Inside the synagogue, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who mindlessly called Israeli settlements obstacles to peace, was going to speak. Outside B’nai Torah, in Boca Raton, Florida, members were anxiously pointing out Alan Bergstein, writer and pro-Israel activist, to the reinforced law enforcement detail. Bergstein and other anti-Obama Jews were denied entrance and told by law enforcement to leave the property.
How far and how shamelessly some in the Jewish community have sunk in their embrace of Obama is ineradicably seen in this action. A Jew being denied entrance to a synagogue brings to mind Germany in the 1930s. This is a poignant and symbolic imagery written in infamy, an image that one would think Jews would avoid at nearly all costs. But this Jewish congregation gave it not a second thought.
What would Bergstein and the others have done? Would they have detonated suicide bombs? Created a physically threatening disturbance? Of course not! They would most likely have asked Rice some difficult questions. They could have pointed out that Rice and Obama adviser Samantha Power have a long history of being anti-Israel. Power, in fact, advocated using American troops to create a Palestinian state that would be forged with American firepower pointed at Israelis. The anti-Obama Jews might have noted that Obama has been so pro-Palestinian that he carved out positions on limiting the expansion of Jerusalem that exceed the demands of both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat.
Days later, just down the road in Miami, in another Jewish congregation, Temple Israel, a conflict was stirring over the planned speech of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of Obama’s strongest and most vocal supporters. Schultz’s speech, which was clearly partisan electioneering on behalf of Obama for the Jewish vote in Florida, was met with objections from synagogue members who did not believe that being Jewish was synonymous with being Democrat. Moreover, religious institutions are tax exempt and are not supposed to be forums for clearly partisan activity, even though all denominations breach this behavior in excess and both partisan camps are represented in the breach.
Stanley Tate, an eighty-five-year-old Republican activist, was denied time to offer a rebuttal to Schultz. A six-decade-long member and strong financial supporter of the congregation, Tate resigned. Soon the synagogue found that it had “security” issues and cancelled Schultz’s appearance, giving one pause to consider that, perhaps, Bergstein was seen on his way to Temple Israel armed to the teeth with difficult questions.
The people who instituted these events call themselves liberals and Jewish. In fact, Temple Israel prides itself on its agenda geared to social change. But these people are neither liberal nor Jewish in any real meaning of the terms. Liberalism is supposed to be open to the broad challenge of ideas, the clash of positions, in a stirring environment ensconced by the free market place of ideas.Liberals traditionally extol process as much as outcome. It is not only necessary to do what is right. For traditional liberals, it is also necessary to do what is right the right way.
Judaism at its essence is a religion open to debate and interpretation. A page of Talmud is surrounded by different commentaries, but even commentary is not limited to what is written on the page. The reader of Talmud can pursue his own interpretation.
The American Jewish community has no chief rabbi. Jews have no pope. I sat once in synagogue as the rabbi delivered a stirring “drosh” (sermon), when suddenly he was interrupted by one of the congregants, who unabashedly said the rabbi misinterpreted the meaning of the biblical text. The rabbi, accepting this interruption, then went into great detail about the root meaning of the terms to which he was referring. The congregant observed that the rabbi was correct only if the terms originated in Hebrew, but what the rabbi missed was that the terms were Aramaic in origin and consequently their meaning was different, a meaning the congregant went on to explain as the rabbi patiently listened.
Could this exchange take place at either B’nai Torah or Temple Israel? Could such diversity of perspective be tolerated? I think not, for these people are not true liberals. Nor can they be considered Jews by any longstanding philosophical tradition.
They are not people of the book, but people who are the philosophical heirs to the leftist New Jewish Agenda. These are people who seem to confuse Tikkun Olam, saving the world, with every harebrained leftist social policy that is evaluated by philosophical intention rather than empirical outcome. These are people who are all too quick to follow the New Jewish Agenda in its embrace of the Palestinian narrative.
It is not surprising the B’nai Torah’s rabbi, David Steinhardt, is a supporter of CAIR’s fight against anti-Sharia laws, in keeping with the Obama administration’s position on the issue. And while B’nai Torah claims to be pro-Israel, Congressman Allen West (R, FL), a strong supporter of Israel, would no more be able to speak to B’nai Torah than Alan Bergstein could get through the door to ask Susan Rice a demanding question.
Jacob L. Talmon, who wrote seminal works on totalitarianism, noted that there is a collective mindset (which originates with Jean Jacques Rousseau) that sees democracy as only meaningful if the individual’s interest is aligned with the collective interest. Talmon coined the term “totalitarian democracy” to define this concept. Totalitarian democracy as an idea is the progenitor of Stalinism and the excesses of the French Revolution. It is an idea that is embodied in the statism of the Obama administration. Totalitarian democracy is seen in the New Jewish Agenda, which perceives collectivism as the solution to social problems. There is no room in this philosophy for an individual who stands at variance with the collective. Just as there is no room in these synagogues for those who do not agree that the collective will of the majority should define and limit the political interests of the individual.
That is the lesson of what happened in Florida. That is increasingly the lesson of this administration.