Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League - the one major American Jewish organization whose primary goal is fighting anti-Semitism - is worried. American Jews, he believes, are threatened, not by anti-Semites, but by the non-anti-Semitic Christian Right. In an address to the League's national commission in New York last weekend, Foxman said:
"Today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!"
Gevalt! And what are these Christian groups actually trying to do in order to "implement their Christian worldview"? Not only are they pushing an "agenda of a wide range of issues, including judicial nominees, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, abortion restriction and faith-based initiative," they also intend "to Christianize all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate, and amateur sports; from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants. No effort is made to hide their goals or their ambitions, and their vision of America is far different from ours."
That the Christian Right's vision of America is different from Abraham Foxman's, and from that of most and perhaps all American Jews, is indisputable. What is not so, however, is, firstly, whether the Christian Right is doing anything that the American Jewish community and the Anti-Defamation League have not been doing for decades; secondly, whether it is not therefore absurd to attack Christians for such things; and thirdly, whether there is any wisdom, from the American Jewish perspective, in declaring war on a Christian public that in recent years has been Israel's strongest supporter in the United States.
LET'S START with "judicial nominees, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, abortion restriction, and faith-based initiative." There is not one of these issues on which major Jewish organizations have not, again and again, fought for politically liberal positions.
The Reform movement, for example, has officially supported legislation furthering same-sex marriage for years. The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism have all endorsed legalized abortion. Hadassah has joined other American organizations in calling on President Bush to revise restrictive federal policies on stem-cell research. The American Jewish Congress has gone to court to fight federal grants to religious groups enlisted in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Jewish organizations such as the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism have regularly lobbied for and against Supreme Court nominees.
Even more hypocritical are Foxman's remarks on Christian meddling in cultural areas in which his own Anti-Defamation League has also been active. Have Christian organizations tried influencing recording studios? So did the ADL when, in 1999, it sought to pressure Atomic Pop Records into removing from circulation an allegedly anti-Semitic song by the rap group Public Enemy. Have Christians tried censoring the contents of public libraries? The ADL has produced a computer censor called HateFilter, commonly marketed with a sister product called CyberPatrol, that is today installed in thousands of public libraries in the US. Did Christian groups try to remove the TV children's series SpongeBob SquarePants because of its alleged homosexual message? Foxman personally led the fight against the screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ because of its alleged anti-Jewish message.
NONE OF this is to say that, in terms of the issues themselves, Jewish liberals may not be right and Christian fundamentalists wrong. Perhaps a modern democratic society should permit abortion on demand and same-sex marriage, and perhaps The Passion is genuinely pernicious and SpongeBob SquarePants is not. But this is not the point. The point is that it is wildly inconsistent of Jewish liberals and their organizations to claim the right to promote their own agenda while screaming indignantly when Christians, reacting to decades of liberalizing changes in American life, do the same.
In their defense, Jews often argue that there is a difference. They themselves, they say, are not infringing on the constitutional separation of church and state, while the Christian Right is. But this, too, is baseless. There is no such infringement in the Christian Right's main demands (banning abortion may involve religious values, but it is hardly an institutionalization of religion), and if the Anti-Defamation League thinks that prayer in the football huddles of public schools and universities is unconstitutional, it can always go to court - and face making itself ridiculous.
It is not a question of public policies; these will be fought out, as they should be, in the political arena, and liberal Jewish organizations and their allies will win sometimes and lose sometimes according to the coalitions they are able to form. It is a question of whether, in a huge country in which Jews form barely 2% of the population and church-going Christians an estimated 40%, Jews should be telling Christians, as does Foxman, that they have no right to campaign democratically for what they perceive to be their own values.
It is hard to see what the Jewish interest in doing this might be. Although Jews may feel threatened as liberals by the politics of the Christian Right, they are hardly threatened as Jews - unless, that is, they really think that praying quarterbacks are a threat to Jewish life. They will feel threatened as Jews, however, if there is ever a Christian backlash against them, which sooner or later will happen if believing Christians come to view the Jewish community not merely as liberal but as anti-Christian.
All this would hold true even were it not the case that the Christian Right is today Israel's main bastion of political support in the United States at a time when the liberal Left has turned increasingly against it. One can certainly understand that this is a source of embarrassment and bewilderment for American Jews, who find themselves deserted by old friends and embraced by perceived aliens. But embarrassment and bewilderment are not political strategies - and if the American Jewish community has no coherent political strategy for defending a Jewish state that is under concerted attack, it is Jewishly worth nothing, no matter how many other worthy causes it makes its own.
Abraham Foxman will have to decide what worries him more: Praying quarterbacks or the future of the Jewish people.