By Hiam Simon and Mark Gold
Do you remember that old joke about 2 Jews and 3 opinions? Maybe it was 3 Jews and 5 opinions. Well, if things continue the way they seem to be headed we won’t be telling that joke any longer. There is a growing trend among Jews today to disenfranchise other Jews, to declare them treif for having a different opinion.
George Orwell, who brought us “Big Brother”, in his seminal book 1984 also created the term “thoughtcrime” – the crime of having a controversial and therefore socially unacceptable thought, and “newspeak” – redefining words until they mean the opposite of their original intent. Today 66 years after the publication of his fictional account of the future we have groups who consider themselves Big Brother and are more than ready to label others guilty of thoughtcrime while using newspeak to justify it.
We have watched as a small but very loud collection of Jews have determined that they know the only way to be Zionist.
Most recently, a group calling themselves JCC Watch has attempted to prevent progressive Jewish and Zionist organizations from participating in the Celebrate Israel Parade, falsely accusing them of supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Meanwhile, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) filed a suit to have Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA) removed from the American Zionist Movement. This faction of right wing Zionists chose to forget that from its very inception Zionism has been hyphenated.
When Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress he knew the hall would be filled with those who defined themselves as Religious Zionists or Revisionist Zionists, as Labor Zionists or Socialist Zionists. And that among these and other Zionist groupings there existed differing shades of thought, of opinion, and different dreams for the kind of Jewish state that would be created. There were Zionists who supported a Jewish state in Uganda and those who did not. Debates were fierce – loud and long – but all sides were heard. Discussions were held, votes taken, decisions agreed upon. No one was removed, no one thrown out or labeled a traitor to the great cause.
Jews have always been a multi-voiced people. Our strength has come from our ability to hear each other, to listen, and to recognize the other’s right to differ. It is a history replete with Jewish voices disagreeing – Pharisees and Sadducees, Hasidim and Mitnagdim, pages of the Talmud filled with multiple answers for each question asked. We have never been a monolithic people. We may believe in only one God but there has never been only one way to practice religion, never only one way to be a Jew. Why today should there be only one drummer and why should we all be expected to march to that one beat? The Jewish people would be poorer for it.
Voices within the right wing of the Jewish and Zionist community have taken it upon themselves “in the name of Klal Israel” – the unity of the Jewish people – to exorcise liberal and progressive speech from the conversation. If they have their way there will be only one “right” and “proper” position. Only approved organizations would be allowed to march in the Israel Parade. An Israeli Film festival whose movies don’t pass their narrow test would be banned. It wouldn’t matter that the films are made in Israel, made by Israelis. And if the film festival is to be in a Jewish Community Center supported by a Jewish Federation, then that Federation is muddied as well and calls go out to stop funding it.
Progressive Jewish and Zionist organizations who oppose the Occupation in the West Bank because it is damaging to Israel are to be denied entrance into Jewish umbrella organizations and those who have been members for years and years are to be thrown out.
In the recent elections for delegates to the next World Zionist Congress the charges of “thoughtcrime” rose to new heights. There were motions to remove progressive Zionist party slates from election all together. The attempt to silence those who do not share an extremist view in support of West Bank annexation is a cynical political act of desperation.
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of American Jews and Zionists do not support zealots seeking to demonize and excise those who do not walk in lock-step with them. It is important to note that the election results reveal a great example of democracy in Jewish life. The make-up of the US delegation to the Congress is made up of a majority of representatives who oppose annexation, uphold religious pluralism and civil rights, and, conditionally, are willing to support a two state solution as a mechanism of maintaining a secure and democratic Israel with a large Jewish majority.
Now, one hundred and eighteen years after that first Zionist Congress, the touchstone of Klal Yisrael remains clear. Klal Yisrael does not mean expelling someone from the family and shrouding that divisive action as protecting Jewish unity. Klal Yisrael means that even as we disagree, we exchange ideas as members of the same community. If we agree that excising some to save Jewish unity is Klal Israel than truly Big Brother is upon us and War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.