Progressive Rabbis: Be Still My Bleeding Heart

As someone reviewing candidates for a rabbinical position, I come across my share of resumes. A substantial proportion of these show that rabbis tend to be involved in everything from global warming to vegetarianism. These days, some rabbis seem to have heard the call, but it appears to be the call to render first unto Caesar.

You'd think that rabbis would have a special concern with the politics of the Middle East, but strangely enough a lot of rabbis have been primarily concerned with partnering alongside their brethren in the liberal Christian clergy to save the environment, protect the rights of illegal aliens, and extol the virtues of vegetarianism. These rabbis might communicate how Judaism and Torah have influenced their lives, but when one looks at the things that absorb their time and energy, you'd think they all received their "smicha" (ordination) somewhere between the United Church of Christ and the ultra-liberal Presbyterian Church (USA).

What some rabbis want is to affirm their progressive credentials and to gain social acceptance within the interfaith community. Given a choice between affirming their Judaism and affirming their progressive credentials, progressivism wins every time. For these rabbis, there is no difference between the two, but then true believers have an uncanny ability to not only utter nonsense but to believe it, even if it is from their own lips.

When it comes to the Middle East, or the issues of terrorism, you can find progressive rabbis at the forefront of concern; concern that is for the rights of Gitmo detainees, for the protection of Hamas mass murderers from targeted assassination, and for any failure by the United States and Israel to adhere to the strictest interpretations of human rights protections for any terrorist who falls into their hands.

We all possess limited time, energy, and capacity for emotional stress. Where anyone chooses to put those resources is a statement about what he or she thinks is most important. In a world of growing demonization of Israel and anti-Semitism not seen since the 1930s, the primary concerns of many politically active rabbis are the rights of enemy combatants and the residents of Gaza.

Anointing oneself with the mantle of human rights or peace might be a splendid aspiration, but aspiration and reality are all too frequently different things. The Oslo Accords might have inspired hope for peace, but the reality is that these so-called "peace accords" actually escalated the casualty rate on both sides, as Arafat proved himself to be the single greatest murderer of Jews since Hitler. It is no wonder that some Israelis refer to the Oslo Peace Accords as the "Oslo Death Accords." Long ago, we should have learned to judge agreements by their outcomes, not by their intentions or symbols.

Calls for a ceasefire in the midst of a war might seem like a moral position, but it isn't, for it invariably favors one side over another. After years of bowing to NGO pressure for ceasefires and armistices, the Sri Lankan government watched casualties mount and the Tamil separatist use the lulls in fighting to grow in strength. Eventually, the Sri Lankan government decided that such policies were no different than the Israeli experience with Oslo. Inevitably, the Sri Lankan government shut out the NGOs -- especially the Norwegians -- launched a full scale military assault on the Tamils, and brought the insurrection to submission, reducing civilian casualties. But who would have publicly advocated "Give war a chance"?

In a recent essay I wrote about the "useful idiot rabbis" who signed the Brit Tzedek petition for "peace." These rabbis gave legitimacy to an organization whose policies are about as supportive of Israel's continued existence as the so-called Saudi peace initiative. Sustained by the legitimacy given it by its signatories, Brit Tzedek almost immediately issued libelous accusations about Israel's use of white phosphorous in Gaza; accusations contradicted by the International Red Cross, no friend of Israel.

To date, I have seen none of these rabbis demand that their names be withdrawn, such is the need to be symbolically aligned with even the allusion of peace.

One of Brit Tzedek's prominent signatories is Rabbi Peter S. Knobel, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. As such, his words carry a certain weight. What fascinates me about Knobel's column in the conference's recent newsletter is how quintessential it is in illustrating the perverse mentality of Jewish progressives.

Predictably, Knobel begins with moral equivalence. On the one hand, there is the vulnerability of the people of Sderot to rocket attacks; on the other hand, the rabbi says, "I feel the pain of the people of Gaza." What the rabbi fails to acknowledge is that the people of Gaza elected a group of fanatics who actively celebrate a culture of death that has resulted in the people of Sderot living in fear for their own lives and those of their children. The rabbi equates the actions of those who shoot rockets at civilians with those who seek to stop them.

Echoing the sentiments of Palestinian propagandists, Knobel says, "I am sure some of the Israeli decision- making had a great deal to do with its own domestic situation and a lack of confidence in our new administration." Perhaps the rabbi should look for a cause in the dramatic increases in rocket attacks on all of Southern Israel when Hamas terminated its selectively adhered to cease fire. Indeed, Hamas appears to have learned nothing from Israel's incursion into Gaza, launching 110 missiles and mortars since the ceasefire. Hamas launched an Iranian Guard missile into Ashkelon on March 1 that destroyed a high school, an act that will in all likelihood result in another Israeli retaliation.

"The rhetoric and actions of both Israeli and Palestinian sides makes each culpable to a greater or lesser extent," the rabbi intones in another invocation of moral equivalence that is not simply immoral but obscene. I don't recall the Israelis airing television programs instilling hatred for Arabs in five-year-olds or glorifying killing Arabs as a message from God. Perhaps I missed these as I missed comprehending Brit Tzedek's position that surgically assassinating mass murderers is equivalent to randomly blowing up school children.

What I have come to understand from reading Knobel's words and looking at rabbis' resumes is that ultimately the actions of progressive rabbis may be more detrimental to Israel's existence than all the clumsy propaganda that the Saudis have been able to generate through their increasing hold on the American media.