in ways those of us who are part of the Jewish community and who have strong direct ties to Israel cannot. We've become friends online and I greatly value his insights. However, while he makes some very valid points in the article he comes to an entirely incorrect conclusion.

Writing from outside the Jewish community and from outside the United States the article seems to judge where American Jews are perhaps by social media and news media, which often give a distorted picture. While most American Jews are politically liberal there is a slow but steady move rightward in response to the challenges Israel is facing and the increasing hostility of the left, including the left wing of the Democratic Party. Yes, there are American Jews who are uneducated about Israel, do not read the Israeli or Jewish press, and see things through an American prism. Yes, there are always people in any group who oversimplify things. Yes, there are Jews who lack any real connection to Jewish beliefs or Israel and take default left wing anti-Israel positions. I wrote about that phenomenon last year and I believe this is what Fred is addressing.

Where I differ from Fred is that he sees this as widespread among American Jews. I do not. Social media has a tendency to amplify extremes. Media outlets from the left and right chose to cover those who share their views. The result is a distorted picture of American Jewry.

The overwhelming majority of American Jews, roughly three quarters according to most polls, support Israel. Most support Israel strongly. Neither Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) nor J Street reflect the opinions of anywhere near a majority of Jewish public opinion in the United States. They do represent a loud, vocal minority who get disproportional coverage in liberal media and on Facebook. For many of the people they represent liberalism trumps Judaism every time. When people immerse themselves in liberalism and don't do the same with Judaism the result is predictable.

So, no, American Jews are not a liability to Israel. However, the minority of Jews, both in Israel and abroad, on the far left often are, especially during times of conflict. [Note: Parts of this article first appeared in comments on The Times of Israel and Facebook.]