The Politics of Passover

Your dinner-table chatter primer

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As Jews across the world celebrate Passover, the week-long commemoration of the exodus from Egypt and beginning of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jewish writers and thinkers are reflecting on the holiday's significance in current events. With the U.S.-Israel chill making headlines, this week is a perfect opportunity for American Jews to reflect on the role of Jews in American politics, the status of the Jewish state, and even the American president's relationship to the Jewish community. It's a safe bet that the commentary below is being repeated and contested at dinner tables across the country tonight.

  • Obama to Jews: Passover About Social Justice  President Obama's Passover message to Jews worldwide drew a lesson of social justice: "The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all. These bonds are the source of inextinguishable courage and strength, and provide hope that we can repair this world." Some pundits read from this statement a subtle message about the injustice of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
  • Wrong! It's About Jerusalem  Commentary's Jennifer Rubin, noting the famous Passover recitation, "Next year in Jerusalem," scoffs. "Is Passover really about discrimination? Or is it about the deliverance of God’s Chosen People by God from bondage to the land of Israel?" she asks. "And indeed a Passover message without Jerusalem is not only off-putting but it also reveals Obama’s mindset and lack of sympatico with the Jewish state and its centrality in the history and religious memory of the Jewish people."
  • It's Not That Simple  Matthew Yglesias sighs, "this is just a longstanding dispute between liberal Jews (which is like 70-80 percent of us in the United States) and the Commentary-reading minority." He explains that American Jews often read "Next year in Jerusalem" as a call to literally move to Israel, which in fact many do at the active encouragement of Israel. However, "I would actually be pretty upset if President Obama expressed the view that in his opinion the meaning of Passover is that Jews should all leave America and go move to Israel. Which is why, obviously, he’s not going to say anything like that. But there’s clearly a tension inside present-day diaspora Zionism."
  • Jews Should Fight All Oppression  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer reflects. "Passover doesn't exist merely for Jews to congratulate ourselves on our continued existence -- although that is no mean feat. The reminder that we were once slaves in Egypt is meant to make us consider contemporary questions of justice," such as the plight of Palestinians. "If you're unable to take away from Passover an understanding of your own role as a Jew in fighting the injustice done to other people who do not also happen to be Jewish, the experience is meaningless."
  • Obama Owes Jews Big-Time  So says former New York mayor Ed Koch. "Supporters of Israel who gave their votes to candidate Obama - 78 percent of the Jewish community did - believing he would provide the same support as John McCain, this is the time to speak out and tell the President of your disappointment in him. It seems to me particularly appropriate to do so on the eve of the Passover. It is one thing to disagree with certain policies of the Israeli government. It is quite another to treat Israel and its prime minister as pariahs, which only emboldens Israel's enemies and makes the prospect of peace even more remote."
  • Sarah Palin: Jews Bond U.S. & Israel  In her own Passover statement directed to American Jews: "'Next year in Jerusalem' will be the refrain echoed by Jewish families as they finish their Seders tonight. It is a stark reminder that whatever the threats the Jewish people have faced, whatever the struggles, their connection to Jerusalem is ancient and unshakable."
  • How GOP Nightclub Scandal Is Like the Exodus  Tony Campbell gets tongue-in-cheek. "The political irony is that Republicans (who are supposedly more moral than their left wing counterparts) are being ridiculed for re-reimbursing an event at a bondage themed club during Passover week – the biblical event that freed the Hebrews from bondage. Go figure."
  • Passover's Burgeoning Commercialism?  Steven Colbert celebrates Passover in typically cheeky form--with finger puppets:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.