How Big Should the Big Tent Be?

Rabbi David Wolpe, in a bracing article (bracing, in part, because most rabbis are so scared of their own shadows that they would never contemplate writing like this), offers some guidelines for thinking about politically-active Jews who cross certain lines. Wolpe argues for a big tent, but argues that the existence of a tent, no matter how big, suggests that some things necessarily fall outside the tent:

Jews argue from every viewpoint about tradition, peoplehood and always about Israel. But two perspectives, and their advocates, should not hold a place in public discourse. The boycotters and the expulsionists are quite simply beyond the pale.

First are those who support BDS -- the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. These same people who anathematize Israel do not march against China for its rape of Tibet, against North Korea for its threatened obliteration of the South, against the Arab nations that have barred other religions from practice and discriminated in vicious and consistent ways against women, homosexuals and dissidents. No, they reserve their protest for a thriving, imperfect democracy that has a parliament with Arabs as well as Jews, a justice system where the chief judge in the trial condemning a former President of Israel is an Arab Israeli, where a completely unfettered press criticizes the government with vigor. Disagreeing with Israel is a time-honored tradition. Seeking to boycott it is to function as an anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism is making human faults (real and imagined) the special preserve of the Jews.

Those Jews who support BDS, or deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, have no place at the table. They should not be invited to speak at synagogues and churches, universities and other institutions that respect rational discourse. They should have the same intellectual status as Klansmen: purveyors of hate.

Equally to be shunned are those Jews who advocate the forcible transfer of Arabs from the land of Israel. Here too there is no disguising racism in the mantle of political preference. Insisting that Arabs leave the land of Israel is ethnic cleansing, pure and simple. Though it may be advocated by means less draconian than murder, no civil hearing should be extended to those who promote it. They should no more have a place at the table -- the crazed zealots of Zion -- than the deniers of Zion. The middle -- the great, reasonable, quarreling middle -- must be permitted to thunder its standards as well. The best need not lack all conviction. We can cry "foul" to both extremes.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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