Reform Youth on Israel’s Actions in Lebanon

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A group of young American Reform Jews recently sent a letter to Reform leader Eric Yoffie, requesting that the movement “condemn the IDF’s killing of unarmed Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, as well as its premeditated targeting of civilian infrastructure, which has put additional lives at risk and hampered relief efforts.”

The high-school and college students who wrote this letter are among the most identified of American Jewish youth. Over 50% of American Jews are unaffiliated with any of the so-called streams. These authors at least know Yoffie’s name – indeed they are designated by the Reform movement as “youth leaders.”

The thought that these letter writers represent the future of non-Orthodox American Jewry should send shivers down the spine of anyone concerned about the future of Israel-Diaspora relations. On its face, the letter condemns all killing of civilians by the IDF. That is not a morally serious position, unless the authors explain how Israel can defend itself against Kassams from Gaza or Katyushas from Lebanon, without ever running the risk of killing civilians, given the fact that that those missiles are inevitably located and fired from civilian areas.

Do they think that supporting “the principle of peace negotiations” is an answer to that dilemma?

The Reform movement views itself as heir to the “prophetic tradition.” In practice, however, that is usually expressed as a form of moral posturing, whose only purpose is to confirm the speaker’s sense of his or her own exquisite moral sensitivity, with little relationship to the reality within which moral choices are made. The letter is a good example.

Let us assume, charitably, that the authors only meant to condemn Israel’s wanton or disproportionate taking of civilian life. If so, their letter is hardly less disturbing. For it suggests, that their principal sources of information are Human Rights Watch or CNN, and that they have not bothered read the dissections of HRW’s accusations by Professors Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, and Gerald Steinberg and Avi Bell of Bar Ilan University – all readily available in English.

Worse, it suggests a certain basic lack of identification with their fellow Jews in Israel – an unwillingness to give them the benefit of the doubt. Lebanon poses the same test for American Jewry that Operation Defensive Shield did more than four years ago. Then too the world media was filled with charges of Israeli massacres and genocide in Jenin.

Those charges were eventually revealed to be pure fabrications. But any clear-thinking person could have deduced that they were false from the numbers of Israeli reservists who were killed in booby-trapped homes because Israel refused to do what every other nation would have done in a similar situation – destroy the homes without risking troops. The same is true in Lebanon where dozens of Israeli soldiers died precisely because Israel refused to level all suspected Hizbullah targets in civilian areas.

At the very least, a sense of identification with their fellow Jews in Israel should have engendered skepticism among the Reform youth leaders that Israel showed wanton indifference to civilian life.

One suspects, however, that the deepest identification the authors of the letter feel is a negative one – fear that they would be identified with Israel on their university campuses. And that is an ominous sign indeed.

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4 Responses

  1. Adam Keller says:

    All this sophistry is trying to hide a very simple thing. These young Jews see whay the state of Israel is doing and are horrified by it. They know that by the prevailing mindset among American Jews they are supposed to give automatic knee-jerk support towhatever the current Government of Israel is doing, but they are not capable of it – and quite a good thing, too. These young people show a very good sense, much more than their elders. For me as an Israeli, it is a reason for hope.

  2. Ahron says:

    But any clear-thinking person could have deduced…

    Quite true. Any clear thinking person would indeed have deduced that Israel takes excessive caution with the lives of civilians and at the price of excessive recklessness with the lives of its own sons.

    But the “leaders” who wrote this letter are unlikely to be clear thinking. They are more likely to be leftists or simply to subscribe to whatever flavor of politeness is currently approved by the Left. And for the modern Leftist mind there is no more virtuous act than demonstrating rejection of one’s own background, heritage and allegiances, and instead siding with those who by any standard measure would be considered one’s enemies.

    Some origins of this mindset may lie in post-Holocaust education in which the virtues of brave anti-Nazi Germans and Europeans were (rightly) lauded. But the message that emerged from this pedagogy is somewhat more insidious: The path to virtue lies in the rejection of one’s self and interests and with the adoption of the “Other’s” interests.

    The “Other” is in one sense the weak, the helpless, the oppressed etc. And the “Other” is conversely virtuous in proportion to his helplessness. But to the morally anchorless mind the virtuous “Other” is also literally anybody “other” than oneself. And identifying with the virtuous “Other” becomes the singular path to asserting one’s own moral virtue. (For a groundbreaking treatment of this subject see Alain Finkielkraut’s essay in Azure.) This is obviously and powerfully true especially when one has no alternative source of moral/existential self-justification.

    So the Palestinians/Arabs are not simply a society whose virtues and failings can be measured and assayed like any other and they are not simply “others” in the sense of everybody else who is distinct from “us”. The Left (the Jewish Left in particular) presents anti-Jewish Arabs not simply as situational “others” by virtue of ethnicity or politics but rather as existential Others. Virtuous Others whose well-being must be promoted if Jews are to claim any mantle of moral self-justification. At the very least the Jews who promote and protect the virtuous Others will not commit the mortal sin of pursuing one’s own well-being and interests.

    And that is why passionate Leftists do not wish to read “Professors Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, and Gerald Steinberg and Avi Bell of Bar Ilan University – all readily available in English”. The issue is not at all one of insufficient data. The issue is a need to claim moral virtue and the definition of that virtue as committment to an Other. Particularly when the Other is attacking one’s self, one’s friends, and one’s interests–indeed committment to such an Other is even more virtuous. And by that standard the youth of Reform Judaism are indeed exquisitely moral people.

    (My main point: It’s very important to understand the psychology behind letters like this.)

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that my post on Eytan Kobre’s related article accurately sums up the current state of RJ-ranging from its leadership to its youth to its failure to gain a spiritual beachhead in Israel other than thru litigation. It is a tragedy that this is the future of RJ’s leadership- a generation that is liberal, PC and out of touch with the situation in Israel.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I point out another problem here? By laying the blame on Israel, they are making it profitable for terrorists to launch from areas populated by civilians, ensuring this pattern continues.