In my regular column in Haaretz, my new article: “Why Jewish Political Activism Leads to Anti-Semitism“
For centuries, we have been told that our unity will save both us and humanity. We won’t listen and the world hates us for it.
In the aftermath of the US elections, the voices of many prominent Jews are heard aloud and almost always with the same refrain: “Trump is a bigot, a racist, and is unfit to be our President.” Comedian Sarah Silverman called for a military coup to overthrow President Trump. Israeli singer Noah, called the President Hitler. Other Jews have called on Americans “to mobilize in solidarity against Trump.” Likewise, Jewish Voice for Peace launched a campaign offering “Tools to Resist Trump’s Islamophobia.” As Tablet magazine put it, “From the Orthodox Union to the Reform Movement, and ‘Commentary’ to J Street, American Jews speak out in defense of refugees and Muslims,” and against President Trump.
At face value, it is perfectly legitimate and democratic to protest what you think is wrong. It is a right enshrined in the First Amendment. But things are different when it comes to Jews. We want to fit in; we want to belong, but no one treats us like ordinary people.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” asks Shylock the Jew in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Today, we are all like Shylock—ever trying to prove our sameness, ever encountering disbelief. Even if we are met with favorable declarations, such as those recently made by British Premier Theresa May, when it comes to actions, such as at the UN Security Council, the UK votes against us.
As in the US, Jews in Europe have been voting for liberal democratic parties for decades. Yet, precisely these parties have become hotbeds for Europe’s most sinister anti-Semitism. European Jewry has woken up, but it is too late. They can either leave Europe or stay and expect matters to grow much worse and much more physically dangerous.
The US is traversing the exact same route. Academia, which is dominated by a leftist oppressive mindset, has used the slick tool of political correctness to perform ideological cleansing of any idea that is not ultra-liberal. The media, much like academia, has been performing character assassination against Trump since the day he announced his intention to run for President. Together, the media and academia present a false image of a President who does not have the support of the American people. This orchestrated smear campaign against a legally and honestly elected president has deepened the divide within American society to a level that looks too much like riots, and too little like legitimate protests.
It is one thing for Jews to choose sides. It is another thing altogether for Jews to vigorously condemn the other side by using vulgarity, profanity, and baseless delegitimization, as in the heated debate currently unfolding in the US. Just as it happened after Sarah Silverman’s tweet, when we Jews incite for separation, we invoke anti-Semitism.
What’s Wrong with Jewish Activism?
The answer to the question in the subtitle is that there is nothing wrong with Jewish activism, as long as it promotes unity rather than division. The Jewish peoplehood was forged through unity when millions of individuals of different descents committed themselves to one another by pledging to be “as one man with one heart.” Once they made that vow, they were tasked with passing unity on to the rest of the world, thereby becoming “a light unto nations.” It may not appear so on the surface, but as long as Jews maintain their unity, they are appreciated. When they disassociate and thereby abandon their commitment to humanity, they cease to be a light unto nations and in so doing invoke hatred toward them.
I have been frequently criticized for expressing this view. However, this is not my personal view but the view of our sages throughout the generations. In that sense, I am only the messenger.
The Midrash (Beresheet Rabah, 66) writes about the Jews: “This nation, world peace dwells within it.” The Talmud writes in Masechet Yevamot: “No calamity comes to the world but because of Israel.” Midrash Tanhuma (Devarim, Portion, Nitzavim) writes, “Israel will not be redeemed until they are one bundle.” The Mishnah (Okatzin 3:12) asserts, “The Lord did not find a receptacle that holds a blessing for Israel but peace, as it was said (Psalms 29), ‘The Lord will give strength to His people, the Lord will bless His people with peace.’”
The Book of Zohar writes in the portion, Aharei Mot: “‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together.’ These are the friends as they sit together and do not part from one another. At first, they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then, they return to being in brotherly love. And you, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part. And by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
Not only our ancient sources spoke of the importance of unity for the people of Israel and for the entire world. Our sages continued to talk about it throughout the generations.
“When Israel have unity, there is no end to their attainment,” writes the book, Noam Elimelech (The Pleasantness of Elimelech). “The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them,” adds Rabbi Kalonymus Halevi Epstein in Maor VaShemesh (Light and Sun). “We are commanded at each generation to strengthen the unity among us so our enemies do not rule over us,” wrote Rabbi Eliyahu Ki Tov in The Book of Consciousness. The Ramchal also wrote in The Commentary of Ramchal on the Torah: “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. … However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.”
In the previous century, the two greatest spiritual leaders of the generation, Rav Kook and Rav Yehuda Ashlag, author of the complete Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, wrote extensively about the role of Israel toward the world and the vital part that Israel’s unity plays in carrying out its task. In Orot (Lights), Rav Kook wrote, “The construction of the world, which is currently crumpled by the dreadful storms of a blood-filled sword, requires the construction of the Israeli nation … in anticipation of a force full of unity that is found in Israel.” Similarly, Rav Ashlag asserted, “It is upon the Israeli nation to qualify itself and all the people of the world to develop until they take upon themselves that sublime work of the love of others, which is the ladder to the purpose of Creation” (“The Arvut” [Mutual Guarantee]).
Returning to The Book of Zohar, the famous Tikkun no. 30 stresses that when Israel are not united, they “bring about the existence of poverty, ruin, and robbery, looting, killing, and destructions in the world.”
Establishing Constructive Activism
If we Jews want to help heal American society, certainly a commendable aspiration, we must return to our roots. Only unity above our differences—without suppressing any view but rather by embracing diversity above disputes and mutual disdain—will serve as an example worth following. Hurling abuse at people for their political views will not award us esteem. It will also not make us more acceptable in American society. What the nations want from us is leadership by way of example, not by way of retribution.
Surprisingly, some of the worst enemies of the Jewish people were keenly aware of the power of Jewish society and our role toward humanity. The famous anti-Semitic industrialist, Henry Ford, wrote in his infamous book, The International Jew—the World’s Foremost Problem: “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems on paper, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.” Elsewhere in the book, Ford wrote, “Society has a large claim against the Jew … that he begin to fulfill … the ancient prophecy that through him all the nations of the earth should be blessed.”
Rav Yehuda Leib Arieh Altar (the ADMOR of Gur) wrote in Sefat Emet (Language of Truth): “Because they sinned, that force of unity was taken from the wicked and was given to the children of Israel… We should trust it for because our intention is good, we are certain to succeed, since the force of unity assists us.” Rav Yehuda Ashlag added similarly in his essay, “The Arvut” (Mutual Guarantee), when he explained the meaning of being “a light unto nations”: “You shall be My Segula [remedy/virtue] from among all peoples. This means that sparks of purification and cleansing [from unfounded hatred] shall pass through you onto all the peoples and the nations of the world.”
Eliezer Ben Yehuda, reviver of the Hebrew language, wrote in The Complete Writings of Eliezer Ben Yehuda (Vol. 1): “We have yet to open our eyes and see that only unity can save us. Only if we all unite … to work in favor of the entire nation, our labor will not be in vain.” Likewise, A.D. Gordon, the chief ideologist of Zionism, asserted in Light of Life on the Day of Smallness: “‘All of Israel are responsible for one another’ … Only where people are responsible for one another there is Israel. Moreover, all the people are responsible for one another, and only where people are responsible for one another there are people (and there is a nation, a humane nation). If there are none who are responsible for one another, what is there? We, who are coming to build [the State of Israel], will certainly not build on the basis of relations of the generation of separation [generation of Babylon, when people were separated].”
And finally, David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, stated the following in Revolution of the Spirit: “Love your neighbor as yourself is the superior commandment in Judaism. With these three words, the eternal, human law of Judaism was formed… The state of Israel will be worthy of its name only if its social, economic, political, and judicial structure are based upon these three eternal words.”
With these few quotes out of many others found in numerous writings of our sages, I tried to convey their simple message that the role of the Jewish people is not to be political activists. Rather, it is to be a role model of unity. If we do this, we will bring peace upon ourselves and upon the world, since we will be “a light unto nations.”