"The right wing extremist strains of Israeli Judaism are threatening to turn that ignition into a conflagration." That quote comes from Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, the same Rabbi now being widely quoted for his bizarre Tim Tebow column. Or rather there are numerous articles quoting the column without mentioning his name or who he is.
This is not the article that I had planned to run tonight. That article has already been written and sits waiting. It may be timely, but it will have to wait until next week, because this is timelier and it needs to be said.
In the last hour I read through numerous blog posts treating Hammerman's column as a Jewish view and turning it into an attack on Jews in general. Some of those attacks are fairly mild mannered, but they come down to the same thing. Those pieces however show very little wisdom.
Conservative Christians of all people should know that modern clergy come in two flavors. Religious and liberal. Hammerman does not have an issue with Christianity, he has an issue with religion. If Hammerman were Anti-Christian, then he wouldn't be heading to the United Methodist Church for an interfaith service for World AIDS Day or hosting a series on Judaism, Christianity and Islam featuring an Imam. He's not opposed to floppy feel good social justice religion, whether it wears a cross or a star of david. He's opposed to Religion. Capital R.
Reading Hammerman doing a paranoid piece about American Christianity follows numerous paranoid pieces about Israeli Judaism, all with the same kind of rhetoric. For example...
"American Jews look at Israel and fear that occupation has done the same... and the other sees a fatal chauvinism, a triumph for an extremism fostering nightmares of a Taliban-like takeover of a faith tradition that was built on tolerance."
I'm not going to blame people for not researching Hammerman, though it might not have been such a bad thing to do, but it's not really about him, it's about using common sense to identify people who think the way that he does. The obsession with the threat of a theocracy is the idee fixe of liberal clergy from both religions who will spill barrels of ink about Christian and Jewish extremists who are just plotting to take over, while having nothing but good to say about Mohammed.
The Hammermans are secular, but they are not secularists. They use a theological skeleton to advocate liberalism, while warning everyone about the dangers of right wing extremism and traditional beliefs. Their religion is liberalism, their altar is the Democratic Party and their theology is social justice with everything else stripped away.
The most obvious tell is Hammerman's scope of concern in his Tebow article. "Burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants." All this has little to do with religion and a great deal to do with the obsessions of liberal politics. This isn't theocracy, illegal immigration has nothing to do with the subject. It's generic paranoia about "right wing extremism".
Hammerman, like most left-wing clergy, assumes that conservative religious streams are just another political movement wrapping their agenda in religion. The "religious left" is not afraid of theocracy, they're afraid that the balance will shift from the left to the right. They can't conceive of religion except in political terms. To them Tebow only matters as the incarnation of the right. If he wins, then NPR funding will be cut and the homeless will be left to starve on the street. They can't divorce religion from politics, because there is no religion there. Just social justice. And they see the right as the anti-social justice force.
It's important to understand where these people are coming from, and when that is understood they can be identified and dismissed, without responding with essays on Jews "dressing up a tribalistic hatred in socially-acceptable clothing".
Jews don't respond to hostile articles from liberal Christian clergy as if they represent all Christians. We don't treat Reverend Tim Kutzmark as representative of "Christianity", the way that too many articles have treated Rabbi Joshua Hammerman as if he represented Judaism or Jews.
There is a culture war going on deep in the heart of the modern world. It is a struggle for souls and a battle between religion as faith and religion as politics. The difference is whether we believe in a God or whether we believe in a political ideology that promises redemption by following the politics of social justice. The Jewish aspect of that struggle rarely makes headlines, at least outside the JTA or the Forward or the other champions of the Jewish social justice left.
One of those champion outlets is the Jewish Week, where the Hammerman-Tebow article ran. The Jewish Week has been partially funded by the UJA Federation, the grandaddy of the funding machine for social justice in the Jewish community. The CEO of the UJA in New York is John Ruskay, formerly of Breira, a left-wing Anti-Israel organization. Again not something most people would be expected to know, and yet it can be safely assumed that agenda articles run in agenda papers.
The agenda is power. It always comes down to power. The power to set the agenda is power and power is the agenda. To the left, religion is a vehicle for the expression of that power. Nothing more. Nothing less. It wraps that power madness in terms like compassion and justice, but that is empty rhetoric. The purpose of power is ultimately power. Authentic religion cedes that power to a higher power. Political religion cedes it to politicians, NGO's and OWS.
This isn't a Jewish issue. And those who have tried to make it a Jewish issue have made the mistake of taking Hammerman at his word. And if they take Hammerman at his word that his social justice agenda is driven by Jewish concerns, why not take Barack Obama's word that his social justice is driven by Christian concerns?
It's a shame that some of the people who act as if they know the left for what it is failed to recognize it this time. I will leave you with one more Hammerman quote.
"The recent vandalism against mosques by Israeli Jewish extremists does not point to apartheid, but Israeli officials need to be especially vigilant or such hate crimes could easily lead Jerusalem to a moral place not too distant from Johannesburg and Jackson, where houses of worship were also set aflame."
Anyone who thinks that Hammerman represents tribalistic hatred dressed up in socially acceptable clothing really doesn't understand the left. The left is not a tribe, its identity is ideological, it uses ethnic, racial and religious identities as vehicles for that ideology. Nothing more.
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