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The duo laid out their essential thesis in an April 27 Washington Post op-ed essay titled “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” Here’s the bottom line:
“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
“When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”
The shift began during the Reagan years, but went into high gear with Newt Gingrich’s election as speaker of the House in 1995. That was the year that the GOP became the Party of No. In the Jewish community, it was the year that Republicans on the boards of major Jewish organizations stopped agreeing to be outvoted. After conceding for decades that they couldn’t win majority votes on policy questions, they began insisting that the community simply back away from public policy involvement.
Before concluding, let’s explain what we mean by Jewish representative bodies. After all, there are some pretty liberal Jewish groups out there, and they’re hardly sitting silent.
Some important Jewish organizations work tirelessly on the national scene to advance the liberal values most Jews share. The biggest and best known are the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women. A glance at their respective websites (www.rac.org and www.ncjw.org) shows the broad range of issues they work for, from abortion rights and gay and lesbian rights to child welfare, health care and education reform, along with a few you probably hadn’t thought of, like prison reform.
What’s missing? Just this: the broad coalition of organizations that used to be seen as speaking for the overall Jewish community, as distinct from a particular segment, faction or denomination. Image aside, Jewish organizations aren’t just a jumble of initials. They fall into distinct categories: religious denominations, fraternal leagues, social service agencies, ideological advocacy groups and more.
A handful, though, have been seen historically as speaking for all American Jews. The most important are the federations of Jewish charities and the so-called defense agencies — mainly the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. These groups matter because the Jewish community matters in the mind of modern America, and in the mind of America these groups speak for the Jews.
For nearly a century, particularly after World War II, these groups spoke out consistently for the needy and the excluded. Sometimes they fought just for Jews, and sometimes they fought in alliance with other minorities to amplify their voices. They continued into the post-Vietnam era, because it was good for Jews and good for America, and it was what Jews wanted. And then they mostly stopped.
I say “mostly” because they haven’t all stopped cold. There are important things to be said about a few, notably the Anti-Defamation League. But that’s a longer discussion for another day. Stay tuned.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org