The Jewish Week ran a story last week by a J Street college girl, "Exclude Me At Your Own Peril" (Oct. 26) in which the Columbia student complained that she was made to feel like "a stranger" in her synagogue because — at a political event, not prayer services — representatives of the left-wing J Street were met by "hisses" and boos.
We’ll forget for a minute that J Street recently was outed as lying about taking large donations from George Soros, a notorious and outspoken opponent of Israel, or that J Street was essentially neutral and even critical of Israel while Israeli soldiers were dying in the war in Gaza.
If that isn’t worthy of my own hisses and boos it is only because I am too much of a gentleman. There are people in J Street I love, and we can disagree like civilized people.
What is remarkable, though, is to hear a leftist — and J Streeters are nothing if not leftists — complaining about the very existence of rude behavior in response to someone’s politics.
Let’s go back to the election campaign of 2008. What was the reaction at just about any Shabbos table on the Upper West Side, or in any other environment where the J Street leftists have the edge, if some lonely soul would admit to liking McCain-Palin? Would a J Street person have said, "Oh, that’s interesting. Tell us why?" Or would the response have been rude and blunt, "Sarah Palin is an idiot," and by inference, "Hey, mister, you’re an idiot, too!"
Let’s be honest. Were Palin voters ever treated with respect and engaged in thoughtful conversation in J Street circles? After all, we’re told that we don’t just disagree ith conservatives but that every conservative is stupid. Regan was stupid when he was running, we were told, and George H. W. Bush was stupid, and George W. Bush was stupid, called every vile and ugly name.
We’re supposed to feel bad that a J Street girl was made to feel unwelcome in her own space, her synagogue? I do feel bad about that. I don’t like it anyone is made to feel uncomfortable, or embarassed, for having a well-intentioned opinion, left or right. But then, what are to conclude about what happened at a Tom Chapin concert (and I usually love Tom Chapin, particularly his shows geared to children). Imagine you’re a Republican and after spending good money for a pair of tickets, you’re greeted with a song like this, "Go Away, Sarah Palin, Go Away." Let’s assume that even 25 percent of Tom Chapin’s audience voted for McCain-Palin. Was it not rude of Chapin to so mock and insult the political choice of one out of four people sitting in front of him, a captive audience who bought tickets and could not simply change the channel?
But insulting the Republicans, and Republicans such as Palin, is not only allowed, it is so normative that Chapin probably didn’t think twice. Chapin, who happens to be a real mentch in most every circumstance (I know people who’ve worked with him), who works hard to convince children not to be mean or a bully, had no problem being mean, if not a bully, to the Palin supporters in his audience. He encouraged them to be laughed at. He created an atmosphere in which a Palin supporter would feel ashamed. Not that much difference from how that J Street girl was treated.
I’d bet the house that if a J Street person were at that Chapin concert, he or she would have laughed and cheered, never thinking for a moment that Chapin was being rude and insensitive.
The Republicans in Chapin’s audience — and we must assume there were a few — did not boo. They were silent. But imagine the reaction by an audience of Democrats to a song making fun of Obama. The reaction would be as if a cartoonist drew Muhammed.
That J Street student writes, "As the daughter of a rabbi, I was always taught that temple was a home for all Jews, a place that embraced debate, argument and difference," and therefore she was shocked at the anger dished out at J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Here’s a question for that daughter of a rabbi — Do rabbis, particularly liberal rabbis, ever care when they stump for their politics from the pulpit, when they equate their politics with incontrovertible Torah, or do they feel indifferent to making Republican congregants unwelcome (let alone distracted from their subsequent prayer)?
The same leftists that are so careful to call Indians "native Americans," or to call Down syndrome people "special friends," don’t think twice about calling Republicans and Palin "retarded," even if she’s actually raising a Down syndrome kid that others would have aborted. No, Palin is "retarded," stupid, because when she says she can see Russia from her house she is taken literally, because only Democrats are smart enough to know how use figures of speech and poetic imagery.
Obama, who won’t say we’re enemies with "Islamic fascism," has no problem saying Republicans are his "enemies" and should be the enemies of Hispanics. Other Americans, "enemies"? It’s of a piece with the ease in which Palin, or Bush can be called every sort of epithet, rather than respectful disagreement.
This Columbia University J Street student writes that the Temple was destroyed because of "groundless hatred, sinat chinam." Of course, to so many leftists, hating Republicans, Sarah Palin and her supporters is not groundless hatred, it is compeletly justified. But "groundless hatred" is never groundless to the hater. But it is hateful and creates unpleasantness just the same.
During the first Bush-Cheney campaign, Brett Stephens of The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 12, 2004) cited a project of The New York Sun (which still lives online, may it be resurrected in print, and speedily in our time). The Sun, writes Stephens, dispatched six reporters to go around Manhattan donning conspicuous Bush-Cheney campaign paraphernalia.
One reporter, Roderick Boyd, encountered a woman in Union Square who "spat on the ground at his feet and proceeded to deliver a lecture on alleged Republican fascism and ‘blood for oil.’ " Another reporter, Maura Yates, "received a more personal greeting from a fellow pedestrian: He walked up and stuck his middle finger in her face."
There was a similar project in that same 2004 race, added Stephens, when Slate reporter Richard Rushfield wrote about entering a Republican neighborhood "in my Kerry-Edwards shirt." Rushfiled says, he expected to encounter rage. "Instead I encounter only shades of indifference."
And what happens in a Democratic neighborhood? He was greeted not with indifference but indignity. Rushfield says: "Reflecting on the sting of being called ‘a——–‘ during my trips through Blue America, I wonder: If I were truly a Bush supporter, how long would I be able to endure a life filled with epithets before I gave up on the shirt?"
There’s a reason America is turning right. The majority of Americans are not leftists or J Streeters or Democrats or elitists. Most Americans are conservative and traditional and feel drawn to Israel. They look at Congress and the White House and the college campus and J Street and sense the condescension and contempt.
We, who have mourned the dead and fear the next attack, don’t like being told we are Islamophobic.
We, who voted for Obama in 2008, don’t like being told we’re racists if we disagree with him now.
We, who appreciate and admire the blue collar workers and those struggling for a better life, and fear open borders in an age of terror, don’t like being told we’re anti-immigrant because we’re anti-illegal.
We, who care for Israel’s safety and security, aren’t so Orwellian as to think that those in J Street who were neutral or morally equivalent when Israel was at war; We, who defend Israel, aren’t so "stupid" as to think that students trying to stop the Israeli ambassador from speaking on campus, are students who love and care about Israel the way the loyal diaspora has always loved and cared, or the way the true loyal opposition in Israel has loved and cared.
We remember how the president, supported by his party, supported without critique by J Street, made greater demands of Israel regarding the "natural growth" of Jewish communities than were even demaded by Arafat.
We remember which party in Congress signed resolutions in support of Israel and which party — with the encouragement of J Street — showed real anger over the annnouncement that a Jewish apartment house would be built in Jerusalem, and no anger when Israelis are murdered on Highway 60.
Many of us don’t feel we can fight back, or even get a word in edgewise, but we can vote.
You can see the new Ship of State, like that black freighter from "Threepenny Opera," avenging all of Pirate Jenny’s hurts and hard times, sailing in on Election Day.
We, the People, will be cheering on the docks.
We, the People.