Kumbaya at the Union of Reform Judaism
By Janet Tassel, contributing editor to Harvard Magazine
Once again, we few subversives burrowing furtively inside the Union for Reform Judaism-we call it the Union for Deformed Judaism– girded ourselves for the Big Cringe: The Biennial. And once again, the leaders of Reform didn’t disappoint.
Some eight-thousand aging hippies and their guitars met and hugged in San Diego in December, re-enacting, where canes and walkers permitted, the glory days of Woodstock. There, amid songs and nostalgic tales of the ’60s, with the strains of “All the World Needs is Love” in the background, they held hands and unfolded their agenda: a scornful look at us miserable capitalist sinners, complemented by their utopian recipes for our redemption.
Many of the agenda items were warmed-over re-runs of resolutions from former biennials. The ever-green Resolution on the War in Iraq, replete with the same halachic lectures on torture, humiliation, and war itself, calling in 2005 for a “clear exit strategy,” has now been updated. Inasmuch as “the situation continues to deteriorate” and we have failed “to pursue all reasonable alternatives to war,” the URJ now insists on a “phased withdrawal of our troops from Iraq..” Footnotes to the gassy nine-page resolution indicate the Union’s reliance on such patriotic standbys as the Baker-Hamilton report, various New York Times and Washington Post articles, and a Gallup poll.
Then, there was the Resolution on Health Insurance, which asks, among other inane nanny-state meddlings, “Are we providing healthy food choices at our meetings, onegs, and in our classrooms?” Say goodbye to Entenman’s, everybody. But, far more important-and chilling, and against all rational medical and economic evidence, it proposes a “single-payer system in which the government provides health insurance.” In the face of the universal failure of socialized medicine, there is this jaw-dropping declaration:
Every uninsured family is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The time has long since passed when our leaders should have done what every other advanced country has somehow managed to do: provide all its citizens with essential health care. Our Canadian members, as well as British and Israeli Reform Jews, will be happy to tell us about the health care problems in their countries. But how many of them would prefer the American system to their own?
Hold on: I’ll call my sister-in-law in Toronto, who has been waiting for a knee replacement for a year. Her husband, a professor of economics, died waiting for heart surgery. Does the URJ have any idea how many Canadians and Brits-even Reform Jews– come to the United States for their health care?
Now let’s look at the Resolution in Support of The Annapolis Peace Conference, which, wreathing itself in flower power, hopefully sings paeans to giving peace a chance, begging for “a pattern of continuous negotiations,” but ending up baffled and contradicting itself, as it crashes into- while of course denying –the brick wall of harsh reality: The “gang rape” of Israel, in Frank Gaffney’s words, caused by the blinkered pacifism of partisans from the left.
But most cringe-making of all was the camel in the tent: the Resolution on Jewish-Muslim Dialogue. Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union, who prides himself on this initiative, said it this way:
As a once-persecuted minority in countries where antisemitism is still a force, we understand the plight of Muslims in North America today.
Yes, thank God, most American and Canadian Muslims are treated with dignity. But since 9/11, we do not lack for purveyors of hate who see Muslims as a fifth column and who engage in the ugliest form of stereotyping, casually ascribing to all the guilt of a tiny minority.
I am proposing that we work together with ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America. ISNA is an umbrella body of more than 300 mosques that brings together 30,000 people at its annual convention. I was the first major Jewish leader to address this convention, and in my remarks this August, I discussed the dialogue project that we hope to launch after the Biennial.
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the president of ISNA, will address us tomorrow. She is a powerful spokesperson for a community that is overwhelmingly moderate in their views, and what we want to do is join them, encourage them and learn from them.
Now, the interested reader can learn all about the “overwhelmingly moderate” Islamic Society of North America from Discover the Network.org and elsewhere, and about Ingrid Mattson from sites such as Militant Islam Monitor.org. But perhaps the best voices to heed would be those of truly moderate Muslims.
Nine such proven friends of America penned a plea, which appeared in The Jewish Week on January 2. Perhaps I may be forgiven for indulging in a rather long quotation from this important document. (Again, the entire article is available on line.) Its title is “Attention Rabbi Yoffie: Please Speak to Moderate Muslims.” After taking Yoffie to task on his idiotic equivalence between antisemitism and attitudes toward Muslims, and exploding the myth about “dialogue,” they continue:
ISNA, which URJ has accepted, apparently uncritically, as a “partner,” has a long history of association with extremist trends in Islam. ISNA has served as a front group for Wahhabism, the official sect in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the jihadist ideologies originating in Pakistan with the writings of a certain Mawdudi and the Deoband schools in that country-the latter of which produced the Afghan Taliban, and the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, or Muslim Brotherhood.
After taking on the “irresponsible” Ingrid Mattson, they continue:
Many Islamic mosque congregations, Sufi orders, and Muslim personalities have called for intelligent and sincere discussion with Jewish individuals and groups, to further interfaith civility and cooperation. This noble goal, to which we as Muslims are called by our revelation and our traditions, cannot be served by flattery toward groups like ISNA, in which radicals are camouflaged as moderates.
We therefore appeal to Rabbi Yoffie and other Jewish leaders to conduct a serious and thorough survey of the situation in Western Islam, identifying authentic moderates, and enabling them as interlocutors with Jews and other non-Muslims. We do not believe that ISNA qualifies for such a role. We fear that heedless acceptance of ISNA as an ally of URJ does harm to both our communities, by legitimizing a radicalism that.is fundamentally hostile to Jews and suppresses the intellectual and social development of Muslims.
Just this week, Frank Gaffney, Andrew Bostum, and others have alerted us to what Gaffney calls the scandal of “Front-gate, in recognition of the central role played in the drama by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)..” This scandal involves the firing of Major Stephen Coughlin, a contractor for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Coughlin committed the sin of blowing the whistle on Hashem Islam, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England’s “point man on Muslim community outreach,” according to Gaffney, and on the object of Islam’s admiration, ISNA.
As we mournfully await further reports on this schandeh, we continue to burrow, and cringe.