Monday, January 09, 2012

ADL: Fighting Yesterday's Battles

Charles Jacobs

The ADL is now caught flatfooted by its own paralysis

Republicans are all over national TV, arguing passionately over which (and whose) approaches - given the sorry state of American society - might best set things right. They know Democrats will use the best barbs they throw at each other against the eventual GOP nominee; even so, the most thoughtful among them value sharp debate about our serious problems - to test and clarify ideas. So if Republicans can do this, why not the Jews?

World Jewry is under significant strain. Iran presents an existential threat to Israel; the age-old virus of anti-Semitism has morphed into anti-Zionism - more difficult to fight; Muslim clergymen on every continent rage against the Jews; much of the far left loves "Palestine." The media and academe daily assault the Jewish state. Indeed, the story of our epoch is that the Jews live in a new time defined by a new threat: a Left/Muslim alliance - that attacks both Israel and Jews. This alliance menaces Europe's Jews and has spread to parts of the American elite, especially on our campuses.

Do Jews have the right leadership and organizations to deal with this threat? Why is public discourse on such vital issues absent? Who would try to block such a critical conversation? The ADL, for one.

It was sad to read the Anti-Defamation League's letter to The Advocate ("ADL fires back," Dec. 16 - see below), not solely for its personal attack, but also because it reflects how a once respectable and important Jewish organization has now reached new lows. The problem for the ADL, and this is not restricted only to this group, is that it has been unable - decades - to adjust to the new reality, and is now caught flatfooted by its own paralysis.

For decades, as Israel was defamed in the media, I watched ADL choose not to be the Anti-Defamation League for the Jewish state. (That's precisely why CAMERA was born.) For years, as Islamic Jew-hatred and leftwing anti-Zionism overtook rightwing anti-Semitism as the bigger threat to Jewish life, we've seen the ADL flinch. Students from around the country told me that ADL did not answer their calls as they were harassed and intimidated by anti-Israel faculty, students and administrations. (That's precisely why the David Project - and Stand with Us - were established.) But sure enough, when ADL found a swastika on some bathroom stall in Iowa, my mother-in-law got a fundraising letter.

Shifting the focus away from skinheads, neo-Nazis, and Christian bigots and onto radical leftists and Muslim Jew-hatred would be extraordinarily difficult. It would require a massive and unpopular effort: leading the Jews to think difficult thoughts about their new situation, thoughts that put them at odds with their comforting universalist theology of Political Correctness. And it would be costly: ADL would forfeit loads of leftwing money - and its liberal bona fides. The organization would hardly ever get a letter published in The New York Times. It would be viciously attacked by Islamist leadership. CAIR would be relentless. Abe Foxman, ADL's head, acknowledges that Islamic Jew hatred is the biggest threat we face (he's still shy about the radical left) - yet ADL spends much, much more time, effort, resources and focus on the older, less dangerous threats while practically ignoring the new, more ominous ones.

Stuck between a rock and hard place, the response of Ken Jacobson, ADL's national director, to our criticism (with an arrogance that only a $50 million budget might explain) could do nothing but call me names (the Defamation League?!) and skirt the issues.

Jacobson calls our study of ADL press releases - showing they are all but silent on Muslim anti-Semitism - "amateurish." But in the absence of information about ADL's internal budget - what proportion of funds is spent on Christian, Nazi, leftist, skinhead vs. Leftist/Islamic anti-Semitism - the data on ADL's press releases was the best statistical stand-in we could find. We strongly recommend that ADL's donors review its budget for a true understanding of the organization's priorities.

Jacobson suggested better indicators of ADL's deep concern about Islamic anti-Semitism. He cited its Center on Extremism. But see for yourselves that the center seems stuck in another world, almost totally devoted to Nazis and skinheads - with not one Islamic group named. In his letter last week to The Advocate, Professor Barry Rubin of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, wrote that a visit to ADL's Web site might leave you thinking that left-wing anti-Semitism, "the most significant form of Western-origin anti-Semitism," just doesn't exist.

Jacobson says ADL issues more reports today on Arab anti-Semitism. Yes, ADL loves to monitor and issue reports. In the age of video, who is reading these reports? For the most part, Jews and the public don't have a clue about the nature and extent of Islamic hatred. Finally, he says ADL trains law enforcement officials. Can he mean about the theory and practice of Islamic Jew-hatred in the West?

Jacobson mocks our concerns about ADL's backing a sale of a Michigan school building to the radical Islamic Cultural Association (ICA). He says we're "playing six degrees of Islamic separation." Actually, it's one degree: the ICA was originally funded by the North American Islamic Trust, identified by federal officials as a Muslim Brotherhood front.

Most tellingly perhaps, ADL's letter is silent on the shocking matter of its continued presence on a Detroit interfaith committee that includes CAIR, a Hamas front. ADL's excuse is that the NAACP and law enforcement groups also sit on the committee. But aren't Jews funding ADL to do the hard work of exposing our enemies? Shouldn't the ADL chapter quit the committee and then educate black leaders as well as law enforcement officials about the menace of Islamic anti-Semitism? Isn't that what the ADL is supposed to be doing?

The transformation of ADL into to a politically correct, liberal organization creates a leadership vacuum for the Jewish community. This, combined with the lack of public debate on the Islamist-Leftist threat, increases our vulnerability.

An orgy of hatred

Atheists in America hate Christians. Atheists in Israel hate the ultra-Orthodox

In recent days I’ve been quarreling with all my friends. They are good people, these friends – liberal, tolerant, moderate and sensitive to any injustice. These are people that in our complex reality were never confused between good and bad. This is why I love them, among other things. I’d like to think that we are cut from the same cloth. That’s why I’m so amazed to see how uncaring and hateful they become when a group of people known as the haredim comes up for discussion.

My liberal friends propose various steps against the haredim and religious: A cadet who cannot bear female singing will not be an officer in the IDF, said one friend. As simple as that (“as simple as that” or “at once” are words that always accompany discussions about the haredim.) A segregated bus shall be stopped! The driver and bus operators should be sent to jail. A yeshiva that will not teach the core curriculum shall be closed at once! We shall not allow primitive ignoramuses to be raised here, and at our expense no less. A neighborhood that features separate sidewalks for women shall immediately lose its municipal services! They can go ahead and choke in their own garbage.

There are more proposals that are even more terrifying. Disconnect haredi neighborhoods from electricity, water and whatnot. The same people who would quiver, and rightfully so, if such proposals were made about Gaza, forget that behind the dark clothes, odd views and challenging (and annoying) behavior lie human beings. They are different than us, but they are human beings.

I’ve been following haredi society for many years yet I don’t remember such anger. And that’s odd, because the secular fury comes at a time when secularism is winning while the haredim are on the defense. Once upon a time the haredim sought to educate us. They made pretenses of telling us where and what to eat, what to do on Shabbat, where and how to be buried, and how to get married. Some time has passed, and the seculars won most battles.

Today it’s the seculars who wish to educate the haredim. The seculars are upset by the segregated bus routes. This doesn’t upset haredi women, but it does upset the secular Tania Rosenblit. The seculars are upset that math is not being taught at yeshivas. They know better than haredi parents what’s good for their sons. The seculars are upset by the relationship between men and women in haredi society. Why can’t the haredim be like us?

Wild incitement

I look at the holy secular anger and fail to understand it. It lacks the modesty of one who looks at another society from the outside. It has no hesitation – maybe we are wrong after all? Perhaps we failed in understanding the other?

I, for example, very much want the haredim to study the core curriculum, I will try to convince them this is needed, but I won’t enforce it upon them. Why? Because somewhere in my head I’m not certain that the core curriculum is truly important for the life meant for a haredi child. Perhaps for him math and English are less necessary than another Talmud class? In all such matters I will hesitate, because in my view when a civilized liberal looks at someone who is different, this should be done with the required modesty.

However, the seculars are furious and are unwilling to show any modesty in the way they look at the haredim. Had I been a religious Jew, I would be concerned. I would take this fury seriously and understand how I contributed to it. I would try to calm the atmosphere through some concessions.

And here I get to the heart of the matter: We need a new social covenant. The old status-quo may have secured political calm, yet caused a flare-up in secular-haredi relations. Both sides must be brave and go for a new covenant premised on a simple principle: Life in the country will be secular in every way. The haredim will let go of their need to care for our secular souls. This means buses on Shabbat, civil marriage and everything associated with a modern state.

On the other hand, the secular majority would allow the haredim to have full cultural autonomy within their neighborhoods. This means letting go of the need to education them and allowing them to live their life as they see fit. And yes, this means segregated buses in haredi population centers and tolerance to haredi education.

That’s the principle. Implementing it isn’t simple because there would be red lines, of course. If the haredim want to educate their children by beating them up, we won’t agree to. However, within the boundaries of logic, we must make every effort to accept the differences of the other.

In my arguments with my liberal friends, one of them sometimes places a hand on my shoulder and asks in a concerned voice: “Amnon, what happened to you? After all, you are secular, a devout atheist; what’s happening to you?” So here is the answer: It appears to me that being a liberal, progressive and humanist today means resisting this blatant incitement against the haredim; standing up against the bon-ton and saying: I’m not taking part in this orgy of hatred.

Are Jews better off in Israel?

By Spengler

Israel's immigration ministry stopped running television ads exhorting Israelis living in America to come home after American Jewish organizations complained, the New York Times reported December 2:

"One video advertisement shows a Jewish elderly couple distraught that their Israeli granddaughter in the United States thinks Hanukkah is Christmas. Another shows a clueless American boyfriend who does not get why his Israeli expatriate girlfriend is saddened on Israel's memorial day. A third shows a toddler calling "Daddy! Daddy!" to his napping Israeli expatriate father, who finally awakens when the child switches to Hebrew: "Abba!"

"While we recognize the motivations behind the ad campaign," the Jewish Federations remonstrated in a December 1 statement, "we are strongly opposed to the messaging that American Jews do not understand Israel. We share the concerns many of you have expressed that this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship." The Jewish organizations complained after a liberal blogger, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Monthly, denounced the ads.

The message that Jewish life in America is deficient is "outrageous" and "insulting", to be sure, but it has a single redeeming quality, namely truth. The vehemence of the official Jewish response to the Israeli advertisements betrays a guilty conscience: Jewish life in America is dying, as the same Jewish organizations warn in ever-gloomier studies of Jewish demographics. It seems inconsistent of the Jewish organizations to bewail the inexorable decline of American Jewish life on one hand, and condemn the Israelis for pointing to their manifest achievements in sustaining Jewish life.

The tragedy is that Jews have stopped being Jews because America has stopped being America. The Pilgrim Fathers founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in conscious emulation of the people of Israel, undertaking a new Mission in the Wilderness to found a new Chosen People in a New Promised Land. From this emerged what Abraham Lincoln called an "almost-chosen people", a secular and democratic nation defined by the biblical concept of covenant.

Mainstream American culture holds in contempt the idea of a divine grantor of rights who has established individual freedom beyond the prerogative of any government to impinge. For the minority who understand the American founding as a continuation of the covenant of Mount Sinai, the survival of the Jewish people is proof that God's promises never attenuate; for mainstream culture, the Jews are a curious remnant of antique superstition. That is how most American Jews see the matter, and that is why most of them do not much trouble to be Jewish.

In principle, Jewish life should flourish in the United States. As Eric Nelson of Harvard demonstrated in his 2010 book The Hebrew Republic, the political theory by which America was founded drew on post-biblical rabbinic sources. Nowhere (except in the State of Israel) should Jews feel more at home than in America, whose founding drew on their classical sources.

Sadly, American Jews stand out as a horrible example of demographic failure. In the United States, secular and loosely affiliated American Jews, that is, the vast majority, have the lowest fertility rate of any identifiable segment of the American population.

As I wrote in my book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too):

"Nowhere is the fertility gap between religious and non-religious more extreme than among American Jews. As a group, American Jews show the lowest fertility of any ethnic group in the country. That is a matter of great anguish for Jewish community leaders. According to sociologist Steven Cohen, "We are now in the midst of a non-Orthodox Jewish population meltdown. ... Among Jews in their 50s, for every 100 Orthodox adults, we have 192 Orthodox children. And for the non-Orthodox, for every 100 adults, we have merely 55 such children."

Half of the non-Orthodox children, moreover, marry non-Jews, and very few children of mixed marriages will remain Jewish. As Reform Rabbi Lance J Sussman wrote in 2010, "With the exception of a number of Orthodox communities and a few other bright spots in or just off the mainstream of Jewish religious life, American Judaism is in precipitous decline ... the Reform movement has probably contracted by a full third in the last ten years!"

In Israel, by contrast, the Jewish fertility rate stands at around 3 children per female, by far the highest in the industrial world. Aside from the ultra-Orthodox minority, which has seven or eight children, the non-Orthodox Jewish fertility rate is around 2.6 children per female.

Jewish Fertility by Religious Current

Average Number of Children per Woman

Ultra-Orthodox 6.72
Modern Orthodox 3.39
Conservative 1.74
Reform 1.36
Secular 1.29

Source: Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz, National Jewish Population Survey (2000)

Israel's Jews identify with Jewish nationality more than American Jews, but they also observe the Jewish religion more than their American cousins. Daniel J Elazar of the Jerusalem Institute for Public Affairs observes:

"Israel's Jews are not divided into two groups but into four: ultra-orthodox, religious Zionists, traditional Jews, and secular. Some 8 percent are ultra-Orthodox. These are the strangely (to Western eyes) garbed, black hatted Jews who are featured in all the pictures, despite the fact that they represent only 8 percent of Israel's Jewish population. Another 17 percent are religious Zionists... similar to the modern or centrist Orthodox Jews in the diaspora, partaking of most or all aspects of modern civilization, except that they maintain Orthodox observance of Jewish religious law and tradition. The third group consists of the vast majority of Israeli Jews, some 55 percent, who define themselves as "traditional." ... They cover the whole range of belief and observance from people of fundamentalist belief and looser practice to people who have interpreted Judaism in the most modern manner but retain some of its customs and ceremonies."

Most Israeli Jews are not secular, but are partially observant. In a Jewish state where everyone speaks Hebrew, public school students have 12 years of Bible study, and Jewish holidays also are official holidays, it is easy to maintain a loose affiliation to Jewish observance. In the United States, nothing but the comprehensive commitment of Orthodox life sustains the Jewish community over the long term.

If present trends continue, Orthodox Jews will form the majority of a much-diminished American Jewish presence within a generation or two. And it is the Orthodox who identify most with the State of Israel; their children often spend a year at an Israeli yeshiva before college, and many serve in the Israeli army. None of the Orthodox organizations seem to have objected to the expat-come-home videos, and for good reason: living in the land of Israel is one of the most important commandments, and the Orthodox respect those who observe it.

On reflection, American Jews should reconsider their umbrage at Israel's Immigration Ministry. Their own organizations are painfully aware that loosely affiliated Jews of all shadings are falling away from the Jewish community, failing to bring enough children in the world to replace their existing numbers, and failing to raise them as Jews.

The controversial videos, in short, did nothing to insult American Jews. But the fact is that the Israelis run circles around their American co-religionists. One sees this in their accomplishments in a number of fields, for example, classical music, about which I know a bit.

Last year, I spent some time in Israel for The Tablet, a Jewish webzine where I write music criticism, to investigate the improbable success of Israelis in the classical music world. At New York's Mannes Conservatory, where I taught music theory a generation ago, there always seem to be one or two Israelis among the top 10 pianists - but rarely an American. The others are mostly Asian or Eastern European. Considering that China alone has more than 30 million piano students, five times' Israel's Jewish population, the Israelis punch 10 times above their weight.

Two generations ago, half of American music students, perhaps, were Jewish. Americans today, Jews included, lack the drive and discipline to practice eight hours a day. Not so the Israelis. The head of the piano department at the Tel Aviv Conservatory, Tomer Lev, explained why:

"This country, its existence, its continuity cannot be measured by realistic and rational gauges. Everything that happens here has a component of a miracle. The way people think here is not completely rational. It's a very interesting blend of rational modern thinking and quasi-religious mystical thinking. People here take the risk of trying a musical career even if they know on a rational basis that there's little money and security. Taking risks in Israel is part of life. You are taking a risk simply to live here.

Life in Israel is perhaps too intense. Art creates an outlet to this intensity. For sensitive people, the artistic outlet is a necessity; you need it or you go crazy. And we are a society of individualists, perhaps the most individualistic in the world, perhaps to an extreme. In such an atmosphere, the individual spirit has a great deal of freedom to be unique, to be special, not to be suppressed."

After interviewing a cross-section of Israel's top musicians, I concluded, "The sense of a future in Western classical music evokes the basic emotions with which human beings regard the future, namely hope and fear. When Israeli musicians speak of performing with a sense of risk, they mean the capacity to sustain hope in the presence of fear. It takes a certain kind of personality to do this on the concert stage, with all the attendant artistic and technical demands. Israel, whose existential premise is the triumph of hope over fear, incubates a disproportionately large number of musicians with this sort of personality."

Of course, music is only a small corner of Israeli life. As I wrote earlier in this space, Israel today occupies the position of the Dutch Republic during the Thirty Years War. It is the most entrepreneurial economy in the world. The 2009 bestseller Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer asked, "How is it that Israel - a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources - produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?"

Israelis grow up with sense of urgency for excellence; in their neighborhood, First Prize is the chance to compete for First Prize once again, and Second Prize is, you're dead. American Jews live under no threat whatever; having made good in America, they have all the room in the world for indolence and self-deception.

Whatever the Jews are, they are not stupid, and American Jews knew perfectly well in 2008 that the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, was a more reliable supporter of Israel's security than Barack Obama. Yet 78% of American Jews voted for Obama, in part because the liberal social agenda mattered more to them, and in part because they continued to believe in the Rabin-Arafat handshake long after the Israelis had written it off. (Audience: If you believe in the Peace Process, clap your hands!)

Liberalism is a self-liquidating proposition, and there are no liberals like Jewish liberals, who are a soon-to-be-endangered species. The sad thing is not that the liberal leadership of American Jewish organizations is complaining about Israel, but that they won't be around much longer to complain about anything.