My search for leadership in the Jewish Community brought me to Center City Philadelphia last week to have a very nice breakfast with Dr. Asaf Romirowsky. He was remarkably gracious and spent two hours with me. I ordered too much since there was barely time for my pen to leave the paper during our meeting.
Dr. Romirowsky is one of the leading Middle East analysts/scholars. He's served as an IDF International Relations Liaison Officer and has earned multiple degrees from a BA at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem to a Doctorate from Kings College London. He's extensively published in the press and professional journals. Dr. Romirowsky is an international lecturer and teacher and can often be seen discussing and debating Middle East affairs in a wide variety of media venues.
This is what I learned from Romirowsky.
"Tikkun Olam" is a founding principle of Judaism which means "to repair the world." We strive for equality, to advance moral rights and demonstrate an openness to everyone.
A historical perspective is a great place to begin. Jews in pre-Israel Europe were accused of not being "productive," but we were not allowed to own land. As a result, we were forced into non-farming (viewed as non-productive at the time) vocations. The Zionist idea was to have our own state where we could have our own rights, work the land and be productive. Israel was about changing our image (probably to ourselves more than anything else).
The first and second wave of new Israelis grew up under various forms of socialism and communism. The challenge was how to incorporate and promote this newfound self-reliance, or Zionism, into life in the new State and how to introduce the world to this emerging Sabra. The Sabra, or fruit of the cactus, was the symbol of this new strong Jew - prickly on the outside, but with fruit on the inside.
The Holocaust was certainly a catalyst for Israel, but not the only one. A Jewish State had been a vision of some for many years, but Arab rejection began immediately and continues today (to say the least).
Not only do Arab Israelis have all the rights of non-Arab Israelis (in Israel), but they can even freely advance anti-Israeli policies inside the Knesset (the Israeli legislature) itself. The extent to which Israelis demonstrate being open and liberal is pretty extreme; particularly when compared to other nations.
World perception in 1967, for example, favored Israel as David to the surrounding Goliath. Israeli soldiers were often on the cover of international news magazines as champions of this view. Palestinians know that they can't defeat Israel militarily so they try to de-legitimize and marginalize it in world public opinion through the "soft power" of every available form of media. There's been a profound shift in the past 40 years. All you have to do to be a revolutionary today is join a Facebook page.
As a people that prides itself on the education that was often the only refuge during our oppressed past, it is now our ignorance that our critics use in their strategies. Israel's enemies now claim to be victims as they seek world sympathy. Palestinians even project Holocaust equivalencies by depicting Israeli leaders in SS uniforms (among many other Holocaust metaphors) and declare Zionist policies as racist. Hezbollah operates freely in Europe and elsewhere with a clear agenda of eliminating Israel. There's even about 30 anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations accusing Israel of violating those things that it values most.
Of course, Israel is (unlike the surrounding nations) open with easy access for journalists just waiting for Israel to make a mistake for an easy story. The Palestinians have sold themselves as the greatest victims ever to the very sensitive media even though it's self-inflicted. And here we go yet again serving as the convenient scapegoat. You'd think we'd get a break after 5,000 years.
We now turn to the American Jewish community which has a widespread historical connection to liberalism and democracy which tends to conflict with this false perception of Israeli policies that plays out in our own politics. There's a Jewish "moral obligation" to vote Democrat. Everyone knows it as we yield to our own brand of propaganda here at home.
We now have the growing problem of a divide between being Jewish and supporting Israel. Our own Jewish identity is at stake as we fall prey to dishonesty and distraction from the real issues. We are apathetic in our own religious teachings of Talmud and Torah, of biblical history and in the history of the State of Israel. Far left-wing Israelis are small in number, but often host anti-Israeli groups thereby giving them the credibility they need. There was even a very recent anti-Israel conference at the University of Pennsylvania presided by a few Jews who "served the purpose" well by using and abusing their Judaism to support and validate anti-Israeli arguments.
We are a diverse and open people while our enemies are unified. They understand the value of 30-second sound bites versus the challenge of discussing history and demographics.
Being Jewish has never been easy and today is no different. We needn't give up our identity just to gain the easy approval of others, but rather should seek serious discussions and academic integrity.
Is it so important to be an American Liberal Jew that we have to ignore our surroundings, our history and our guiding principles? We've done that before (time and again) with predictable results. Maybe we can maintain our values as we pursue honesty in our quest for real Tikkun Olam.
Politically Correct's Cory Steiner, a true Conservative/Classical Liberal and Bucks County resident, presents ideas in the war against indifference. He invites open discussion on politics, current affairs and other topics of interest to encourage greater awareness of what's important.