One can have visions of shenere un be sere velt, a better and more beautiful world, as prophesied by the Workmen’s Circle, when reading the delusional praise of Linda Sarsour in the Forward by New York City Councilmember Brad Lander. Alas, his naive ilk bears historical precedence in bad Jewish outcomes. Before getting to the state of American Jewry, however, I must correct some misperceptions that Lander and so many others have regarding free speech on campus.
As a former trustee of CUNY, I can state categorically that claims of free speech in these matters are nonsense and amount to deliberate obfuscation by elected Democratic officials who have placed their chits with the radical left — to the detriment of Jews. Rare exceptions include Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who, in summing up Sarsour’s shortcomings, remarked that “surely CUNY can do better.”
CUNY Chancellor James Milliken’s declaration that “taking action… would conflict with the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom” is a fallacious statement. The conferring of honorary degrees and commencement speeches are pure marketing tools designed to draw attention to a school and burnish its image. These are honors bestowed by a college or university; they have little to do with free speech. Instead, bestowing an honorary degree to Sarsour amounts to the administration making a value judgment.
Linda Sarsour’s CUNY Speech: A Moral Disaster
In Linda Sarsour’s case, CUNY selects an honoree who proclaims, “You can’t be a feminist in the United States [and not] stand up for the rights of Palestinian women,” and that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.” They celebrate a woman who said of anti-Islamist writer and politician Ayaan Hirsut Ali and conservative journalist Brigitte Gabriel, “I wish I could take their vaginas away.” Sarsour also called Palestinian thugs who threw stones at Jews “courageous.”
Lander cannot claim to be a feminist and a Zionist and then go on to “stand with Sarsour,” any more than I can be a Zionist and stand with Louis Farrakhan.
Several years ago, when the CUNY School of Law wanted to honor Lynne Stewart, attorney for terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, aka the “Blind Sheikh” (who herself spent time in jail for illegally smuggling messages from her client to his rabid followers), the chancellor and the trustees at that time, including me, said no way. CUNY damages its brand when it associates with unworthy honorees.
As to the larger picture:
I see the Jewish masses proudly marching, working, building coalitions with spurious partners — assisting the Black Lives Matter movement, cooperating with the likes of Sarsour, other participants in the BDS movement — in short, a potpourri of anti-Semites. Where is the simple instinct of dignity to at least demand reciprocity of Jewish goals in exchange for Jewish support, and to understand the needs of all Americans when advocating for actions that they believe are derived from Jewish law?
In the name of “social justice,” those very Jews fight government incentives that could benefit Jewish education while advocating for abortion rights and opposing charter schools.
Jewish liberalism and leftism may have made sense in the era before labor unions, Social Security and other components of the basic safety net, but today, they are a backbone of the BDS movement and other causes inimical to Jewish survival.
Jews in the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements were mostly in sync on core Jewish survival issues until about 50 years ago. However, as the Conservative and Reform movements began to see largely empty pews on the Sabbath, their leaders concocted out of whole cloth an expanded tikkun olam.
Tikkun olam is a simple, direct injunction proclaiming just that we should “repair the world by proclaiming God’s sovereignty,” nothing more, nothing less. In the past several decades, however, not only did application of the term expand, but it also did not possess the self-respect of insisting on reciprocity. To the contrary: Tikkun olam, as opposed to the direct and simple injunction of God’s sovereignty, has morphed into Palestinian rights, Black Lives Matter (no friends of the Jews), LGBT rights, abortion rights, etc. Many of these are legitimate social issues, but they have nothing to do with tikkun olam.
Linda Sarsour’s CUNY Speech: A Moral Disaster
I am not some perfectly practicing Orthodox Jew, but the fact is that the Conservative and Reform movements are disappearing because their leaders have created an alternative religion through what the late economic professor of Stephen Plaut of Haifa University dubbed the “tikkun olam fetish.”
As Jews, we end up advocating for our enemies and expect no reciprocity, nor receive it; I call it, “Tikkun olam for thee, but not for me.”
What other racial/ethnic/religious/national group would foolishly do for others while receiving betrayal in return, let alone reciprocity? For our critical role in the civil rights movement because it was right — not because of the tikkun olam fetish — we applaud Black Lives Matter partnering with our libelous enemies?
If there is a majority of American Jews who wish to proclaim their liberalism, that’s their business — just don’t falsely attribute their philosophy and actions to Scripture.
Our Scripture does remind us, “your enemies shall emerge from within you.”
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld is a wealth manager and was a senior aide to Gov. George E. Pataki, Sen. Al D’Amato, Mayor Ed Koch, Rep. Tom Manton and Borough President Claire Shulman. He sits on the board of several national Jewish organizations.