Many legends are told about how God chose the children of Israel to be His followers. One is that he approached many nations, all of whom asked about the stipulations and requirements. Only one, the Jews, was not concerned about the prerequisites, answering that they would “act and listen” (na'aseh ve-nishma), in that order. As a rule, normal transactions involve first listening and then acting. The uniqueness of Jewish devotion and trust is thus exemplified in this story; they believed that whatever God would ask and put them through, he would have their best interests in mind.
Thus began the “chosenness” of the Jewish people as the children of God. When the Bible refers to the Jewish people as “chosen,” it is not in any way asserting that Jews are “racially superior.” Americans, Russians, Europeans, Asians, and Ethiopians are all part of the Jewish people. It is impossible to define chosenness as anything related to race, since Jews are “racially” diverse. But the term “Chosen People” (am nivhar) does imply exceptionalism. Moreover, there is the far-reaching global approach that calls on the Jews to be dispersed in an attempt to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, to be a Light unto the Nations.
Another story that underscores Jewish hospitality is attributed to the Patriarch Abraham, who was said to have had a tent that was open on all four corners in order to be aware of any potential guests coming his way. All of the above has been inferred by the leftist circles that Judaism is about going above and beyond to be part of the nomenclature. Furthermore, it has given rise to the notion the Abraham’s open tent is the “big tent” of diversity of opinions and practices.
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In practical terms, practicing Judaism is not simple nor was it intended to be - illustrated by the arduous conversion process individuals choose to undergo to join the tribe. All of this raises the question of inclusiveness. While Jewish history shows how the Jewish communities attempted to be part of society, the desire to practice freely and autonomously trumped the need to just go along with the flow.
Enter the State of Israel. While the Diaspora Jewish community is hardly monolithic when it comes to Israel, Israelis or Israeli policies, mainstream Jewish groups and organizations since 1948 have adopted the line of “supporting the democratically elected government of Israel - Left, Right or Center - and ensure the safety and security of its citizens.” Of course not blindly, but under the belief that a strong, united front behooves the Jewish community at large. This is the line organizations such as Federations, AIPAC, AJC, ADL and others have adopted to show bi-partisan support for the democratically elected government in Israel. Yet, we are seeing today how this policy has been interpreted as a so-called right of center agenda. That is, support for Israel is perceived as a right wing agenda - this is a farce. Those who make these claims have gone to extreme measures, even to a point of adopting the Palestinian narrative, as if to say that if we (Jews) will become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, peace in the Middle East would come about.
The self-proclaimed “pro-Israel pro-peace” organization J Street has attempted to sell its agenda as the alternative to the “mainstream” and demand that the tent of the Jewish community stretch to include views that at times are harmful to State of Israel under the guise of openness. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren made a point about J Street when it first emerged, stating that the group is “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream…this is not a matter of settlements here (or) there. We understand there are differences of opinion, but when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of seven million people. This is no joke.”
Fueling anti-Israel groupsThe core of the problem regarding the “big tent” philosophy is that it has no red lines. Everyone should be included even at the expense of Jewish identity and survival of the Jewish state.
Even Israelis who live and breathe in Israel, even those in far left circles, believe that Israel has the right to exist as a state in some capacity, within the 1949 or post-1967 borders. You can understand why Israelis do not fully understand what is happening in the Diaspora with regard to these matters, as they have never faced the challenge of debating Israel's legitimacy in the environment we find on North American college campuses and many Jewish left wing circles.
This is not to say that diversity of opinions and academic freedom should not be exercised. The difference is that there needs to be a differentiation between criticism and delegitimization.
Most, in their naiveté, have no grasp of how they fuel the anti-Israel groups on the college campuses, like Jews for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Studies Association and others who use this message to validate their own agendas. What is even more problematic are those groups within the Jewish community who believe that dialogue via this kind of discussion will further peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, making a case for Israel becomes increasingly more difficult when Israelis and Jews decide to adopt a Palestinian agenda that detracts from the real issue behind the conflict: Mutual recognition of one another. And above all, mainstream Jewish groups have a responsibility to their stakeholders to establish clear lines that they will uphold while affording their constituents a wide range of opinions that fall within the realm of legitimate debate and public discourse. Being a “big tent” doesn’t mean killing yourself to be in it.
Asaf Romirowsky PhD is a Philadelphia-based Middle East analyst, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies