Politics & Policy

Stop the Jew-Shaming

Peter Beinart in 2010 (New America/Flickr)
Jewish leftists like Peter Beinart don’t get to decide who is a good Jew and who is not.

It’s become almost as common a Jewish refrain as “Mazal tov” or “Shabbat shalom.” Liberal Jews are falling over one another to label President Trump the latest incarnation of Jew-haters from Pharaoh to Haman to Hitler.

These attacks have ranged from the exaggerated to the absurd. And while these inflated diatribes are concerning enough, a new theme has developed that is as baffling as it is destructive: Jew-shaming.

There has long been an expectation in Jewish circles that members of the tribe should support leftist policies and candidates. The thinking is that the Jews’ centuries-long persecution compels them to support the party that professes to protect persecuted minorities. Like women and African Americans, leftists are often shocked to stumble across the existence of conservatives who are Jewish, female, or black.

As a member of this endangered species, I’m familiar with this phenomenon. As a Jewish, female political conservative, I am often met with bewilderment. I am also sensitive to the history of persecution. I lost too many relatives in the Holocaust. This persecution is undeniable and unforgettable. What’s baffling is why people think they can decide for me, for Jared Kushner, and for any other Jew what Judaism means to us or how we should vote as Jews.

Over the past couple of months, a parade of liberals has argued that Jewish values are antithetical to supporting Trump or any of his policies. Award-winning reporter Jonathan Freedland recently opined in the Jewish Chronicle, “Put simply, Jews should want nothing to do with Trumpism.” In November, the Israeli left-wing paper Haaretz published an opinion piece by Ann Toback, the Workmen’s Circle executive director, which laid out her version of the Eleventh Commandment: that Jews shouldn’t “legitimize hate” by attending a Hanukkah party at Trump Tower.

This is a new form of liberal audacity that seeks to tell Jews what to believe and how to practice their faith. It is not just a moral imperative to raise taxes, support gay marriage, and legalize abortion. It is now a religious imperative, as if God Himself descended on the National Mall and decreed it so.

This audacity came to a head this week after the president’s executive order on refugees. Suddenly, every Jewish group and activist appointed itself the moral authority on Jewish values. And even worse, some writers used their perverse versions of Judaism to shame Jews with whom they disagree.

The worst of the worst came from the Forward, where senior columnist Peter Beinart sought to indict Kushner’s moral identity as a Jew. After declaring that the challenge for “our extraordinarily privileged generation” is to remember our ancestors’ pain, Beinart wrote:

How could Kushner — a Modern Orthodox golden boy — fail to internalize that? How could he invite Donald Trump’s Cabinet to his house for Shabbat dinner only hours after his father-in-law’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States?

Beinart’s argument reeks of intellectual laziness and rank arrogance. There are plenty of substantial arguments one can make against the executive order, and Beinart is as free as anyone to throw his hat in the ring. But Beinart goes straight for the jugular, declaring Kushner a failure of Modern Orthodoxy.

Last I checked, Beinart is neither God nor prophet. He’s no Moses or Joshua. He and his cohorts don’t get to decide who is a good Jew and who is not. Their attempt to do so is a disservice to America and to Judaism.

American democracy and Jewish tradition share a common appreciation for the power of debate. Not only is debate sanctioned, it is encouraged. Disagreement and challenge help us achieve greater understanding and clarity, provided we do it respectfully and constructively. When leftists exploit Judaism as a political weapon, they discredit their own position as well as the religion they claim to uphold.

When leftists exploit Judaism as a political weapon, they discredit their own position as well as the religion they claim to uphold.

There’s a word in Biblical Hebrew that means disgrace: bizayon. In Jewish tradition, it is prohibited to make a bizayon out of sacred objects, such as the Torah or the religion itself. I cannot think of a greater disgrace than to manipulate Judaism for political purposes to attack other people’s Jewish faith.

If Beinart and others want to turn to the sacred Torah for guidance, they should learn from Moses, who asked God in a recent Torah portion, in the third chapter in Exodus, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” When it comes to judging other people’s religiosity, Beinart and his friends would do well to take their cue from Moses’s humility.

And in this era of vicious political attacks spread on social media, we’d all do well to take a moment and ask ourselves, “Who are we, that we should issue religious indictments on our fellow Jews?” One thing is for sure, that will get us all a lot further than remaking Judaism in our own political image.

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